Environmental management plans

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) requires operators of certain activities to develop an environmental management plan (EMP) to manage their operations.

This ensures practical steps are taken to complete the project while providing the necessary protection for the Marine Park.

If an EMP is required, it will be set out as a condition of a Marine Parks permit.


If you are required to prepare an EMP, the following guide will help outline its purpose, what aspects need to be covered, and in what level of detail.

Some parts of this guide may not apply to you, as it covers a wide range of projects from large developments to small vessel operations.

Please maintain close contact with the agency while preparing your EMP. 

Our Environmental Assessment and Protection team is available to answer your questions. As a first point of contact, email assessments@gbrmpa.gov.au.


The EMP should be simple, effective, designed to suit your particular operation, and able to be changed with time, including through continual improvement.

Generally, an EMP will describe your operation and the surrounding area, and include individual elements that deal with specific issues of your operation.

As a minimum the plan needs to address:

  • the values of the Marine Park that may be impacted by your activities
  • how you will minimise impacts
  • what you will do to ensure your staff and clients meet the requirements of the EMP, including the responsible person for key actions
  • how you will determine if these actions are working, and how you will fix things that are ineffective.


The process of having an EMP approved by the agency may require the following steps:

  1. Discuss the scope of the EMP with the agency
  2. Prepare a draft EMP and submit it to the agency
  3. The agency will assess the EMP against requirements
  4. The agency will discuss any amendments with you and, if necessary, ask that they be incorporated into the EMP so the plan can be resubmitted
  5. If the agency is satisfied with the EMP, you will be given written approval.


The following compares two options of how you can format an EMP.

An EMP can be formatted to deal with activities (for example small boat operations) or with issues (for example water quality).

Table 1 and the below example of an EMP show how details can be added to make up an element of your plan.

Table 1: Structure of EMP element

EMP element component

Activity-based EMP

For example: small boat operations

Issue-based EMP

For example: water quality


Activity or issue
The activity of your operation/construction being managed or considered The environmental matter being managed or considered
Potential impact/s Description of the potential effects of the activity on all environmental issues Description of the potential impacts of all activities on the environmental issue
Aim What the EMP element hopes to achieve for that activity What the EMP element hopes to achieve for that environmental issue
Management strategies How the activity will be managed to achieve the aim How all activities will be managed to achieve the aim
Performance indicators
What will be measured to show that the aim is being met What will be measured to show that the aim is being met
Responsibility Who will be the person nominated to manage this element Who will be the person nominated to manage this element
Monitoring and reporting How and when will the performance indicators be measured to test whether the aim has been achieved How and when will the performance indicators be measured to test whether the aim has been achieved
Corrective action Improve. The action to be taken and by whom, if a performance requirement is not met Improve. The action to be taken and by whom, if a performance requirement is not met

You may have your own preferred format – let us know early so we can advise on its suitability.

Issues and activities to consider

The table below contains examples of the issues and activities that may need to be addressed in an EMP.

The plan must include all issues relevant to your site and operation. We can provide detailed advice on matters to include once we have a better understanding of your site and project.

Table 2: EMP issues and activities

Environmental Matter/activity  Examples
Air quality Odours, smoke, fumes, chemicals
Cultural heritage Historic shipwrecks, Indigenous values, existing use
Fuels and chemicals Storage, handling, disposal, spill response
Marine and coastal processes Beach erosion, altered current flows, sand movement
Marine flora and fauna Coral, fish, seagrass, sponges, shells, birds
Noise and vibration Construction activities, power generation, vessel movements, aircraft operations
Pontoon/ structure installation and maintenance Installation procedures, maintenance (for example painting, wash down), inspections (structural integrity and moorings)
Safety and emergency plans Cyclone preparation, oil spill response, missing persons
Sediment quality Grain size, nutrients, metals
Socio-economic environment Adjacent users, competition, land values, job creation
Solid and liquid waste Storage, handling, disposal, transfer
Staff training Boat operation, fuel transfer, site clean-up, tourist management, EMP compliance
Vessel operations Movement, anchoring, propwash
Water quality Turbidity, pH, nutrients, colour, temperature, salinity

Existing information

Where you have an existing plan for your operation that would be useful in the EMP (for example, a fuel spill response plan) or where systems are already available (for example, a staff training manual) you can incorporate or adapt these for inclusion.

We also have activity guidelines that you could refer to in your EMP, such as those for diving and snorkelling, interpretive talks, touch tanks and fish feeding.

Note: These EMPs deal only with Great Barrier Reef Marine Park environment and social issues. They do not address matters such as health and safety – these should be addressed through appropriate occupational health and safety requirements.

Example of an EMP element

Below is an example of one element of an activity-based EMP, as a guide on how to set out required information.
EMP element: Visitor behaviour management
1. Activity
  • Snorkelling
  • Scuba diving
  • Swimming
  • Guided tours
  • Sea walker
2. Potential impact/s
  • Damage to corals from contact, for example fins, standing, grabbing, touching, collecting shells, lifting fauna
  • Increase in dead coral pavement
  • Increase in macro algal cover
  • Rubbish present in water
  • Increase in complaints from clients
3. Management strategies
  • Education brief given before each snorkel and dive tour
  • 'Look don’t touch' policy with interpretation
  • Post signs around site – no standing on corals etc
  • Manage dive site – introduce dive trails
  • Keep snorkellers out of shallow water – use buoyed lines; move with tide
  • Install rest stations for swimmers
  • Provide bins and collect rubbish
4. Performance indicators
  • Minimise damage to corals from contact
  • Maintain healthy clean site – daily check
  • Dive trails not eroding – monthly check
  • No shells bought on board – daily check
  • Regular monitoring of coral reef health in snorkel areas – annual check (see coral monitoring EMP Element)
  • Prevent detrimental water quality changes
5. Responsibility
  • Dive master, pre-dive briefings
  • Snorkel look out – enforce no standing
  • Field operations manager – move snorkel lines, signage
6. Reporting structure
  • All relevant incidents/observations reported to dive master, then to vessel master. Report kept and action initiated.
7. Corrective action
  • Note made of all damaged corals, review in-water activities/practices, make suitable changes, improve education, install/improve signs, educate staff.