Anchoring and Mooring in the Cairns Planning Area

The reefs in the Cairns Planning Area are outstanding for their diversity of coral cover and marine life. Because they are such popular destinations, they are especially vulnerable to damage by careless anchoring and vessel groundings.

Using a mooring

Tying up to a mooring, instead of anchoring, means that you are helping to protect the coral reefs of the Marine Park. Please use a mooring whenever you can and follow the responsible reef practices for moorings.

There are blue public moorings available for use within the Cairns Planning Area. You must use them according to the requirements marked on the colour-coded band and mooring tag.

Public moorings are not permitted private moorings and so do not provide greater access to the Cairns Planning Area than that allowed for in individual permits.

For example:

  • If you are conducting a Standard Tour Operation, public moorings do not provide you with more frequent access to the Cairns Planning Area. If you are not accessing a permitted private mooring, you generally may only access the Planning Area for 50 days per year and you must book for each of these visits.
  • If you are conducting a Regional Tour Operation, public moorings do not provide you with more frequent access to individual Locations. If you are not accessing a permitted private mooring at a Location or do not have a specific endorsement that allows more frequent access, you generally may only visit each Location on 50 days per year.

There are permitted private moorings at most of the popular reefs in the area. Many operators have negotiated sharing arrangements to make the most use of these moorings. If you regularly visit a Location, see if you can share a mooring with others. For most operators, operating to a permitted private mooring will allow you more frequent access to the Cairns Planning Area.

What about anchoring?

As a general rule, you must not damage coral. Make sure that you are causing the least damage possible by anchoring in sand whenever possible and following the responsible reef practices for anchoring.

However, there may be times when damage is unavoidable. When you are anchoring, the general requirement not to damage coral does not apply if you:

  • take reasonable care to avoid damaging coral, and
  • use a reef pick to anchor, and
  • anchor in a designated Reef Anchorage.

There are special rules for anchoring vessels over 35 metres in length (including cruise ships) - see below.

What are Reef Anchorages?

Reef Anchorages are anchoring sites that have been established in the Cairns Planning Area to:

  • encourage anchoring in places that will minimise coral damage
  • provide anchoring places which will not be restricted by the presence of moorings
  • separate anchoring areas from mooring areas to prevent conflict.

You can anchor in Reef Anchorages providing that your group size matches that set for the Location. You can locate the general position of a reef anchorage on the map 'Group Size and Sensitive Locations' (see Download Maps near top right of page). You can find the exact location of these anchorages in Schedule 8 of the Cairns Area Plan of Management (see Related Links near top right of page).

Where can't I anchor?

Because the coral reefs around moorings and pontoons in the Cairns Planning Area are such important presentation sites, you cannot anchor your vessel or aircraft within:

  • 50 metres of a permitted mooring
  • 200 metres of a pontoon.

These provisions do not apply at the following Locations:

  • Cape Tribulation Locality 1
  • East Hope Island Reef
  • Green Island Locality 1
  • Lizard Island Locality 2
  • Lizard Island Locality 3
  • Low Island Reef Locality.

You must also not anchor in the Cod Hole Locality and you must not anchor a vessel longer than seven metres in Lizard Island Locality 1 (see Download Maps near top right of page).

Where can I anchor a large vessel?

If your vessel is between 35 metres and 70 metres in length (e.g. superyachts and boutique cruise vessels) you may anchor in the following places in the Cairns Planning Area:

You may also anchor outside defined Locations in the area, if this is allowed on on your permit.

Special allowance for weather

You can also anchor a large vessel outside a Reef Anchorage at the following Locations when seeking protection from northerly winds, as long as you anchor in accordance with an approved anchoring strategy:

  • Lizard Island Locality 4
  • Moore Reef Locality 2
  • Rachel Carson Reef (15-092)
  • Ribbon Reef No 3 (15-150)
  • Ribbon Reef No 9 (14-154)
  • Thetford Reef (16-068)
  • Unnamed Reef (14-153)

An anchoring strategy is a document setting out how coral damage from anchoring at the site will be minimised. It outlines alternative anchoring sites, coral cover at relevant sites and how responsible reef practices will be applied when anchoring. An anchoring strategy must be approved by the GBRMPA.

Where can I anchor a cruise ship?

If you operate a cruise ship (more than 70 metres in length), specific Locations have been identified as cruise ship anchorages:

  • Lizard Island Localities 2 and 3 (these localities are combined as one cruise ship anchorage)
  • Ribbon Reef No. 5 (15-038)
  • Ribbon Reef No. 2 (15-075)
  • Agincourt Reef (15-096)
  • Norman Reef (16-030) (south-easterly and north-westerly anchorages)
  • Moore Reef (16-071).

Please check the coordinates for these cruise ship anchorages and make a booking before accessing these anchorages.

You may also anchor anywhere outside defined Locations, providing this is allowed on your permit.

Download Maps

Cairns Area Group Size and Sensitive Locations Map (Top) - 978.2 kb

Cairns Area Group Size and Sensitive Locations Map (Middle) - 1014.5 kb

Cairns Area Group Size and Sensitive Locations Map (Bottom) - 993.0 kb

Cod Hole Locality Map - 1.9 Mb

Lizard Island Localities Map - 1.9 Mb

Protect coral

Poor anchoring practices can cause severe reef damage. Wherever possible, use moorings or defined Reef Anchorages to prevent damage to the reef. Whenever you anchor, use proper anchoring techniques.


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