On 26 October 1981 the Great Barrier Reef was placed on the World Heritage List for its outstanding universal value to the world.
Thirty three years later we are working harder than ever before to ensure the reef retains the values for which it was first listed.
The Great Barrier Reef was the first coral reef ecosystem in the world to receive World Heritage status and was also one of Australia’s first such places, achieving this status at the same time as Kakadu National Park and the Willandra Lakes region.
With 3000 coral reefs, 1050 islands, over 1600 species of fish and 133 species of sharks and rays, the Great Barrier Reef is home to what is probably the most extraordinary diversity of life on the planet.
The Great Barrier Reef remains an incredibly diverse and rich marine environment. We know the reef still retains the values for which it was listed as World Heritage.
Protecting this iconic natural wonder for future generations is vital.
Effort and work by the Australian and Queensland governments, industry and reef communities has now been drawn together in a master plan to protect the reef with our Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan.
The Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan is the the most complex and comprehensive analysis of environmental management arrangements ever undertaken in Australia.
Developed in partnership with a wide range of reef users, the Reef Plan will guide governments, the community and industry in their work to achieve clear targets for improving the condition of the reef over decades.
The Reef Plan is still open for public comment and we encourage individuals and groups to come forward with feedback. Protecting the reef requires community participation. It is a task government cannot do alone.
We’ve also established a new Reef Trust which will build on current investments with a focus on known critical areas for intervention.
Like the World Heritage Committee, we recognise that the Great Barrier Reef is facing challenges. But this only strengthens our determination to protect the reef.
We have a clear plan and a strong commitment to ensure the reef is healthy and resilient – and we are making strong progress.
Water quality in the World Heritage area is improving as a result of a partnership between farmers and governments to stop fertilisers, chemicals and sediments running off farming land and into the rivers and creeks along the Queensland coast.
We are culling coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish using lethal injections on some of our most important reefs and have made a scientific breakthrough which has increased the effectiveness of the programme. More than 300,000 crown-of-thorns starfish have now been destroyed.
The Government has worked hard to eliminate the disposal of capital dredging in the Marine Park. We’ve listened to the concerns of the World Heritage Committee and we’ve changed a century-old practice.
There were five major capital dredging proposals either planned or under active assessment in September 2013 when the Abbott Government was elected. These projects had been advanced by former Bligh and Gillard ALP governments.
The Abbott Government has been working closely with project proponents and the Queensland Government, and none of the dredge material from these projects is proposed for disposal in the Marine Park.
Disposing of capital dredging in the Marine Park will be a thing of the past.
We’re also passing laws to protect turtles and dugongs from poaching, and funding will be provided to help reduce marine debris in their habitat.
The Australian and Queensland governments are jointly investing approximately $180 million a year in the reef’s health – that’s billions of dollars over the next decade.
While we celebrate 33 years of World Heritage status, we are also focused on protecting the reef for the future – not just for the next 50 years, but for the next century and beyond.
We are determined to ensure the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area remains internationally recognised for its Outstanding Universal Value and for the world class environmental management systems that protect it.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park stretches approximately 2300 km along the coast of Queensland– this is about the same length as the west coast of North America from Vancouver to the Mexican border.
Covering 348,000 square kilometres, this maze of 3000 coral reefs and 1050 islands is around the same size as Italy.
Today, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s best managed natural wonders. It attracts more than 1.9 million visitors each year, contributes more than $5.6 billion to the Australian economy and generates 69,000 jobs.
The extraordinary biological diversity within the Great Barrier Reef includes:
• six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle
• the largest green turtle breeding area in the world
• one of the world’s most important dugong populations (about 14,000 dugong)
• more than 43,000 square kilometres of seagrass meadows, including 23 per cent of the known global species diversity
• some 3000 coral reefs built from more than 450 species of hard coral
• more than one-third of all the world’s soft coral and sea pen species (150 species)
• 630 species of echinoderms, including 13 per cent of the known global species diversity
• 2000 species of sponges representing 30 per cent of Australia’s diversity in sponges
• more than 3000 species of molluscs, including 2500 species of gastropods
• a breeding area for humpback whales and some 30 other species of whales and dolphins
• 14 breeding species of sea snakes, including 20 per cent of the known global species diversity..
There are about 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner clan groups that maintain heritage values for their land and sea country. Their connection with the Great Barrier Reef goes back tens of thousands of years when much of the region was above sea level and occupied by past generations of Traditional Owners.
For more information visit: www.environment.gov.au/gbr