Bird watching

With an estimated 175 species, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park boasts an incredible collection of birdlife – some are year round residents, while thousands of others use the Marine Park as a much needed pit stop during their exhausting annual migration.

Many of the Reef’s islands are internationally significant breeding and nesting sites and offer an amazing wildlife experience. The birds, however, are particularly vulnerable during nesting and it’s vital that special care is taken not to disturb them.

Slight disturbances may scare the adult bird off the nest; and it can take only minutes for unattended eggs to be ruined or for chicks to be eaten by predatory birds.

In general

  • Land and launch your boat well away from any seabirds or shorebirds
  • Do not pull your dinghy up the beach into nesting areas
  • Always try to not disturb any birds
  • Stay well clear of nesting and roosting shorebirds and seabirds. Remain low by crouching, keep quiet, move slowly and use existing cover
  • Watch your step to avoid crushing camouflaged eggs and chicks
  • Never try to touch birds, chicks or eggs
  • Take particular care at the following sensitive times:
    • Late afternoon and early evening
    • The hottest part of the day
    • Wet and/or cold weather
    • Moonlit nights
    • When eggs, or naked/downy chicks are in their nests.
  • If seabirds or shorebirds exhibit stressful behaviour (for example, raucous calling, swooping or ‘dive bombing’) back away and leave the area immediately
  • Do not conduct activities that may disturb birds (for example, kite flying, volleyball, beach rugby, beach cricket)
  • Do not use objects that flap or make noise (such as umbrellas or tarps) around nesting or roosting seabirds and shorebirds
  • Do not sound horns, claxons, sirens or loudspeakers, and muffle the sound of your anchor chain
  • Keep dogs well away from seabirds and shorebirds, ensure the dogs are kept quiet and on a leash, avoid taking them to beaches where there often are seabirds
  • Do not take animals (including dogs) to National Parks, islands or cays
  • Do not shine torches or bright lights directly on roosting or nesting seabirds – angle the lights to the side, and cover bulbs with red cellophane or filters.

Marine Parks Legal Requirements

  • You must not 'take' birds or their eggs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park unless you have a Marine Parks permit. Note: 'Take' includes removing, gathering, killing or interfering with, or attempting to take. There may be special arrangements for Traditional Owners
  • You must abide by access and speed restrictions at Sensitive Locations in the Cairns Planning Area, at significant bird sites in the Hinchinbrook Planning Area and at significant bird sites in the Whitsunday Planning Area
  • You must not bring any animals (including dogs) to National Parks and most islands and cays.