"Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass onto future generations" - UNESCO
The heritage of the Great Barrier Reef — including its places, values and experiences — dates back thousands of years, and shapes and drives what this precious ecosystem is like now and how it is managed.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been custodians of the heritage values of the Reef since time immemorial.
Protecting the Reef’s heritage will help ensure it can be enjoyed by future generations.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the Traditional Owners of the Great Barrier Reef region.
Indigenous heritage includes everything in Sea Country, including natural values, Indigenous values and historic values. It includes tangible and intangible expressions of Traditional Owners’ relationships with country, people, beliefs, knowledge, law language, symbols, ways of living, sea, land and objects, all arising from Indigenous spirituality.
There are more than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner clan groups that maintain heritage values for their land and sea country.
Their traditional cultural practices and knowledge of marine resource use is under increasing pressure from the activities of modern day society in both remote and urban areas.
In 2019 the Authority and Traditional Owners finalised an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Strategy for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Together with the Authority’s Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement program, the Heritage Strategy aims to help Traditional Owners keep Indigenous heritage strong, safe and healthy.
The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area
The Great Barrier Reef received world heritage status in 1981, the first coral reef ecosystem in the world to have this distinction.
It was inscribed by the World Heritage Committee for its ‘outstanding universal value’. Under the World Heritage Convention a property is considered to have outstanding universal value if it is of “cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity”.
It must also meet one or more of 10 criteria. The Great Barrier Reef is listed for all four of the world heritage natural criteria.
Today, every world heritage property is required to have a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value. This statement is regarded by UNESCO as the "basis for the future protection and management of the property" and is the benchmark against which the state of conservation of the property is periodically assessed.
A retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value for the Great Barrier Reef was formally adopted by the World Heritage Committee in 2012. This documents the Reef’s values, including the conditions of the property, at the time it was placed on the World Heritage List in 1981. The statement included recognition of Indigenous heritage values, recorded as recognition of ‘man’s interaction with the environment'.
Commonwealth Heritage listed places and properties
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has three properties that we manage and control that are listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List:
To be placed on the Commonwealth Heritage List, these places have been assessed as reflecting important aspects of Australia's development as a nation, as well as being owned or controlled by the Australian Government.
As the managers of these properties, we are charged with identifying, conserving, managing, interpreting and celebrating the heritage values at these places.
Commonwealth Heritage List management plans and registers
It is also a requirement under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (s. 341ZA) to have plans in place in accordance with Commonwealth Heritage management principles. These documents are:
- Dent Island Lightstation Heritage Register
- Lady Elliot Island Lightstation Heritage Register
- Low Island and Low Islet Lightstation Heritage Register
- Dent Island Lightstation Heritage Management Plan
- Lady Elliot Island Lightstation Heritage Management Plan
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Commonwealth Heritage Listed Places and Properties Heritage Strategy 2018–21
In May 2007, the Great Barrier Reef — along with other Australian World Heritage sites — was placed on the National Heritage List.
This list comprises natural and cultural places that contribute to our national identity, providing a tangible link to past events, processes and people. There are also five Commonwealth Heritage places within the Great Barrier Reef Region — Lady Elliot Island Lightstation, Dent Island Lightstation, North Reef Lightstation (near Curtis Island), Low Island and Low Islets Lightstation and the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area.
There are also many places of historical significance, including lighthouses and shipwrecks, which are protected for their heritage values.