Coastal development and protecting the Great Barrier Reef

As Queensland continues to grow, along with some of its industries, the number of approvals being sought for major developments along the coast and on the islands adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Region is increasing.

Uses of the catchment include agriculture, mining, urban and industrial development, port activities and island development.

Impacts on the health of the Reef can arise from the legacy of past development actions — such as broadscale clearing of catchment habitats for agriculture — along with current and future actions, such as smaller scale clearing and reclamation for urban and industrial development.

Developments that have the potential to impact on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and Marine Park must be referred under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) for a decision by the Australian Environment Minister

If a development's footprint is wholly within or partly within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 also applies.


Most land in the Great Barrier Reef catchment is used for grazing, cropping, dairy and horticulture, with more than 80 per cent of the catchment supporting some form of agriculture.

The most extensive land use is cattle grazing.

Agricultural uses of the catchment have not changed substantially in the past decade.


Historically, extensive small-scale mining operations occurred through much of the Great Barrier Reef catchment.

Production of saleable coal in Queensland has more than doubled since the early 1990s and the region is now associated with some of the world’s largest mines and coal ports.

Curtis Island, which is in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, is also the site for the world’s first project converting coal seam gas to liquefied natural gas.

Urban and industrial development

Urban and industrial development, excluding mining, in the Great Barrier Reef catchment is not extensive, however future economic projections suggest an increase in these types of land uses.

Population growth in coastal areas is increasing the demand for infrastructure and services such as roads, water, sewerage and power.

Although urban areas occupy only a small proportion of the catchment (less than 0.01 per cent), much of the development is located on floodplains and within the coastal zone. 

Port development

Port development has been the major reason for coastal reclamation — infilling areas of ocean, wetlands or other water bodies — along the Great Barrier Reef coast.

The total area reclaimed within the World Heritage Area since its listing in 1981 is approximately eight square kilometres. Most of this was in the Gladstone region.

Port development can also create artificial barriers to freshwater flow, such as bund walls and infrastructure in waterways.


Lando-based aquaculture operations — mainly prawns, barramundi, redclaw and freshwater fishes — are located close to the coast in parts of the southern half of the catchment.

Over the past decade there has been little expansion of land-based aquaculture adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef region, however overall production has increased.

There are no marine-based aquaculture operations within the region at present.

Island development

Some Great Barrier Reef islands support residential areas and tourism resorts.

The principal residential islands are Palm Island and Magnetic Island.

There are tourism resort developments on 27 Great Barrier Reef islands. Most are in the Whitsundays, including Hamilton, Hayman, Lindeman, South Molle and Long islands.

A major redevelopment of Great Keppel Island resort was approved in 2013.