Island and Beach visits

The Great Barrier Reef stretches along most of Queensland's east coast – a coastline that has some beautiful beaches and many natural habitats that play an important role supporting the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem. In particular, wetlands provide habitat, breeding and nursery areas for many marine species and help protect the Great Barrier Reef from excessive inputs of sediment and nutrients during heavy rainfall events.

Offshore, there are over 900 islands within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, both continental islands and coral cays. Some of these are open to camping and offer some of the best settings in the world to pitch a tent and watch the natural world go about its business. When you visit these picture-perfect locations remember they are also refuges for abundant fauna and flora that are very sensitive to human disturbance.

It’s therefore critical that if you or your clients pay a visit to any of these fragile coastal and island sanctuaries, you tread lightly and leave only footprints behind. By doing so and following the responsible practices outlined below, you’re helping to ensure that the environment which attracted you and your clients in the first place, remains exactly as it was before you arrived. Also remember to get the correct permit before you visit any of the Great Barrier Reef islands.

Responsible Reef Practices

In general

  • Check with your local Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service for special requirements before visiting islands and coastal National Parks.
  • Book your campsite in advance with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, especially during peak times (for example public and school holiday periods).
  • Keep group sizes small.
  • Check all camping and picnic gear before you pack for your visit and remove dirt, seeds, insects and vermin.
  • Minimise the wake and wash from your vessel when near shorelines and beaches.
  • Access islands at high tide to minimise the potential damage to coral reef flats.
  • Remove all seeds from clothing and shoes before going ashore and before leaving the island.
  • Carry adequate communication equipment.
  • Be self-sufficient: few islands have water or facilities. Allow at least five litres of water a day for each person in your party.
  • Stay on marked trails, do not trample on vegetation or break branches from trees and shrubs.
  • Use defined access tracks (where provided) when you’re on the beach, to avoid damaging dune vegetation.
  • If nearby wildlife seems agitated, stop your activity and move away.
  • Be quiet. Loud or sudden noises can disturb and stress wildlife, and annoy fellow visitors.
  • Do not disturb nesting seabirds or turtles – avoid making loud noises, using strong lights or making sudden movements near their nests.
  • Do not feed animals.
  • Do not collect shells, seeds or other natural ‘souvenirs’ - take only photos and memories back with you.
  • Do not disturb cultural sites (for examples shell middens and fish traps).
  • Take all rubbish (such as food scraps, cigarette butts, plastic, and paper) back to the mainland and dispose of it properly.
  • Collect any litter found on the island and take it with you.

When setting up camp

  • Camp in the designated commercial camping areas where available. Where not available, set camps at least 30 metres away from watercourses.
  • Search for nests (such as those of seabirds and turtles) on the ground before you set up camp or start an activity - move elsewhere if you see any.
  • Show respect for others when sharing sites. For instance, before you pitch your tent, talk to your neighbours about where you want to set up.

When cooking and washing

  • Use well-sealed containers to store food to avoid attracting wild animals.
  • Use gas or liquid spirit stoves for cooking rather than an open fire.
  • Remain with a lit stove at all times.
  • Do not use harsh detergents, toothpaste or soap in creeks, streams or closed waterways (such as ponds and watering holes).
  • Wash dishes, clothes and yourself at least 100 metres away from watercourses.
  • Use biodegradable cleaning products. Sand, for example, can be used to scour and clean your dishes.

When ‘nature calls’

  • Always use toilets where provided.
  • If there are no toilets, bury all faecal waste and toilet paper in a hole at least 15 centimetres deep and at least 100 metres from campsites and watercourses.

Marine Parks Legal Requirements

  • You must have a permit to camp on Commonwealth islands and island National Parks. Contact your local Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
  • You must have a permit to conduct commercial activities on island National Parks. Contact your local Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
  • You must have a permit to conduct a tourist program on Commonwealth islands.
  • Island Management Plans outline regulations and restrictions on specific islands within the World Heritage Area. These plans can be obtained from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
  • You must not bring any animals or introduce any plants to most islands and cays.
  • You must not feed native animals that are dangerous or capable of injuring a person, or where prohibited by notice.
  • You must not take, use or interfere with cultural or natural resources within an island National Park unless exempted by a licence or permit.
  • You must not light a campfire or remove wood from island National Parks or cays.
  • You must not possess any weapon including firearms on island National Parks.
  • Generators and compressors are not allowed on island National Parks without written permission from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
  • Amplified sound is not permitted on island National Parks.
  • 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.

  • Important milestone

    40 years anniversary

    We're delighted to celebrate the 40 years of the managing the Great Barrier Reef.

  • Visit the Reef

    fish on reef

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

  • What you can do

    purple coral

    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)

  • Climate Change and the Great Barrier Reef

    Climate Change and the Great Barrier Reef vulnerability assessment cover image

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

  • Current Conditions

    Current Conditions logo promo image

    Current Conditions: Environmental and climatic forecasts for the Great Barrier Reef