Description: The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) extends along approximately 2,300 km of the eastern coast of Queensland. The GBR actually consists of about 3,000 individual reefs spread over at least 350,000 square kilometers. The world’s largest system of corals and associated forms, it is also the largest known marine repository of biodiversity. It is diverse in both the sizes and types of islands and reefs found and in the number and variety of organisms it supports. The Reef includes approximately 3,000 individual reefs, 350 sand cays, and 600 continental islands. Its ecosystem supports approximately 400 species of coral, more than 1,500 species of fish, and populations of indo-pacific invertebrates, birds, turtles, dugong, whales, and dolphins. Tourism is a major activity in the Great Barrier Reef, contributing in excess of $1 billion (Austr.) annually to the Australian economy. An estimated $300 million (Austr.) is spent annually at island resorts and on commercial and private boating. Mining (sand, coral, possibly petroleum), fishing, and shipping also could bring in revenue if developed. Under the previous regime – within adequate controls that were not scientifically based – these uses were already damaging various parts of the Reef.
Signs of progress: The largest reef in the world, it still remains in generally good condition, although runoff of silt, nutrients, and contaminants from agricultural, urban, and industrial areas may pose localized threats in some places. The marine park embraces the total reef area. Mining is banned, but most of the area is open to fishing and diving and, in some locations, to the development of tourism infrastructure. About 20 percent of the reef is zoned as “no take” areas, where fishing is off-limits. Commercial prawn trawling is taking its toll, however, on sea floor structure and bio-diversity. These effects, and those of line fishing, are subject to scientific assessment through large-scale investigations. Strong stakeholder involvement, education programs, and enforcement are all combined to achieve compliance with, and support for, park regulations and management plans. The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is a classic and often cited example of how management can be applied successfully to conserve entire ecosystems.