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Some commercial activities and operations require a permit to occur in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Great Barrier Reef (Coast) Marine Park, including tourism programs and charter operations.

There is more detailed information available about the permission system, application and assessment fees, and how we assess applications.

Tourism program

A tourist program is a commercial activity that provides transport, accommodation or services to people who are visiting the Marine Parks mainly for recreation and enjoyment.

Tourists are people who is in the Marine Park principally for the purpose of recreation (which may include fishing or collecting). Tourists may be local residents, from within Australia or international visitors.

Vessel or aircraft charter operation

A vessel or aircraft charter operation involves business activity that allows a company to charge a fee for the charter of their vessel or aircraft to non-tourists.

The activities under this permission include provision of transport, accommodation, and services to non-tourists who are using the vessel or aircraft for management activities, work, research or other non-tourism related purposes such as commercial filming.

Tourism and charter permissions may be granted for a period of up to eight years for most applications or 20 years for high standard tourism operations.

Types of tourism and charter permits

Typically, tourism and charter permits fall into one of two categories; routine and tailored. This refers to the assessment approach undertaken by us on your application. 

Routine tourism and charter permits

Routine permits are fully standardised permits for operators conducting low risk activities in the Marine Parks. Standard conditions have been developed to protect the Marine Parks from potential impacts. These permits are intended to be used by operators occasionally visiting the Cairns, Hinchinbrook and/or Whitsundays Planning Areas as access to these areas is limited to 50 days with a booking via the Reef Authority’s Bookings Online portal and not intended to be used to establish or conduct a regular operation based in these areas.

  • Benefits to the permit holder:
  • More efficient application processing times
  • Wide range of access to most areas of the Marine Parks 
  • Wide range of activities (including whale watching) – please note - this permit does not include the activity of fish feeding


  • Suitable for:
  • Vessels that have an overall length no greater than 35 metres, or if accessing permitted State rivers, streams and inlets no greater than eight metres.
  • Aircraft classified as a small aeroplane and/or normal category rotocraft under the Civil Aviation Safety Regulation
  • Visiting and anchoring in most locations in the Marine Parks for up to two visits in any seven-day period at each location outside a Planning Area (with conditions)

Tailored tourism and charter permits

Most tourism or charter activities not covered by the routine tourism and charter permit will require a tailored assessment approach. There is more information available in the Permission System Policy about obtaining permission for facilities and carrying out works.

Other types of tourism and charter permits

There are three other assessment approaches (public information package, public environment report and environmental impact statement), that are used for high-risk activities and require public comment, however are not common for most tourism and charter operations.

  • Permitted zones and locations 
  • Visiting and anchoring is allowed in most locations in most zones of the Marine Parks for up to two (2) visits in any seven (7) consecutive day period at each location outside a Planning Area. Additional. Rules may be specified in permit conditions.
  • Plans of Management and Special Management Areas have additional location-specific rules

Vessel or aircraft notification approvals and identification numbers

All vessels and aircraft operated under a permit, require approval by us prior to using the vessel or aircraft in the Marine Parks. This is done through either notification approvals or identification numbers.

Notification approvals

For most tourism permits, the vessel or aircraft that you are permitted to operate is recorded in a separate document called a Vessel Notification Approval (VNA) or Aircraft Notification Approval (ANA). This system allows you to nominate or change your permitted vessel or aircraft at any time.

You can manage your VNAs through the online application portal and no fee will apply. If you are unable to use the online portal the standard fee will be charged.

Identification numbers

Vessel and aircraft Identification Numbers (VIN or AIN) were introduced to provide greater flexibility for you to choose the vessel or aircraft you require on the day. They are like car number plates and allow you to operate a range of similar vessels depending on your operating requirements.

If your permit allows for the use of identifier plaques, you may choose the vessel, aircraft or bareboat that you wish to use on any particular day so long as the parameters are within those permitted on your permit.

The identification numbers also assist in monitoring compliance, helping to identify your vessel and/or aircraft and the Marine Parks permit you are operating under.

  • VIN or AINs should be used in the following manner (unless your permit requires something different):
  • When you are using a VIN or AIN, it must be clearly visible on the port side of the permitted vessel or aircraft.
  • If you have multiple VINs or AINs for multiple crafts, only one VIN or AIN can be displayed on a craft at any given time.
  • A VIN or AIN can only be used on one craft per calendar day.

You can use any craft you choose providing that the craft complies with all your permit conditions regarding size of craft and passenger capacity.

If your identifier is damaged, return it to us for a new one. If your identifier is lost, please provide us a statutory declaration that the identifier has been lost and notify us as soon as possible. Fees apply for each new identifier.

Permits for filming photography and sound recording (including use of drones)

Please see Other types of permits page.

Permits for barge operations

Please see Other types of permits page

Environmental incidents, such as cyclones and oil spills, can severely degrade the quality of a tourism site. Presentation of a damaged site can also impact the reputation of the Reef and the marine tourism industry.

We have adopted the Marine Tourism Contingency Plan to provide business-focused arrangements for tourism operations impacted by a severe environmental incident.

  • The plan clarifies the response options available, including:
  • immediate responses — supporting actions that individual operators can commence immediately within their current permit conditions and management arrangements or can easily be implemented through modification to an existing permission.
  • recovery responses — focusing on short to medium-term actions which individual operators can take by applying for additional permits under the plan.
  • adaptation responses — supporting long-term actions where the nature of the incident does not allow for short or medium-term recovery or where the number of operators impacted does not allow case-by-case assessment.

The plan also clarifies the options available to permission holders of tourism programs in the Cairns, Hinchinbrook and Whitsunday planning areas.

Details on how Marine tourism contingency plan marine tourism contingency plan can be applied can be found in the policy.

For operations impacted by a severe environmental incident, complete the Marine Tourism Contingency Plan application form and email the completed form to

Updated 3 Jul 2024
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