The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a multiple-use area. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003 provides for a range of ecologically sustainable recreational, commercial and research opportunities and for the continuation of traditional activities.
Zoning helps to manage and protect the values of the Marine Park that people enjoy. Each zone has different rules for the activities that are allowed, the activities that are prohibited, and the activities that require a permit.
Zones may also place restrictions on how some activities are conducted.
Zoning maps are tools to help you get to know the zones. Before heading out on the water make sure you have a zoning map, know the zones and what's allowed there.
Rules for commercial fishing can differ to those for recreational fishing.
Commercial fishers should consult the Zoning Plan for more information. Users of the Marine Park should familiarise themselves with all legal requirements relevant to their particular activity.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a multiple-use area.
Zoning helps to manage and protect the values of the Marine Park that users enjoy. Zoning Plans define what activities can occur in which locations both to protect the marine environment and to separate potentially conflicting activities.
Zoning is an important component in managing marine areas. It defines the activities that can occur in which locations.
The level of protection increases from the General Use (Light Blue) Zones up to the most restrictive, Preservation Zone.
Each zone has different rules for the activities that are allowed, the activities that are prohibited and the activities that require a permit. Zones may also place restrictions on how some activities are conducted.
There are eight different types of zones that apply to the entire Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
- The major zones are:
- General Use (Light Blue)
- Habitat Protection (Dark Blue)
- Conservation Park (Yellow)
- Marine National Park (Green)
- Other zones include Preservation (Pink), Scientific Research (Orange), Buffer (Olive Green) and Commonwealth Island Zones, which make up less than five per cent of the Marine Park
Find out what activities can be carried out in each zone.
- The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003, better protects the biodiversity within the Marine Park and helps ensure:
- The continued existence of the unique marine animals, plants and habitats that are found only in the Great Barrier Reef and provide additional protection for threatened species such as dugong and marine turtles.
- Those industries that rely on the health of the Marine Park are able to continue, providing social and economic benefits to local communities and the wider economy.
- That a diverse range of other benefits and values of the Marine Park, including recreational, cultural, educational and scientific values are protected.
- That future generations are able to continue to use and enjoy the Marine Park.
- Globally, Marine National Park (Green) Zones (or also known as no-take areas) have been found to:
- Protect spawning areas and nursery grounds
- Minimise damage to important habitats
- Provide refuge for protected species, such as turtles and dugongs
- Boost species numbers, which helps the food web as a whole
- Increase the abundance of fish
- Build the resilience of the reef against threats such as climate change and water pollution.
Several programs are looking at the effects of zoning. Early indications are that zoning is working, and preliminary research shows fish numbers and average size are increasing.
- Research conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science on offshore reefs from Cairns to Gladstone found:
- Coral trout is now about 50 per cent more abundant in Marine National Park (Green) Zones.
- James Cook University research in the Whitsunday Islands found numbers of coral trout and stripey sea perch were more than 1.7 times higher, and the average fish size was larger.
- Bigger fish have more and stronger offspring. For females of some reef fish species, an increase in length of one-third can lead to 200 times more egg production.
This is important for replenishing depleted fish stocks and is essential to the biological well-being of the Reef and the industries dependent on it to remain healthy.
More fish in closed areas makes it more likely that increased fish populations will spill over into other zones.
If you plan a fishing or boating trip to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, you will need to know where you can go and what you can do, as penalties apply if you do not follow zoning rules.
All zones contribute to the protection of the Reef. The level of protection increases from the General Use Zone up to the most restrictive Preservation Zone. Each zone has different rules for the activities that are allowed, the activities that are prohibited and the activities that require a permit.
Zones may also place restrictions on how some activities are conducted.
Special Management Areas manage access or use of a specific area and are an additional layer on top of zoning.
- You should get to know the area you are going to and what you can do there:
- Interpreting zones
- Special Management Areas
- Recreational fishing activities
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Coordinates
Replace ‘The formal legal description of zoning boundaries can be found under ‘Schedule 1, Amalgamated Great Barrier Reef Section – descriptions of Zones and Areas’ of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003.
- Where can I get information about zoning?
- Zoning maps and an introductory guide explaining zoning and responsible reef practices are available free of charge from bait and tackle shops, visitor information centres, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and by contacting the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on free call 1800 990 177.
