Michaelmas Cay Locality Site Management Arrangements

The Michaelmas Cay locality (the locality) is 43km north-east of Cairns and 17km north of Green Island. The locality extends to a one nautical mile radius around Michaelmas Cay and is managed as a Sensitive Location. Sensitive Locations are identified as having special values (nature conservation, cultural and heritage, scientific or use values).

View a map of the Michaelmas Cay locality

Michaelmas Cay is one of the most important seabird breeding sites within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The locality is managed to provide opportunities for reasonable visitor use within limits that allow for protection of the area for conservation of natural resources.

A high level of protection is afforded to the locality through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003. The waters surrounding Michaelmas Cay are designated Marine National Park (Green) Zone. This area is a 'no take' zone and extractive activities like fishing or collecting are not allowed.

Natural values

Seabirds

Michaelmas Cay National Park is one of the most important seabird breeding sites in the Great Barrier Reef. It is the only destination within the Cairns area of the Great Barrier Reef providing an opportunity for visitors to experience a seabird rookery with high species diversity and large populations. The small, low sand cay covered by grasses and low-growing plants is an ideal habitat for thousands of ground nesting seabirds.

More than 16 species of seabirds have been recorded on Michaelmas Cay, with up to nine of those using the island for breeding. During the summer months, when nesting is at its peak, more than 20,000 birds have been observed. Common noddies, sooty terns, crested terns and lesser crested terns are the main breeding species (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service 2007).

Other species recorded on Michaelmas Cay include the endangered little terns, brown boobies, lesser frigate birds, ruddy turnstones, silver gulls, bridled terns, black-naped terns, reef herons, and roseate terns (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, 1998. Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park Management Plan).

Cultural and heritage values

Indigenous

The locality and the surrounding area is culturally significant to Aboriginal Traditional Owner groups including the Yirrganydji, Mandingalbay-Yidinji and Gungandji people.

The waters and fringing reefs around the cay are part of the cultural landscape and are used for traditional access and use of available resources. Spiritual connections are often held with these valuable natural and cultural resources.

The North Queensland Land Council Aboriginal Corporation is the representative body for Traditional Owners whose estates are located south of Cooktown and north of Townsville, including both inland and offshore areas.

European

Michaelmas Cay has European historical association, having been visited by early explorers. It was first named Oyster Cay in 1849 when HMS Bramble anchored offshore. A commercial beche-de-mer industry operated from 1870 until 1900 and a guano-mining lease was granted in 1901 which lasted for a short period (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, 1998. Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park Management Plan).

Visiting the Michaelmas Cay Locality

  • Before you visit the Michaelmas Cay Locality pick up Marine Park Zoning Map 6, available from local Community Access Points such as bait and tackle shops, Visitor Information Centres, marine centres, Queensland Parks and Wildlife offices, Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol offices or by contacting the GBRMPA on 1800 990 177.
  • The waters adjacent to Michaelmas Cay are Marine National Park (Green) Zone under both State and Commonwealth Zoning Plans.
  • A No Structures Policy is in place within the Locality. The objective of the No Structures Policy is to ensure the area remains in a natural state, largely unaltered by human works and free from structures and permanently moored facilities (for example, glass bottom boats). Exceptions apply to approved vessel moorings, facilities for research or management and navigation markers.
  • Refer to the no structures permit information bulletin

Whilst on Michaelmas Cay

  • Michaelmas Cay is a Queensland National Park. Visit the Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing website for more information.
  • Access to Michaelmas Cay is only allowed between 9.30am and 3pm daily and is limited to the intertidal Restricted Access Area marked out by rope.
  • Enjoy bird watching, but never handle any birds or eggs and keep at a reasonable distance. Adult seabirds can become agitated if disturbed and will fly off leaving their chicks and eggs vulnerable to predators, the heat and cold. Refer to Seabird watching in Best Environmental Practices in the Michaelmas Cay Tourist Code of Conduct for more information.

