Scientific research

The Great Barrier Reef has long been an area of strong interest for scientists around the world.

The first formal investigations began in the late nineteenth century, and were followed by long-term field studies by the Royal Society of London and the British-Australian Great Barrier Reef expedition to Low Isles in 1927 and 1928. This laid the foundation for the development of coral reef science.

Now, the Reef is an international hub for tropical marine ecosystem research, and probably the best-studied tropical marine ecosystem in the world.

Scientific research is essential to understanding the functioning, health and resilience of the ecosystem and to continually improve its protection and management.


Under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003, scientific research is permitted in relatively undisturbed areas called Scientific Research Zones.

Individual research activities require permits or accreditation of research institutions, and strict conditions apply.

A network of six island research stations at Lizard Island, Low Isles, Green Island, Orpheus Island, Heron Island and One Tree Island is integral to research activities on the Reef.

Eighty per cent of scientific research has been conducted around Lizard, Heron and Orpheus islands.


Given the scale of activities, overall impacts from scientific research are likely to be localised.

  • Free zoning app

    Zoning maps

    If you're heading out on the water, download and use the free zoning app so you know where you can go and what you can do.

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  • Visit the Reef

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    Visit our Great Barrier Reef and discover its amazing animals, plants, and habitats.

  • What you can do

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    Everyone has a role to play in protecting our Great Barrier Reef. Find out what you can do to help protect this great Australian icon.

  • Report marine strandings


    If you see sick, dead or stranded marine animals please call RSPCA QLD 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625)

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    A Vulnerability Assessment: of the issues that could have far-reaching consequences for the Great Barrier Reef.