Overview of the Representative Areas Program

In the mid 1990s concerns were raised that the levels of protection provided by the zoning at the time were inadequate to protect the range of biodiversity that existed in the Marine Park. This was recognised as important to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef remained a healthy, productive and resilient ecosystem that would continue to support a range of industries.

Between 1999 and 2004, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority undertook a systematic planning and consultative program to develop new zoning for the Marine Park. The primary aim of the program was to better protect the range of biodiversity in the Great Barrier Reef, by increasing the extent of no-take areas (or highly protected areas, locally known as ‘Green Zones’), ensuring they included 'representative' examples of all different habitat types - hence the name, the Representative Areas Program or RAP. Whilst increasing the protection of biodiversity, a further aim was to maximise the benefits and minimise the negative impacts of the rezoning on the existing users of the Marine Park. Both these aims were achieved by a comprehensive program of scientific input, community involvement and innovation.

The Representative Areas Program was undertaken in a number of key phases: View a diagram outlining each of these phases.

  • The need for rezoning - realisation the previous zoning was not adequate for biodiversity protection
  • Research and planning - collating and refining information to start the rezoning including data sets, bioregions and planning principles
  • First community participation phase - seeking the views of the community and stakeholders
  • Developing the Draft Zoning Plan
  • Second community participation phase
  • Further development of the Plan - including Ministerial and Parliamentary approvals of the final plan
  • Implementing the Zoning Plan
  • Education, surveillance and enforcement
  • Monitoring the effects of the Zoning Plan

A Report on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park zoning plan 2003 provides an overview of the preparation and information that assisted the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to make the decisions that resulted in the statutory Zoning Plan 2003. It includes a summary of the issues raised during both formal Community Participation phases.

The degree to which the rezoning has provided better protection for the range of biodiversity throughout the Great Barrier Reef is depicted in the following maps; the 'pie charts' indicate the extent to which each of the 70 different habitat types or 'bioregions' are now within highly protected zones:

The 'representative areas' approach has ensured that at least 20 per cent of every bioregion (and frequently much more) is within a highly protected zone type.  This ensures protection of examples of all the species that occur in those habitats, including those species about which we know very little or have yet to be discovered.  It also allows important ecological, physical and chemical processes to occur which are fundamental to provide the capacity to recover from disturbance or withstand ongoing pressures.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003 developed as a result of the Representative Areas Program has been in operation since 1 July 2004, and positive results are already appearing.