Conditions that apply to ALL users (both recreational and tourism operators

Low use Location
Max group: 15
Max vessel length: 35m
  • No motorised water sports or hovercraft¹
  • No operation of horns, loud speakers or sirens¹
  • No aircraft to fly below 3,000 feet ¹ ²
  • Vessel or aircraft speed limit of six knots in the Locality¹ (see also boating access channel conditions below)
  • Access to the cay only permitted between 9.30am and 3pm³
  • Visitor access limited to the roped off Restricted Access Area³.
Boating access channel conditions 4
  • The boating access channel is marked out by buoys
  • Four knot speed limit in the boating access channel
  • No swimming, diving, anchoring or mooring is permitted in this area to allow safe access to the Cay
  • View the Michaelmas Cay Tourist Operators Code of Conduct for more information.
Anchoring and moorings
  • Anchoring is not allowed within a 50 metre radius of a permitted (private) or public mooring¹.
  • Three public moorings have been installed. Further information is available in the following publication: Public moorings and anchoring - Protecting coral in the northern Great Barrier Reef
  • Nineteen permitted (private) moorings are allowed within the locality. The GBRMPA encourages permitted mooring owners to develop agreements to allow other operators to use their mooring when the permittee is not using it. 
  • There is one designated Reef Anchorage for use by vessels between 35 metres and 70 metres in length within the locality and two additional Reef Anchorages located just outside the locality (refer to the Michaelmas Cay Locality Map)
  • View Responsible Reef Practices for anchoring best practice.

Bookings information for tourist operators

Generally, tourist operators without specific endorsement to access Sensitive Locations in the Cairns Area are:

  • Required to make a booking to visit these locations
  • Only granted access to the locations 50 days per year
  • Limited to one vessel booking per day¹*
  • Required to book prior to visiting the location
  • Required to provide cancellation at least 24 hours in advance. If not the booking will stand and will be reflected in the operators records.
  • Able to make bookings up to two months in advance.
*Some of these limits do not apply to: A vessel if in transit through the location by the most direct route, a permitted tourist operator with relevant permission or special endorsement from the GBRMPA or a traditional owner conducting non-commercial traditional activities.
  1. Cairns Area Plan of Management 2008
  2. Air Services Australia-Fly Neighbourly Advice refer En Route Supplement, Australia (November, 2002).
  3. Marine Parks (Great Barrier Reef Coast) Zoning Plan 2004
  4. Michaelmas Cay Tourist Operators Code of Conduct
How to make a booking

To make a booking or inquiry please contact the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Cairns Office:

  • Monday-Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm on (07) 4046 6660
  • After hours 7.00am to 9.00am and 5.00pm to 9.00pm on 0417 004 815

Tourist operators with permission to access the Michaelmas Cay Locality

  • Cairns Professional Game Fishing Association (CPGFA) members may access the Association's mooring without a booking
  • Some operators can access the locality above that of a standard tour operator. This means they can either access the locality more than 50 days per year without a booking or with a group size larger than 15.

Michaelmas Cay Tourist Operators Code of Conduct

The Michaelmas Cay Tourist Operators Code of Conduct was developed in 1998 and complements government regulations and includes a list of guidelines designed to assist tour operators accessing the locality.

It is designed to promote the wise use and conservation of one of the most important seabird rookeries within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The Code has been prepared through consultation with tour operators, managers from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Queensland's Department of Environment and Resource Management, consultants and others.

Other planning documents

Other planning documents prepared include the Michaelmas Management Plan developed in 1986, the Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park Management Plan developed in 1998 and the Michaelmas Locality Site Plan developed in 2001. All of these documents were prepared in co-operation with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

Please note

The Michaelmas Management Plan, Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park Management Plan and the Michaelmas Locality Site Plan may be used as guiding policy documents for management arrangements, however some components are superseded by the Cairns Area Plan of Management and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003.

If you would like more information or wish to provide comment, please contact GBRMPA on (07) 4750 0700 or email.