GREAT BARRIER REEF
// Outlook Report 2014
Children playing at Starcke River
4.8.7 Overall summary of heritage values
An assessment of heritage values of the Region was introduced as a legislative requirement for the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report in late 2013. It reflects the 2008 amendment of the main object of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 to include protection and conservation of the heritage values. Traditional Owners with connections to the Region maintain their cultural practices and customs. For them, nature and culture combine to make a living heritage, with the natural environment fundamental to their culture and their connections to land and sea country. As a result, impacts on natural heritage values also affect Indigenous heritage values. Other factors are also placing these values under pressure, for example coastal development activities and uses within the Region. The aesthetic heritage values of the Region are also closely linked to its natural attributes, such as coral reefs, islands, water clarity and calmness, and marine animals. While the Region generally continues to be an area of great natural beauty, declines in the natural environment, especially in inshore areas of its southern two-thirds, have reduced underwater aesthetic values. The Great Barrier Reef has been a feature of Australia’s history since Lieutenant James Cook’s exploration of its ‘coral labyrinth’ in the late eighteenth century. This continuing history of discovery, appreciation and use has resulted in places of historic significance, such as lighthouses and shipwrecks. It has also built the social significance of the Reef. Most historic heritage values are generally in good condition, although many potential historic heritage values are yet to be located and recorded. Ongoing global interest in the Reef, combined with its use by generations of people, serves to preserve and enhance the social significance of the Region’s environment. There is also a long history of scientific studies in the Region. From early natural history observations to present-day research, findings from the Region have helped inform global understanding of tropical marine ecosystems. Commonwealth heritage-listed places in the Region retain the values for which they were listed. They are well recorded, retain their integrity and are in good condition. Natural heritage values close to the populated coast are more likely to have declined due to more intensive human activity in the adjacent catchment. Those that are more remote and occurring at greater depths are more protected from impact. Informed by the assessments of biodiversity, ecosystem health and the range of heritage values in the Region, it is concluded that the outstanding universal value of the world heritage property remains in good condition, however the overall condition of some key attributes is poor and many attributes have deteriorated since the property’s listing in 1981. This has affected some aspects of the Region’s natural beauty and natural phenomena, ecological and biological processes, and habitats for the conservation of biodiversity. Traditional Owners with connections to the Great Barrier Reef maintain their ongoing links to sea country; however, other aspects of their interaction with the environment are under pressure. The Region remains an outstanding example of the Earth’s evolutionary history. An overarching theme of all aspects of the Region’s heritage values is that they are poorly recorded and rarely monitored. This has contributed to the grades assigned to the condition of many values and directly affects the ability to protect and manage them.