What you need to know

Settings in the Whitsunday Planning Area

To help maintain a range of opportunities for visitors to the area, each reef, bay and coastal area within the Whitsunday Planning Area has been assigned a ‘setting’. Settings can also help protect areas of outstanding conservation, cultural, heritage or scientific value.

Setting limits apply to all users of the Whitsunday Planning Area. There are five settings, ranging from setting 1 (intensive) areas to setting 5 (protected) areas. The main factor is the group size that your vessel is carrying, but there are also requirements regarding vessel length (refer to the table below). The settings usually apply to the area within the 1500 metre-line of the reef edge.

SettingsOverall vessel lengthMaximum group size
(including crew)
1. IntensiveLess than 70 metresNo limit
2. High use35 metres or less*No limit
3. Moderate use35 metres or less40 people
4. Low use35 metres or less15 people
5. Protected20 metres or less15 people

*At Hardy Reef, vessels less than 70 metres may enter the high use setting area if operating to a mooring or pontoon.

Note 1: Setting limits do not apply to anchored cruise ships and their service vessels, large vessels (greater than 35 metres) or large ships (70 metres or greater) anchored at designated anchorages, or to vessels in transit. Other management tools are used to ensure environmental sustainability.

Note 2: Boundary coordinates for each setting can be found in Schedule 2 of the Whitsundays Plan of Management.

Read information on setting 5 (protected) area site plans.

Read information on boating and zoning.

Significant bird sites

There are a number of significant bird sites in the Whitsunday Planning Area to protect the many migratory seabirds and shorebirds that visit the area and adjacent islands.

There are some times of the year when access to significant bird sites is limited. Where nesting species are most easily disturbed by noise, a ‘boat-free zone’ applies during a stated period.

Read information on responsible reef practices around bird watching.

Read information on protecting other wildlife in the Whitsundays.

Motorised water sports

Activities such as motorised water sports can disturb other users in the vicinity. Within the Whitsunday Planning Area, motorised water sports can be undertaken:

  • in setting 1 (intensive) areas
  • within Designated Motorised Water Sports Areas
  • outside setting areas.

Personal watercraft (e.g. jet skis) may be used within the boundaries of all setting areas for travelling purposes only by the most direct and reasonable route between two places.

Note: This applies to recreational use of personal watercraft - there are different requirements if using personal watercraft as part of a tourism operation.

See the map on motorised water sports areas for where motorised water sports can be undertaken in the Whitsunday Planning Area.

Read more information on motorised water sports.

Read information on other activities (for example, boating, fishing and whale watching).

Anchoring and mooring in the Whitsundays

Reef protection markers and no-anchoring areas

There are some reef areas that are particularly vulnerable to anchor damage. You can help protect these vulnerable reefs by observing designated no-anchoring areas.

There are two new no-anchoring areas (reef protection areas) in the Whitsunday Planning Area. One is located at Black Island the other at Dumbell Island. Both are marked by reef protection markers.

Read more information on reef protection markers in the Whitsunday Planning Area.

Please ensure you anchor with care outside the line of reef protection markers. View Responsible Reef Practices for anchoring and mooring.

Public moorings

You can use public moorings at a number of sites to help protect fragile reefs. Public moorings are blue-coloured buoys with a colour-coded band that signifies the ‘class’ of the mooring.

There are five classes of mooring, and you must ensure that you use a class of mooring that is suitable for your vessel and the weather. The relevant vessel length and wind conditions are displayed on the colour-coded band and marked plastic tag attached to the pick-up line.

View more information on public moorings in the Whitsunday Planning Area.

Private moorings

Privately owned moorings have been installed by regular users of an area, including commercial tourism operators. Private moorings are not generally available for public use. The moorings are private property and you must have the owner’s formal permission to use them. The Moorings Register show details of private moorings.

View Responsible Reef Practices for mooring.

Tourism in the Whitsundays

Tourism is extremely popular in the Whitsundays. During your visit, you may see a variety of tourism operations including day trip boats, bareboats and cruise ships. Designated anchorages have been nominated to enable large vessels such as cruise ships and superyachts to visit the Whitsunday Planning Area by providing an environmentally safe area for these vessels to anchor.

Read further information on designated anchorages or contact Tourism and Stewardship on (07) 4750 0700 or email bookings@gbrmpa.gov.au.

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