Australia (Great Barrier Reef)

Australia (Great Barrier Reef)

great barrier reefGreat Barrier Reef Marine Park

One of the earliest and best-known examples of marine zoning is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP), off the northeastern coast of Australia, encompassing and stretching along 2,300km of coastline, one of the world’s richest and most diverse marine ecosystems. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is approximately 344,400 square kilometers (km2), an area bigger than Italy.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act of 1975 established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The Authority’s mission is “…to provide for the long-term protection, ecologically sustainable use, understanding and enjoyment of the Great Barrier Reef for all Australians and the international community through the care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.”

Concern about protecting the Great Barrier Reef from oil drilling and mining was a key driver for establishing the marine park in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Other threats included pollution from shipping, land-based sources of pollution, and increased fishing and tourism activity. Spatial planning and zoning, considered as the cornerstones of the management strategy for protecting the Great Barrier Reef, were established to: (a) maintain the biological diversity and ecological systems that create the Great Barrier Reef; (b) manage the impacts of increasing recreation and an expanding tourist industry; (c) manage effects of recreational and commercial fishing; and (d) manage impacts of risks of land-based pollution and shipping.

Plans of management have been prepared for intensively used, or particularly vulnerable groups of islands and reefs, and for protecting vulnerable species or ecological communities. Plans of management complement zoning by addressing issues specific to an area, species, or community in greater detail than can be accomplished by the broader reef-wide zoning plans. A permit system is used to implement the zoning plans.

Spatial management in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is based on eight zones, ranging from the least restrictive “general use zone” in which shipping and most commercial fishing are allowed, to the most restrictive “preservation zone” where virtually no use is permitted. The initial zoning plans and regulations, implemented sequentially in four sections of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park from 1981-87, evolved and changed considerably in response to the dynamic nature of both the marine environment, its uses and perceived effectiveness of the plans. About 4.5 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was designated as “no-take areas”. When in the late 1990s monitoring results showed ecosystem protection goals were not being achieved, an extensive “re-zoning” process, the Representative Areas Program (1998-2003), increased the no-take areas, up to about a third of the entire area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

great barrier reef

One of the recommendations of a 2006 governmental review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act of 1975 was the preparation of an “Outlook Report” every five years to document the overall condition of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the effectiveness of management, and the pressures on the ecosystem. The 2009 and 2014 Outlook Reports were a key information source for the overarching Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan, jointly developed by the Australian and Queensland governments. The Reef 2050 Plan was released in 2015 and charts the way forward for investment in Reef protection, and provides direction for the many organisations and individuals committed to improving the health of the Reef.

Although few parallels can be drawn between the contexts and associated challenges of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and densely-used areas such as the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, and numerous other places in Europe, Asia and North America, some important lessons can be learned about the process of integrated sea use management and marine spatial planning from the experience of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Its long-standing experience illustrates the need to conduct marine spatial management in a continuous manner, one that allows monitoring and evaluating initial plans and adapting them to changing circumstances. It also shows that stakeholder involvement and sustainable financing are critical to successful outcomes of marine spatial management over time.



Authority:Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act of 1975
Lead Planning Agency:Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Financing:The annual budget of the GBRMPA is about AUS$ 47 million.
Size of Planning Area:344,400 km2
Time required to complete the plans:Initial zoning plans, initiated in four sections, were developed between 1981-87; rezoning of the entire Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was completed between 1998-2004.
Drivers of MSP:Original concerns in 1970s about phosphate mining and oil and gas exploration on the Great Barrier Reef, overfishing, and anticipated declines in environmental quality; current concerns about climate change and the cumulative effects of coastal development and port expansions.
Stakeholder participation:Limited in original zoning plan, but extensive in the “re-zoning” planning process (1998-2004). More than 31,500 submissions were received during the public consultation process, 200 formal meetings and face-to-face engagement with more than 6000 people.
Sectors included in planning:All
Relation to coastal management:Problematic in early years, but improved significantly because of need to deal with effects of agricultural runoff. Coastal management in relation to the Reef faces ongoing challenges due to jurisdictional divides between federal and state governments, the increased role of stewardship partnerships and activities with local communities.
Relation to marine protected area management:GBRMPA is the acknowledged “gold standard” of Marine Protected Area management.
Plan approval:Statutory review of re-zoning plan completed in both houses of Parliament in 2004.
Legal Status of Plan:Legal enforcement of zoning plan and ongoing compliance activities under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, the Public Service Act 1999, the Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental Agreement with the State of Queensland, and a range of memoranda of understanding.
Plan revision:The Australian and Queensland governments responded to the 2011 World Heritage Committee request for a coordinated and comprehensive long-term plan for the Great Barrier Reef. Built on the best available science, the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan was released in 2015 and developed with input from scientists, communities, Traditional Owners, industry and non-government organisations. The Reef 2050 Plan provides an overarching strategy for management of the Great Barrier Reef, coordinating actions and guiding adaptive management to 2050.
Performance monitoring and evaluation:Major research, monitoring and compliance activities to measure and evaluate the ecological effects of the marine park management including zoning.


Great Barrier Marine Park Authority


Day J. 2008. Monitoring, evaluating and adapting marine planning and management: Lessons from the Great Barrier Reef (pdf, 559 KB). Marine Policy.
Lawrence D., Kenchington R., and Woodley S. 2002. The Great Barrier Reef: Finding the Right Balance. Melbourne University Press: Victoria, Australia.