Traditional Owners

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the Traditional Owners of the Great Barrier Reef region, and evidence of their Sea Country connections goes back over 60,000 years. Today there are approximately 70 Traditional Owner clan groups whose sea country includes the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Artwork recording first contact, Stanley Island.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners and acknowledges the continuing Sea Country management and custodianship of the Great Barrier Reef by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners, whose rich cultures, heritage values, enduring connections and shared efforts protect the Reef for future generations.

The Authority aims to move towards a future where the enduring culture and connection of Reef Traditional Owners with their Sea Country is widely recognised, Indigenous heritage is protected, and we manage the Reef together. Establishing effective and meaningful partnerships with Traditional Owners is essential to protect Indigenous heritage values, conserve biodiversity and enhance the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

Governance of the Marine Park includes Indigenous membership on the Marine Park Authority Board and an Indigenous Reef Advisory Committee.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Strategy for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park outlines how the Authority is working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in protecting values and increasing co-management in the Marine Park.

Important contributing programs include the Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement program, Indigenous compliance training, the Authority’s Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan, and Sea Country values mapping.


Traditional use of the Marine Park

Traditional use of marine resources is the undertaking of activities as part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's cultures, customs or traditions, for the purpose of satisfying personal, domestic or communal needs. Traditional use of marine resources activities may include:

  • fishing
  • collecting (for example shellfish)
  • hunting
  • looking after cultural and heritage sites

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people undertake traditional use of marine resources activities to:

  • educate younger generations about traditional and cultural rules, protocols, practices and activities on sea country
  • practice their living maritime culture
  • provide traditional food for families

Traditional use activities in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are managed under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 1983.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003 recognises that under section 211 of the Native Title Act 1993, native title holders may undertake traditional use of marine resources in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The Authority acknowledges the rights of Traditional Owners to fish and gather from their Sea Country as recognised in the Native Title Act.

An important objective for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is to ensure traditional activities are sustainable. There are many threats to marine animal and resources, such as coastal development, habitat degradation, boat strikes, netting, sedimentation and pollution, that need to be managed collectively.

More information on managing traditional use of marine resources, including traditional hunting, can be found in the publication 'A Reef-wide framework for managing traditional use of marine resources in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.'