Tropical Marine Protected Areas

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is located on the northeastern coast of Australia spanning over 2300 Kilometers of coast, covering over 14 degrees latitude, and expanding from 60 Kilometers to 250 Kilometers from the coast line. The park covers 344,400 km2 in area with the average depth of 35 meters, and its deepest depth to be over 2000 meters, see the below map from MPAtlas for more geographical information. The Great Barrier Reef is known to be the largest living structure on the planet with thousands of different species it makes it one of the most complex natural ecosystems in the world. There are 14 coastal ecosystems that are important to the function of the Reef: coral reefs, lagoon floor, islands, open water, seagrasses, coastline, estuaries, freshwater wetlands, forested floodplain, heath and shrublands, grass and sedgelands, woodlands, forests and rainforests. These coastal ecosystems provide the interconnections that support the physical, biological and biogeochemical process that underpin the ecosystem health of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage. For an in-depth look into the history of the Great Barrier Reef click here.

Scientific Basis 

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) became a Marine Protected Area for several reasons. The GBRMP is home to thousands of different marine species which are depleting, threatened, rare or endangered species and populations. This is to ensure the long-term viability and maintaining the genetic diversity of the marine populations of the Great Barrier Reef.

Endangered and Protected Species:

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has classified many of the protected species into four levels based on the requirements or nature of the species. These levels are: 

Some of the protected species in the Great Barrier Marine Park include:

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is currently trying to protect its corals due to human activities such as coral harvesting and coral bleaching. For some of the negative impacts that humans have had on the corals, read the article Massive Bleaching Affects Great Barrier Reef, from NPR News.

For a complete list of protected species click here and jump to page 13. The following video outlines some of the unique biodiversity found within the Great Barrier Reef. For more information on ecosystems click here.

Management and Authorities

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is responsible for the management of the marine park. To accomplish this, the Authority delegates some responsibilities for day to-day management to other Commonwealth and Queensland agencies, in particular the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service. Most of the day-to-day management of the GBRMP is carried out by the QNPWS under special agreement with the Commonwealth.

The GBRMPA is responsible for ensuring the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park — one of the world's greatest natural treasures — is protected for the future. (GBRMPA, 2016). As a World Heritage Area, the Reef is recognized internationally for its outstanding universal value. The GBMPA has a 25 year management plan which outlines a mix of on-ground work, policies, strategies and engagement. This plan includes: increasing compliance focus to ensure zoning rules are followed controlling crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks; ensuring cumulative impacts are considered when assessing development proposals; setting clear targets for action and measuring our success; monitoring the health of the ecosystem on a Reef-wide scale; implementing a Reef Recovery program to restore sites of high environmental value in regional areas. The plan also recognizes the variability of the Reef over such a large area and the variability of the issues and interests of communities and industries in each area. (UNESCO, 2015). 

For more information on management and legal authorities please visit the GBRMPA website.

Conflicts and Status

In 2012 The World Heritage Committee announced that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was “with a view to consider, in the absence of substantial progress, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger”. After this announcement, over the course of four years The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was listed on the “in Danger list” and at risk of losing its World Heritage status. On July 1st, 2015, Federal Minister for the Environment of Australia, Greg Hunt, announced through a media release “Final World Heritage Committee decision praises Australia and unanimously rejects "in danger" listing for Great Barrier Reef”. Even with this announcement the Australian Government must continue to actively enforce its new management plan and continue to submit every 5 years reports to the World Heritage Committee on developments and progress.

Recent Developments 

The Australian and Queensland governments’ have been developing the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan which provides an overarching strategy for managing the Great Barrier Reef and coordinate the actions and guides towards the adaptation of the 2050 management plan. (GBRMPA, 2016) The plan has been developed in close consultation with partners, including Traditional Owners and the resources, ports, fishing, agriculture, local government, and research and conservation sectors. The plan even included public input occurred through a six-week consultation period, with more than 6000 submissions received. The plan responds to the challenges facing the Reef and presents actions to protect its values, health and resilience while allowing ecologically sustainable use. It addresses the findings of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Outlook Report 2014 and builds on the comprehensive strategic environmental assessment.

Click here for the management plan for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park!

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