Commercial shipping within the Great Barrier Reef is subject to stringent management arrangements.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, along with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and Maritime Safety Queensland, administer special measures under international and domestic law to regulate ship activities.

The main measures used to avoid and mitigate risks are:

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority and Maritime Safety Queensland have response plans in place to respond to shipping incidents. 

The North-East Shipping Management Plan has also been developed to help protect Australia's north-east marine environment through enhanced ship safety in the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait and Coral Sea regions. The plan was developed by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in close consultation with a range of organisations and government agencies, including GBRMPA.

Other potential risks

Ship-sourced pollution

There are many types of ship-sourced pollution that can impact on the Great Barrier Reef. The discharge of these wastes within the Marine Park is subject to strict regulations: sewage, grey water, oil, bilge, garbage and marine debris, and air emissions.

Ballast water

Ballast water is used to stabilise ships during cargo loading and unloading. The introduction of exotic marine species via ballast water is an environmental concern as it can threaten local biodiversity, fisheries and aquaculture.

All international vessels intending to discharge ballast water anywhere inside the Australian territorial sea, including the Marine Park, must manage their ballast water in accordance with national requirements.

These vessels must exchange ballast water for clean water from the deep ocean outside Marine Park boundaries, prior to arrival in Great Barrier Reef ports or waters.

The Australian Government's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has a range of management strategies to deal with this threat.

Marine pests

More than 250 exotic marine pests have been introduced into Australian waters via ballast water discharges and ship hull fouling, including mussels, sea-stars, and different types of crabs. Fifteen introduced species have been recorded at Queensland Ports.

Most overseas bulk carriers arriving in Queensland ports are from temperate waters. Ships originating from warmer waters present a greater risk of introducing marine pest species to the Reef.

Research

The Ship anchorage management in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area project finalised in July 2013 carried out an environmental impact assessment of ship anchorages and a cost-benefit analysis of potential ship anchorage options.

It also identified viable environmental management strategies.

The project was funded by the Australian Government and carried out by Gutteridge Haskins and Davey Pty Ltd. The project findings are being incorporated into the North-east Shipping Management Plan.