How the Reef is managed

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is responsible for ensuring the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park — one of the world's greatest natural treasures — is protected for the future.

As a World Heritage Area, the Reef is recognised internationally for its outstanding universal value.

For 40 years we've managed this biologically diverse place and multiple-use area, using the best available scientific information and input from marine managers, researchers, experts and Traditional Owners.

Our work in managing the Marine Park is guided by a range of plans, policies, regulations and legislation, with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 setting out our functions and responsibilities.

We directly manage activities in the Marine Park, implement plans and policies for Reef use and protection, and work with communities and industries that depend on a healthy Reef for recreation and their livelihoods.

Tourism, fishing, boating and shipping are all legitimate uses of the Marine Park. 

Focus for management

The Marine Park is widely recognised as one of the best managed marine protected areas in the world.

Building the Reef's resilience is central to our work. Given the Reef's size and complexity, this involves ensuring environmental protection while allowing for national, state and community interests in sustainable use.

Our Outlook Report and strategic assessment highlight threats to the Reef and its values, helping us to understand the priority areas for targeting our management effort.

Our 25-year management plan outlines our mix of on-ground work, policies, strategies and engagement.

The actions include:

  • increasing compliance focus to ensure zoning rules are followed
  • controlling crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks
  • ensuring cumulative impacts are considered when assessing development proposals
  • setting clear targets for action and measuring our success
  • monitoring the health of the ecosystem on a Reef-wide scale
  • implementing a Reef Recovery program to restore sites of high environmental value in regional areas — regional action recognises the variability of the Reef over such a large area and the variability of the issues and interests of communities and industries in each area.

We’re also working with other Australian and Queensland government agencies, industries and the community to implement the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan, an overarching framework for Reef management.

Reef 2050 includes a Reef Trust, which will use Australian Government and private funds to focus on improving coastal habitats and water quality throughout the Reef and adjacent catchments.

Managing threats

Many of the threats to the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem are the result of actions beyond the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef region (such as coastal development and catchment land use practices).

A range of Australian, Queensland and local government agencies have regulatory responsibilities for these matters.

Traditional Owners, natural resource management bodies, industry groups, community groups and individuals are also involved in addressing these threats and improving outcomes for the region.

The Australian Government released its State Party Report on the State of Conservation of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area in January 2015.

The Great Barrier Reef: pressures, resilience and strong management responses explains our position on issues related to that report. 

Zoning, permits and plans

Regulatory tools — such as our Zoning Plan, plans of management, permits and policies — enable us to manage activities that take place in the multiple-use Marine Park which extends over 99 per cent of the World Heritage Area.

The entire Marine Park is covered by a zoning plan. This operates similar to a town plan, by identifying where particular activities can and cannot occur.

This system separates conflicting uses, with 33 per cent of the Marine Park afforded marine national park status where fishing and collecting is not permitted.

In high use areas near Cairns and the Whitsunday Islands, plans of management are also in place.

Other special management areas have also been created for particular types of protection, such as Dugong Protection Areas.

In most of the adjoining waters, the Queensland Government provides complementary zoning rules.

Protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef region is a partnership between many government agencies, stakeholders and the public.

For example, GBRMPA and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service operate a joint day-to-day field management program of education, compliance and enforcement to support rules aimed at protecting the ecosystem.

Fisheries Queensland undertakes much of the fisheries management within the Marine Park.

In addition, the Federal Environment Department is responsible for implementing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999; Maritime Border Command provides aerial surveillance of the region; and the Australian Institute of Marine Science undertakes research.