- Can I travel through a Green Zone with fish onboard?
- Travelling through a Marine National Park (Green) Zone with fish onboard is allowed, provided the fish were caught outside the Green Zone. Anyone (except unattached dories*) can enter a Marine National Park (Green) Zone and participate in activities such as swimming, snorkelling and sailing.
- Fishing gear, such as rods with attached hooks, must be stowed inboard the boat or in rod holders. All fishing apparatus must be out of the water.
- * Dories are vessels used in association with a primary (mother) commercial fishing vessel that is either licenced, permitted or used to fish on a commercial basis under a Commonwealth, State or Territory law. Dories must permanently be attached to a primary vessel while in a Marine National Park (Green) Zone.
- How must my fishing gear be stowed or secured to travel through a Green Zone?
- You can travel through a Marine National Park (Green) Zone with fishing gear on board, provided that all fishing lines are stowed or secured; any line or hand-held rod is inboard the boat or in rod holders. While a hook can still be attached to a line, no part of any fishing gear may be in the water.
- Suppose a commercial trawl fishing vessel is navigating through a zone where trawling is prohibited. In that case, any equipment that is used for fishing must be stowed or secured in accordance with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 1983.
- What happens if I unknowingly drift into a Green Zone while fishing?
- Unknowingly, fishing is not allowed within a Marine National Park (Green) Zone. Fishing or collecting in a Green Zone may only occur if written permission is obtained from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
- Where can I get the coordinates for the no-fishing zones?
- The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority provides coordinates on the 1:250,000 maps for the majority of no-fishing zones (Green Zones or Pink Zones) in the Marine Park. The coordinates for any individual zone, including Conservation Park (Yellow) Zones, may also be obtained by:
- Using the mapping tool available on the home page, you can generate maps for a particular area.
- Looking for the relevant zone in Schedule 1 in the back of the Zoning Plan (to assist you, the identification numbers on the Conservation Park (Yellow) Zones and more restrictive Zones on the 1:250,000 maps correlate with the location number in Schedule 1 to the Zoning Plan).
- Ringing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on free call 1800 990 177.
- Where are the coordinates for inshore zones?
- As far as possible, zone boundaries along the coast have been aligned to recognisable coastal features. To the extent possible, the shapes are also simple and line up north-south or east-west. However, if there is any confusion, refer to the specific zone coordinates in Schedule 1 to the Zoning Plan.
- How do I access map coordinates if I don’t own a computer?
- You can ring the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for free at 1800 990 177 and ask for specific coordinates to be sent to you. If you are seeking a large number of coordinates, a copy of the Zoning Plan, including the Schedule of all zone boundaries, may be more appropriate.
- How do I know where the zones are if my boat doesn’t have navigational/plotting equipment?
- If you don’t own a GPS (Global Positioning System), you will still be able to navigate and determine the location of most zones. Most Marine National Park (Green) Zones and Conservation Park (Yellow) Zones close to the coast are simple shapes, and the boundaries can usually be lined up with headlands or landmarks on the coast or on islands.
- The detailed map series (1:250,000 scale) is the best source of information in this case, and every attempt has been made to provide reference to geographic features to assist users.
- Offshore, most zones are large, but if you have any doubt, ensure you stay away from any no-fishing zones. Using a GPS for navigating zones is recommended where other markers are not visible.
- What is the difference between line fishing in a Yellow Zone and line fishing in Light and Dark Blue Zones?
- Line fishing using not more than three hand-held rods or handlines per person with a combined number of not more than six hooks attached to the line(s) is allowed in General Use (Light Blue) and Habitat Protection (Dark Blue) Zones.
- In the Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone, line fishing is limited to one hand-held rod or hand-held line per person, with no more than one hook per line (also note the definition of a hook below).
- No more than one dory is to be detached from its primary commercial fishing vessel in the Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone.
- What restrictions are placed on trolling in Light Blue, Dark Blue, Yellow and Olive Green Zones?
- Trolling means fishing by means of a line or lines trailed behind a vessel that is underway using no more than three lines per person (with no more than six hooks per person in total).
