Coastal development

The Great Barrier Reef catchment is used for agriculture, mining, urban and industrial development, port activities and island development. However, these coastal developments can have a negative impact on the Reef’s health.

This includes previous development actions, such as broad-scale clearing of habitats for agriculture, and current actions, such as smaller-scale clearing and reclamation for urban and industrial development.

As Queensland and its industries continue to grow, an increasing number of approvals are also being sought for major developments along the coast and on the islands adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Region.

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), the Australian Environment Minister must decide on developments that have the potential to negatively affect the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and Marine Park.

If a development's footprint is wholly within or partly within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 also applies.


More than 80 per cent of the Greater Barrier Reef catchment supports agriculture use, which has not changed substantially in the past decade. Most land is used for grazing, cropping, dairy and horticulture, with cattle grazing the most extensive use of land.


Historically, extensive small-scale mining operations occurred throughout much of the Great Barrier Reef catchment. Since the early 1900s, Queensland has more than doubled its production of saleable coal, and the region is now associated with some of the world’s largest mines and coal ports.

Curtis Island, which is in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, is also the site for the world’s first project converting coal seam gas to liquefied natural gas.

Urban and industrial development

Apart from mining, urban and industrial development in the Great Barrier Reef catchment is not extensive; however, future economic projections suggest an increase in these types of land uses.

This is due to population growth in coastal areas, which is increasing the demand for infrastructure and services, such as roads, water, sewerage and power.

Although urban areas occupy only a small proportion of the catchment (less than 0.01 per cent), much of the development is located on floodplains and within the coastal zone.

Port development

Port development has been the major reason for coastal reclamation — infilling areas of ocean, wetlands or other water bodies — along the Great Barrier Reef coast.

The total area reclaimed within the World Heritage Area since its listing in 1981 is approximately eight square kilometres. Most of this was in the Gladstone region.

Port development can also create artificial barriers to freshwater flow, such as bund walls and infrastructure in waterways.


Land-based aquaculture operations — mainly prawns, barramundi, red claw and freshwater fishes — are located close to the coast in parts of the southern half of the catchment.

Over the past decade there has been little expansion of land-based aquaculture adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef region; however, overall production has increased.

There are no marine-based aquaculture operations within the region at present.

Island development

Some Great Barrier Reef islands support residential areas and tourism resorts. The principal residential islands are Palm Island and Magnetic Island.

There are tourism resort developments on 27 Great Barrier Reef islands. Most are in the Whitsundays, including Hamilton, Hayman, Lindeman, South Molle and Long islands.

A major redevelopment of Great Keppel Island resort was approved in 2013.