Ports and shipping

There are 12 ports in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area – two are located inside the Marine Park.

Information sheets have been developed to outline the role of ports and shipping in the Great Barrier Reef Region and how the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is meeting the challenges of managing an ecologically sustainable multiple-use Marine Park.

An information sheet incorporating all of the above topics is also available.

The Queensland Government has also developed a Ports Strategy 2014 for managing the state's ports over the next decade.

Management of shipping

There are stringent management arrangements for commercial shipping in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef which was designated a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area by the International Maritime Organisation.

Shipping traffic is confined to Designated Shipping Areas in the Great Barrier Reef Region.

Measures to increase navigational safety and reduce the risk of ship groundings and collisions include:

  • Compulsory pilotage
  • Recommended pilotage
  • Mandatory vessel reporting and monitoring.
Relevant management agencies also have incident response plans in place to respond to shipping events in the region.

All the adjacent ports of the Great Barrier Reef are managed by five port authorities, which are Queensland Government-owned corporations.

Port activities are governed by local, state, national and international requirements, including for protection of the environment from dredging and spoil disposal, waste, pollution and introduced marine pests.

The inner shipping route of the Great Barrier Reef is a vital part of the Queensland shipping industry. The Designated Shipping Area is defined in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003.


Shipping can damage the Great Barrier Reef through:

  • collisions
  • groundings
  • introduction of invasive marine pests
  • oil and chemical spills
  • introduction of anti-fouling paints
  • waste disposal
  • anchor damage.

Almost all ships travel safely along the designated shipping routes of the Great Barrier Reef with little if any impact.

Shipping activity has the potential to introduce non-native species into the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem.

Introduced species have been found along the Great Barrier Reef coast, in both port areas and nearby harbours. No introduced species have been found in marine areas outside the ports.

The impacts of dredging and construction of port facilities – such as seabed disturbance, transport or resuspension of contaminants, alteration of sediment movement and changes in coastal processes – can be significant but are localised.

Despite careful environmental impact management, further development of ports within the Great Barrier Reef Region, such as an increase in construction of new shipping berths and shipping channels or an increase in maintenance dredging, are likely to have local impacts on the marine environment.