Waste (including sewage), chemicals and litter

The Great Barrier Reef's crystal clear turquoise water is one of its most alluring qualities and never fails to draw gasps of delight and amazement.

How you dispose of waste water and litter can make a big difference to the quality of the water. Waste water may contain high levels of nutrients, and coral reef ecology is extremely sensitive to even a slight decline in water quality.

Litter is unsightly and a significant danger to wildlife. There is also a great need for caution in your use of chemicals. By chemicals, we mean all the substances you use in your operation, both the hazardous and the harmless.

Please continue to help keep the Reef beautiful and safe by observing these very simple, yet incredibly important practices.


  • Use a drip pan under the engine to reduce leaks into the bilge
  • Do not pump bilge water overboard if oil is present in the bilge
  • Use oil absorbent pads or towels to remove oil out of the bilge or other areas of the vessel. Don't use a degreasing compound
  • Pump-out your bilge on shore to licensed waste disposal contractors, if the facilities are available
  • Use enzyme-based bilge cleaners - do not use detergents, degreasers or chemicals.


  • Use readily biodegradable and environmentally friendly chemicals for cleaning and maintenance
  • If you must pump out greywater at sea, make sure you're as far as possible from reefs and islands.


  • Store all sewage in holding tanks, if possible, and use pump-ashore facilities, where provided
  • Consider onboard treatment options
  • If you must discharge at sea, pump-out in open water, as far as possible from reefs and islands
  • Use biodegradable toilet paper and phosphate-free cleaning products.

Spill response

  • Have an adequate spill response kit onboard.


  • Do not throw rubbish (such as food scraps, plastic, paper, fishing gear and cigarette butts) overboard - take it back to shore for proper disposal
  • Secure all loose articles, clothing and towels on the deck, to prevent them blowing off or accidentally falling overboard
  • Retrieve everything dropped overboard
  • Retrieve all entangled fishing gear, where possible
  • Collect all litter from the water and the Reef whenever you see it
  • Use reusable or biodegradable products (for example, washable crockery and cloth napkins), where feasible
  • Minimise packaging and pre-packaged food.


  • Always know what chemicals you have onboard, and in what quantities
  • Use environmentally friendly, biodegradable alternatives wherever possible - avoid using environmentally damaging chemicals
  • Limit the quantities of chemicals you use
  • Never release chemicals into the environment
  • Regularly clean all areas of your boat, plant equipment and engine rooms to avoid the need for heavy cleaning and the use of strong chemicals
  • Maintain paintwork through polish rather than through chemicals
  • Keep only small quantities on your vessel - store bulk chemicals on the mainland
  • Keep well-maintained spill kits on your vessel and other work areas, and update them regularly
  • Clean up any spills through dry methods only - that is, you should 'contain, collect and dispose'
  • Always look into suitable alternatives and advances in technology.

When storing chemicals

  • Store them properly in a well-ventilated, bunded (sealed) and secure area
  • Label all containers with the chemical's name, proper use and concentration information
  • Know which chemicals can and cannot be stored together.

Marine Parks Legal Requirements

  • You must not litter or discharge garbage (including plastics, fishing nets and lines) within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park or on island National Parks or surrounding beaches
  • You must not discharge oil, oily mixtures or noxious liquid substances into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
  • You must not bury or leave noxious, harmful or offensive substances in the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park or on island National Parks
  • You may pump out treated sewage in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, subject to the vessel sewage treatment standards
  • You may pump out untreated sewage that has been reduced to a fine slurry in the Marine Park if you are:
  • Outside a boat harbour, canal or marina, and
  • More than 1 nautical mile from the seaward edge of an aquaculture operation, and
  • In addition, if you carry 16 or more people on your boat you will need to store your sewage and may discharge it at least 1 nautical mile seawards from the nearest reef, island, mainland or an aquaculture facility
  • There are additional Queensland vessel sewage management requirements, including designated 'no discharge' areas in the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park.