About zoning

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a multiple-use area. Zoning helps to manage and protect the values of the Marine Park that users enjoy. Zoning Plans define what activities can occur in which locations both to protect the marine environment and to separate potentially conflicting activities.

Why use zoning?

Marine Park zoning is an important component in managing marine areas. It is a key strategy for improving the Great Barrier Reef's health and resilience and has been developed in a way widely considered to be best practice. A healthy and productive Reef means substantial economic benefits to local communities and the wider economy.

The current Zoning Plan, introduced in 2004, is helping secure a better future for the 344,000km² natural wonderland while supporting the vital social and economic benefits gained from Reef related tourism and recreation, commercial activities and fishing.

What is zoning?

Zoning is an important component in managing marine areas. It defines the activities that can occur in which locations. The level of protection increases from the General Use (Light Blue) Zones up to the most restrictive, Preservation Zone. Each zone has different rules for the activities that are allowed, the activities that are prohibited and the activities that require a permit. Zones may also place restrictions on how some activities are conducted.

There are eight different types of zones that apply to the entire Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The major zones are:

  • General Use (Light Blue)
  • Habitat Protection (Dark Blue)
  • Conservation Park (Yellow)
  • Marine National Park (Green).

Other zones include Preservation (Pink), Scientific Research (Orange), Buffer (Olive Green) and Commonwealth Island Zones, which make up less than five per cent of the Marine Park.

Find out what activities can be carried out in each zone.

What are the benefits of zoning in the Marine Park?

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003, better protects the biodiversity within the Marine Park and helps ensure:

  • The continued existence of the unique marine animals, plants and habitats that are found only in the Great Barrier Reef and provide additional protection for threatened species such as dugong and marine turtles.
  • Those industries that rely on the health of the Marine Park are able to continue, providing social and economic benefits to local communities and the wider economy.
  • That a diverse range of other benefits and values of the Marine Park, including recreational, cultural, educational and scientific values are protected.
  • That future generations are able to continue to use and enjoy the Marine Park.

What are the benefits of Marine National Park (Green) Zones?

Globally, no-take areas have been found to:

  • Protect spawning areas and nursery grounds
  • Minimise damage to important habitats
  • Provide refuge for protected species, such as turtles and dugongs
  • Boost species numbers, which helps the food web as a whole
  • Increase the abundance of fish
  • Build the resilience of the reef against threats such as climate change and water pollution.

Is zoning effective?

There are a number of programs looking at the effects of zoning. Early indications are that zoning is working and preliminary research shows fish numbers and average size are increasing.

Research conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, on offshore reefs from Cairns to Gladstone, found coral trout is now about 50 per cent more abundant in Marine National Park (Green) Zones.

James Cook University research in the Whitsunday Islands found numbers of both coral trout and stripey sea perch were more than 1.7 times higher and average fish size was larger.

Why are these results important?

Bigger fish have more and stronger offspring. For females of some reef fish species, an increase in length of one third can lead to 200 times more egg production.

This is important for replenishing depleted fish stocks and is essential to the biological well-being of the Reef and the industries dependent on it remaining healthy.

More fish in closed areas also make it more likely that increased fish populations will spill over into other zones.