Managing Commonwealth islands

Image of Low Isles. Image credit Chris Jones

Low Isles © Chris Jones

The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area includes approximately 1050 islands, comprising coral cays, continental islands and mangrove islands.

Seventy of these islands are designated Commonwealth islands and used for a diversity of activities including Defence activities, recreation, tourism, research and traditional use of marine resources.

  • Twenty-one islands are managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
  • Twenty of the 21 managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority managed islands possess navigational lighthouses or beacons.
  • 48 are held by the Department of Defence and one is held by the Department of Finance.
  • The Commonwealth islands extend from Albany Island near the tip of Cape York in the north, to Lady Elliot Island in the south.
  • Many Commonwealth islands — such as Lady Elliot Island, Dent Island and Low Isles — have significant natural, Indigenous and historic heritage values.

What do Commonwealth islands support?

The islands and their interconnected reefs support unique assemblages of flora and fauna and are critical to the life cycles of many species, including over 200 bird species and nesting sites for marine turtles. The islands are important refugia for animals and plants, such as Pisonia forests which, in Australia, are largely restricted to coral cays in the World Heritage Area.

The islands also provide a number of ecosystem services, such as buffering the coast from storms, supporting nutrient cycling to adjacent marine ecosystems, and contributing to soil and sand formation.

The Great Barrier Marine Reef Park Authority works in partnership with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service through the Reef Joint Field Management Program and leaseholders to ensure the long-term protection, ecologically sustainable use and enjoyment through the restoration and maintenance of natural, cultural and historic values of Commonwealth islands.

Commonwealth island formal arrangements

A number of formal arrangements underpin this work, including:

Aerial view of Lady Island Elliot

Lady Island Elliot © Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort