Rangers and marine managers celebrate 40-years protecting the Great Barrier Reef

Saving vulnerable turtles and seabirds, restoring tourism infrastructure post-cyclones, monitoring crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks and ensuring zoning rules are followed — just a few of the achievements of a unique Great Barrier Reef program celebrating its 40th anniversary this week.

Since 1979, rangers and marine managers from the Australian and Queensland governments have joined forces to protect the iconic and vast Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. A critical part of this historic agreement was the creation of a single field management program, funded by both the Commonwealth and Queensland governments.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Field Management Director Richard Quincey said ongoing dedicated field officers and vessels were essential for protecting reefs and islands — home to iconic plants, animals, habitats and rich cultural heritage.

“Together we are the eyes and ears on the Reef, at sea, in the air and on the islands — an area that is bigger than Italy and includes the most distant reaches of the World Heritage Area,” Mr Quincey said.

“For many visitors to the Reef, they’ve had some interaction with either the rangers themselves or the work and services they provide on the islands and to the Reef itself.

“And what’s amazing is how technology has aided our efforts — it’s come a long way in 40 years, including what we use on our vessels.

“With a fleet of 21 vessels, we have the ability to travel at high speed, operate in offshore areas, and carry out night operations.

“Plus, we’re soon to have Reef Resilience — a second 24-metre long-range vessel — which will expand our patrol and incident response capacity, particularly in the southern part of the Reef.”

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Executive Director Damien Head said one of the program’s most significant achievements was protecting turtles at Raine Island.

“Raine Island is the most important green sea turtle rookery in the world,” he said.

“Field officers collaborated with Traditional Owners, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, BHP, scientists and universities to make a difference to threatened and vulnerable species like turtles and seabirds.

“Over the years, we’ve carried out major beach re-profiling and installed fencing on rocky ledges to help increase turtle numbers — as a result, in the past year alone the island produced five times more turtle hatchlings.”

The Reef Joint Field Management Program is unique, with marine parks rangers and support staff from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, plus Indigenous rangers who are trained and mentored to help to protect sea country.

The working arrangements for the long-term management of the Great Barrier Reef were signed with the original “Emerald Agreement” in 1979.

The award-winning program received a significant funding boost in 2017-18 to double its capacity in recognition of the crucial role it plays in safeguarding the Reef.

Compliance patrols also played a vital role in protecting the Reef, with illegal fishing still one of the highest direct risks to the World Heritage Area.

Mr Head said the program worked with the Whitsunday tourism industry following cyclone Debbie to assist industry recovery and build reef resilience.

“Our rangers played an important role in protecting remaining fringing coral reef, reopening island visitor sites and constructing new island-based visitor opportunities,” he said.

“We are also proud of projects like the restoration of ecologically-important pisonia forests in the Capricornia Cays, which has seen important seabird breeding habitat returned.

“We have eradicated rats, cats, goats and jungle fowl from 14 ecologically significant islands.

“Our rangers deliver hundreds of Reef Health Impact Surveys, island health checks and seabird surveys to check for change and provide data on which to make sound decisions.”

The 40th anniversary is an acknowledgment of all who have been part of the Great Barrier Reef Joint Field Management Program.

With 40 years of experience, productive partnerships and sustainable resourcing; the Reef Joint Field Management Program is well-placed to continue to deliver this crucial and far-reaching work over the coming years to protect the iconic Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, for this generation and generations to come.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This vision is not to be copied, printed, published, or reproduced in any way for any other purpose without prior written permission from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

IMAGES Images of today’s 40th anniversary celebrations are available to download here.

Photo 1: Now - Marine Parks zoning 2019 - patrolling in the Whitsundays

Photo 2: Then - Marine parks zoning 1984 - previous Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chair Graeme Kelleher

Photo 3: Now - Caring for turtles on Raine Island

Photo 4: Then - Ranger Felicity Chapman caring for a turtle - Felicity was the first female ranger

Photo 5: Now - 2019 Indigenous ranger training at Mungalla Station - 38 rangers have been trained to date

Photo 6: Then - Billy Mann, one of the first Indigenous rangers - 1990s Shoalwater Bay

Photo 7: Now - Marine Parks compliance vessel Reef Ranger 2016

Photo 8: Then - Patrol vessel Shearwater II, based at Rosslyn Bay 1980s

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Media team | (07) 4750 0846 | media@gbrmpa.gov.au

Find out more at www.gbrmpa.gov.au and www.qld.gov.au, or by watching this slideshow about the history of the program.