Best environmental practices and legal requirements for limited impact research

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) promotes the use of best environmental practices for activities, including research.

Accredited research institutions are required to adopt appropriate environmental practices and standards (including instruction and training of personnel) and have an ongoing commitment to improve those practices and standards.

This requirement forms part of the memorandum of understanding between GBRMPA and accredited educational and research institutions.

The best environmental practices set out below are designed to help manage limited impact research activities (both extractive and non-extractive) by accredited institutions as well as researchers who are independently permitted. These practices are the minimum acceptable standards for the various activities.

Researchers acting under a memorandum of agreement should also adhere to the best environmental practices and standards attached to the agreement.

In addition, research activities must abide by guidelines set out in any approved environmental management plans designed by research stations (within the Marine Park) for the Scientific Research Zones around the specific research station.

Activities outside the scope of limited impact research will require written permission from GBRMPA. Additional restrictions or requirements may also apply under another Commonwealth or Queensland law.

Below are summaries of best environmental practices for a range of activities:

Reporting incidents

If you witness, or are aware of any breaches of limited impact research or research permits, please report details through our report an incident form.

Collection and manipulation of marine life as part of a research program

Collection and manipulation of marine life is limited by number per project per year and per location/site for limited impact research (see collection limits in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 1983 Table 19-1 and 19-2).

If you pick something up and put it back down, tag it or manipulate it in any way this is still considered as collection or 'take' as defined in the Zoning Plan. The restrictions on the number of species you can collect under limited impact research also applies to manipulation. For example, if there is a limit of 50 specimens per reef, then you are only able to touch, manipulate, collect and/or tag that number of specimens.

Legal requirements
  • The collection, or manipulation by any means, of animal, plant or marine product, whether dead or alive, must be conducted in accordance with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003 and associated Regulations.
  • You must not collect within Buffer Zones (Olive Green) Zones, Marine National Park (Green) Zones and/or Preservation (Pink) Zones without a permit.
  • All collection must adhere to any approved Environmental Management Plan designed by research stations within the Marine Park, for the Scientific Research Zones around the specific research station.
Best environmental practices
  • Collection should be conducted in such a way as to reduce any impact on the surrounding habitat and non-target organisms.
  • All non-target organisms and bycatch should be carefully returned alive to their place of capture immediately.
  • If any rocks or coral rubble are overturned, they should be carefully replaced to their original orientation and place of rest.
  • Collection and manipulation should occur away from known tourist areas.
  • Any transport of animals from the Marine Park to aquaria should be undertaken in an ethical manner (e.g. marine organisms maintained in aerated seawater).

Fishing as part of a research program

We work in collaboration with Queensland fisheries management agencies and other stakeholders to ensure fish stocks are adequately protected and that fisheries in the Marine Park are ecologically sustainable.

Contact us for further information on fisheries policy and programs.

Legal requirements
  • Make sure you know what is permitted by checking the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003, relevant Queensland fisheries legislation and fisheries information.
  • Fisheries information is available from Fisheries Queensland.
  • You must abide by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003 (e.g. do not fish in green zones without a permit, gear restrictions apply in yellow zones etc).
  • All fishing apparatus and equipment to be used for limited impact research should be authorised under Queensland fisheries legislation for recreational use. Any gear that does not adhere to this requires a permit.
Best environmental practices
  • Take only what you need and within legal limits.
  • Return all under-sized or non-target fish to the water carefully and quickly.
  • Maintain a list of collected specimens in order to meet the reporting requirements by the accredited educational or research institution.
  • If you intend keeping a fish, remove it from the hook or net quickly and kill it humanely.
  • Avoid fishing, anchoring and diving where fish feeding takes place.
  • Do not throw away fishing line as it can kill marine animals.
  • Avoid fishing in areas where fish are gathering to spawn (spawning aggregation sites).
  • Report tagged fish to the SUNTAG phone: 1800 077 001.
  • Report 'fish kills' (mass deaths of fish). Please take note of the circumstances and collect specimens, if possible.

Spearfishing as part of a research program

Spearfishing using a spear gun or small hand spear on snorkel may be a collection method used by researchers conducting limited impact research in accordance with the Regulations.

