Many visitors come to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to enjoy its natural beauty. Swimming, boating, fishing and snorkelling are the most popular activities for visitors.

A survey of households conducted in 2008 estimated 14.6 million recreational visits were made to the Marine Park in the previous 12 months by residents living within the Reef catchment.

About 60 per cent of recreational visitors visit the Reef between one and 10 times in a year, but a small proportion (about 15 per cent) visit the area more than 50 times a year.

Recreational use (including recreational fishing) contributed $153 million to the Australian economy in 2006/07. The exact contribution of the non-fishing component is not known.

A total of about 80,000 vessels were registered in 2007.


Recreational activities that do not involve fishing can be undertaken in almost all of the Great Barrier Reef Region.

In the more intensively used areas (such as offshore Cairns and the Whitsundays), Plans of Management outline detailed measures for reducing the impacts of recreation (and tourism).

This includes specifying group and vessel size limits and no anchoring areas.

Public moorings are provided throughout the Great Barrier Reef at some of the more popular recreational locations.

Public education plays a major part in managing recreational use, along with compliance activities.

Recreational vessel and personal watercraft registration and licensing are managed by Maritime Safety Queensland.


There have been few studies of the impacts of recreational use on the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem.

Impacts are expected to be mostly inshore areas close to major regional centres given the distribution of boat ownership.

The likely impacts are:

  • Localised but frequent anchor damage to corals and seagrass meadows
  • Littering
  • Boat strikes on marine mammals and turtles
  • Fin damage to corals when snorkelling and diving.

There is some risk of introducing species through fouling on recreational vessels, especially those from overseas.