The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Marine Park

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Marine Park covers an area of approximately 345,000km2; bigger than the United Kingdom, Holland and Switzerland combined and almost the size of California. Contrary to popular belief, the Great Barrier Reef is not a continuous barrier, but a broken maze of over 2900 individual reefs, and some 940 islands and coral cays. The reefs range enormously in size from o1ha to more than 100km2; some fringe islands or the mainland coast, while those offshore range from flat, platform reefs to elongated ribbon reefs. While the coral reefs initially made the area famous, theMarine Park comprises an amazing variety of other communities and habitats including mangrove estuaries, seagrass beds, algal & sponge ‘gardens', sandy or muddy bottom communities, continental slopes and deep ocean troughs. This extraordinary biological diversity and the interconnectedness of the habitats and species makes the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding areas one of the richest and most complex natural systems on earth. While coral reef, mangrove and seagrass habitats occur elsewhere, no other marine protected area or World Heritage Area contains such biodiversity. As the world's largest coral reef ecosystem, the GBR is also a critical global resource.

The GBR Marine Park extends over 141 of latitude and from the coast seaward to 100-300 km offshore, beyond the edge of the continental shelf. The inshore boundary of the Marine Park generally follows the low water mark along the coast. The GBR Marine Park does not include some relatively small nearshore areas under the jurisdiction of the State of Queensland nor the majority of the islands within its outer boundaries. Virtually all the activities on the adjacent mainland or islands are outside the direct jurisdiction of the GBR Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) which has the responsibility for management of the GBR Marine Park. The legislation, however, does have provision to regulate activities outside the GBR that could have adverse impacts; an important issue as the well-being of the Marine Park is strongly influenced by activities on the land.

The Commonwealth (Federal) and State Governments have a cooperative and integrated approach to management of the GBRWHA built on an agreement signed in 1979. The Commonwealth Government, through GBRMPA, is responsible for both the GBR World Heritage Area and the GBR Marine Park.1 Field-based, dayto- day management (DDM) of the Marine Park is jointly funded and conducted primarily by Queensland agencies within programs and guidelines approved by the Authority. DDM activities, undertaken mainly by officers of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, include enforcement, surveillance, monitoring and education, as well as the management of adjacent Queensland Marine Parks and island National Parks.

Other Queensland and Commonwealth agencies also involved in DDM include the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol, the Queensland Water Police, the Australian Customs Service (Coastwatch) and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Joint management has been assisted by the application of complementary legislation including complementary zoning for most adjoining State waters; this also reduces the complexities for Reef users.

The Great Barrier Reef supports a major part of Australia's economy with an estimated economic worth of more than A$1.2 billion per annum. Tourism provides about A$700 million per annum; commercial fishing around A$250 million perannum and the large recreational fishing and recreational boating sector is worth about A$270 million per annum.

Effective management of such a huge and complex area requires balancing reasonable human use with the maintenance of the area's natural and cultural integrity. The enormity of this task is compounded by the political and the jurisdictional complexities determined by Australia's system of Federalism; the economic importance of the area; the close proximity of rural and urban populations to the coast and their dependence upon the adjoining marine and coastal areas; the range of users and interest groups whose use patterns frequently compete and displace each other; the need for equity and fairness in access to resources; and the unique and diverse ecological values of the region.

Since the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act was passed in 1975, the GBR Marine Park has been managed in accordance with the Goal of the Marine Park

Authority:

To provide for the protection, wise use, understanding and enjoyment of the Great Barrier Reef in perpetuity through the care and development of the Great

Barrier Reef Marine Park.

This clearly requires protection of the area's biodiversity whilst providing for reasonable use. Consequently over the last 25 years a range of management ‘tools',2 including zoning plans, permits, education and management plans have been applied to regulate access and to control and mitigate impacts associated with human use of the GBR Marine Park [1].

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