Strong, safe and healthy: protecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Reef heritage

A strategy that recognises Great Barrier Reef Traditional Owners’ connection to their sea country, and sets a path for working together for greater co-management of the iconic Reef, is a significant step forward in ensuring Indigenous heritage is kept strong, safe and healthy.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was launched this week by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority after extensive consultation with Reef Traditional Owners, Indigenous organisations, tourism bodies and government agencies.

“It’s about working in partnership with Traditional Owners to combine their thousands of years’ expertise in Reef management with our modern Marine Park management tools,” Marine Park Authority Board Chairperson Ian Poiner said.

“The ultimate goal is to keep Indigenous heritage strong, safe and healthy, which includes the natural values of our Reef.

“Containing 30 actions, this strategy will transform the approach to Indigenous heritage protection in our amazing World Heritage Area, and both the Authority and Traditional Owners are excited to be a part of it.”

The Great Barrier Reef Region is incredibly rich in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage, dating back thousands of years before the Reef even formed.

From artworks, fishtraps, middens and tools, to songlines, languages and traditional practices; the sea itself and everything in it has stories and significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

More than 70 Reef Traditional Owner groups from Cape York to Bundaberg were invited to provide valuable input in developing the strategy, with more than 35 Traditional Owner groups attending workshops.

The Authority’s Indigenous Reef Advisory Committee Chair and Traditional Owner Phil Rist welcomed the initiative and recognised the Authority for the collaborative process taken in its development.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have cared for the Reef for thousands of years,” Mr Rist said.

“We have a lifelong physical, cultural and spiritual connection to our land and sea country and we have a responsibility to our ancestors and our next generation to protect our values in the Reef.

“The Indigenous Reef Advisory Committee expresses its appreciation for the cooperative approach that Authority staff took in developing the strategy.

“The process and outcome are excellent examples of what can be achieved when management agencies and Traditional Owners work together on important initiatives.”

The strategy includes actions the Authority will take to protect and promote the Indigenous heritage values of the World Heritage icon. Actions already underway or in development include:

  • implementing the Authority’s Reconciliation Action Plan to increase cultural competency and promote reconciliation within the Authority and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • supporting Traditional Owners to lead their own activities to keep sea country strong, safe and healthy
  • facilitating new Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreements to help with the management, protection and conservation of sea country
  • developing partnerships between Traditional Owners, other government agencies and the private sector to benefit marine park management.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is available here.

Photo 1: Marine Park Authority Board Chair Dr Ian Poiner and Authority CEO Mr Josh Thomas.

Photo 2: Indigenous Reef Advisory Committee Deputy Chair Duane Fraser, Marine Park Authority Board Member Wendy Morris and Marine Park Authority Board Chair Dr Ian Poiner.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Media team | (07) 4750 0846 |