Legal requirements
  • Spearfishing for the purposes of limited impact research (not using a powerhead, firearm or light or underwater breathing apparatus) is allowed in the General Use Zone, Habitat Protection Zone and Conservation Park Zone.
  • You must not spearfish in Public Appreciation Special Management Areas of the Conservation Park Zone (yellow zone with a pink dotted line around it) unless you have an endorsement on your authorisation letter.
  • You must not spearfish in areas closed to spearfishing under Queensland fisheries legislation.

More information on spearfishing is available from Fisheries Queensland.

Netting as part of a research program

Fence nets, seine nets and/or barrier nets may be used as a collection method for limited impact research in accordance with the regulations.

Legal requirements
  • Nets must be attended at all times by the researcher.
  • All fishing apparatus and equipment to be used for limited impact research should be authorised under Queensland fisheries legislation for recreational use. Any gear that does not adhere to this requires a permit.
Best environmental practice
  • All undersized or non-target specimens caught in nets should be retrieved from the net with care so as to minimise damage to the organism, and be returned to the water carefully and quickly.
  • Nets should only be deployed on bare reef rock and/or sand areas so as to minimise disturbance to benthic fauna and flora.
  • Nets deployed in the Marine Park should not pose a risk to navigation and other users of the Marine Park.

Tagging fish as part of a research program

Manipulation of reef fish has the possibility of increasing stress to the animal and may affect their survivorship. However, standard methods of tagging have been widely used and are likely to have minimal impact on the survivorship of study species.

Legal requirements
  • Only animals species mentioned in the limited impact research collection tables (Table 19-1 and 19-2) in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 2003 may be manipulated using fish tagging devices. If you need to manipulate more than what is listed in the tables or a species which is not listed you will require a permit.
Best environmental practices
  • The size of fish tags to be used should complement the size of the fish being tagged to avoid any undue stress on the fish from an oversized tag.
  • The use of fluorescent elastomer (rubber) tattoos is common and should be injected just under the skin of fish via a small syringe and are usually 2-5 mm long and 0.5 mm wide.
  • Manipulation of fish is viewed as collection and as such the numbers recommended for collection of reef fish also apply with tagging.
  • Survival of non-target reef fish caught on line is usually improved if the researcher uses barb-less hooks.

Float and buoy use under a research program

Floats and buoys may be used for limited impact research in accordance with the regulations and are limited by the number at each location.

Legislative requirements
  • Sub-surface marker buoys must be less than 100mm in diameter and:
    • No more than 20 sub-surface marker buoys may be used per research project per location
  • Sub-surface marker buoys must be attached by lines to either:
    • Concrete nails driven into dead coral substrata; or
    • Inverted-U-shaped metal rods less than 6mm in diameter driven into sand
  • Surface marker buoys must be less than 200mm in diameter and:
    • No more than 10 surface marker buoys may be used per research project per location; and
    • If surface marker buoys are used a researcher associated with the research project must be present at all relevant times at the location.
  • Surface marker buoys must be attached by lines to either:
    • Concrete nails driven into dead coral substrata; or
    • Inverted-U-shaped metal rods less than 6mm in diameter driven into sand.
Best environmental practices
  • Marker buoys should be secure.
  • It is recommended that buoys are sub-surface where possible and that GPS are used to mark their location.
  • The researcher should ensure that marker buoys do not pose a risk to navigation or other users of the Marine Park (e.g. marker buoys should not be deployed in vessel traffic areas).

Collection of sediment and water samples as part of a research program

A quantified amount of sediment and water may be collected as part of limited impact research in accordance with the Regulations.

Legislative requirements
  • Only sediment sampling devices that are not motorised nor pneumatically nor hydraulically operated may be used to collect sediment.
  • Only water sampling devices that are not motorised nor pneumatically nor hydraulically operated may be used to collect water.
  • No more than 20 litres of wet sediment is taken or collected per research project per calendar year, without a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park permit.
  • No more than 100 litres of seawater is taken or collected per research project per calendar year, without a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park permit.
Best environmental practices
  • Sediment sampling devices should be deployed or used in areas that have least impact on benthic flora and fauna.
  • All non-target organisms and by-catch should be returned alive to their place of capture immediately.
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