Coastal ecosystems

Coastal development is one of the biggest threats to the Great Barrier Reef. Maintaining and restoring coastal ecosystems near the Reef is vital to its health and resilience.

There are 14 coastal ecosystems that are important to the function of the Reef: coral reefs, lagoon floors, islands, open water, seagrass, coastline, estuaries, freshwater wetlands, forested floodplains, heath and shrublands, grass and sedgelands, woodlands, forests, and rainforests.

These provide important links between land, freshwater and marine environments, and some are feeding and breeding grounds for marine species. Any changes to coastal ecosystems or habitat loss can lead to a range of adverse environmental impacts, including on the long-term health and resilience of the Reef.

In order to improve the capacity of these coastal ecosystems the Authority has implemented strategies to reduce risk and encourage best practice and sustainable use of the ecosystems including:

  • Establishing principles for protecting, managing and promoting restoration within coastal ecosystems to enhance the capacity for the catchment to improve the health of the Reef now and in a changing climate.
  • Promoting the use of specific decision-support tools that can inform catchment management decisions to improve health, biodiversity, and water quality of coastal ecosystems.
  • Raising awareness of the important role coastal ecosystems play in maintaining Reef health.

Coastal ecosystems position statement

Our strategies can be found in the Authority’s position statement for coastal ecosystems.

Informing the outlook for Great Barrier Reef coastal ecosystems

The Informing the outlook for Great Barrier Reef coastal ecosystems is a technical report on the current status of the catchment ecosystems and the threats they face.

These threats are complex due to the size and scale of the Reef catchment. The catchment consists of 35 basins, and further work to assess coastal ecosystems at this basin scale has been carried out. A method for collecting and collating data was developed with the help of experts and piloted in some of the catchment basins.

Ecological functions

Coastal ecosystems provide a range of ecological services that support the Reef, including water distribution, food and habitat, and nutrient and chemical cycling.

For example, many reef species use the catchment for some part of their life-cycle. Adult mangrove jacks live in the Reef, but as larvae they migrate through freshwater rivers and streams and have even been found more than 100 km inland.

Barramundi also use floodplain habitats for parts of their life history.

Poor water quality in these habitats affects the health, survival, growth and breeding of many species that live in the Great Barrier Reef.