- Trolling is allowed in the General Use (Light Blue), Habitat Protection (Dark Blue), Conservation Park (Yellow), and Buffer (Olive Green) Zones. In the Buffer (Olive Green) Zone, trolling is limited to the taking of pelagic species only, including species of trevally, scad, queenfish, rainbow runner, dolphinfish, black kingfish or cobia; barracuda, sailfish, marlin, swordfish, mackerel, tuna, bonito, wahoo, small-toothed jobfish, and green jobfish.
- There are limits placed on the number of hooks allowed per line in some zones, does a multi-hooked lure or gang hook, for example, count as more than one hook?
- Why can I spearfish in some Yellow Zones but not others?
- Limited spearfishing is a fishing activity with appropriate limits and has been allowed in most Conservation Park (Yellow) Zones.
- Limited spearfishing means fishing with a spear or spear gun, not using a power head, a firearm, or light or underwater breathing apparatus other than a snorkel.
- However, all spearfishing is prohibited in Conservation Park (Yellow) Zones that are declared Public Appreciation Special Management Areas.
- Public Appreciation Areas are multiple-use areas with potential conflict between user groups, for example, near resorts, dive sites, and pontoons.
- These areas are shown as broken pink lines on the zoning maps. Contact Fisheries Queensland on 13 25 23 for more information about additional spearfishing restrictions.
- Where is the inshore boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park?
- The inshore boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park follows the coastline of Queensland at low water except where otherwise indicated on the maps (such as port areas) or Queensland waters, such as tidal lands and tidal waters (that is, between high and low water).
- Virtually all rivers, creeks and estuaries are considered to be Queensland waters, as are internal waters like Hinchinbrook Channel.
- As a general rule of thumb, the low water mark is best defined as the area that commonly dries at low tide. If you are fishing between that point and the normal high tide point, you will likely be fishing in Queensland waters and outside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
- You, however, must be aware of the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park in Queensland waters. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park generally adopt complementary zoning.
- This means that activities that can be carried out within the two Marine Parks are usually the same; however, some Queensland Government-specific provisions may apply in the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park.
- Are the zoning boundaries available for electronic chart plotters?
- Yes. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has supplied boundary information to the major electronic chart companies and GPS manufacturers for incorporation into their products. Check with your manufacturer.
- How does the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority enforce zoning?
- The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority works with the Australian and Queensland Governments to ensure compliance and protect the Marine Park from illegal activities.
- Boat and aircraft patrols operate in the Marine Park daily, checking activities and monitoring ecological conditions. Penalties apply to individuals who enter or use a zone for purposes other than that allowed for in a zoning plan.
- Who can I address any other questions to?
- If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions about zoning, please contact the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on free call 1800 990 177 or email email@example.com.
- If you have any queries about State waters Department of Environment and Science.
- There is a limit throughout the Marine Park of using no more than six hooks per person. In the Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone, the limit is one hook and one line per person. In addition to its ordinary meaning, a hook means:
- A single-shanked double or treble hook; or
- A lure (an artificial bait with not more than three hooks attached to it); or
- An artificial fly; or
- A jig for taking squid; or
- A bait jig, which is a hook or group of hooks consisting of no more than six hooks, each hook being of a size between number 1 and number 12 (both inclusive) or their equivalent; or
- A ganged-hook set consisting of no more than six hooks is in contact with at least one of the other hooks in the set.
Expanding the use of vessel tracking technology in fisheries management
No-take zones offer a range of benefits, including rebuilding depleted fish populations and faster recovery of fish and coral communities following cyclones and coral bleaching.
However, many commercial, charter and recreational fishers continue to operate in contravention of the Great Barrier Reef Zoning Plan 2003 (for example, fishing illegally). Given cumulative pressures are affecting the Reef’s resilience, the benefits of protecting no-take zones by enhancing compliance are now more important than ever.
Electronic vessel tracking (also known as vessel monitoring systems or VMS) has been widely adopted in Australia and around the world and is used very successfully as a means to monitor commercial fishing vessel activity.
The vessel tracking units fitted to vessels transmit regular positional information via a satellite network to a computer system. The positional information can then be displayed and analysed.
Vessel tracking became mandatory in the Queensland East Coast Otter Trawl fishery in 2001. Monitoring and analysis of vessel tracking data led to successful prosecutions and significantly reduced the number of vessels fishing within no-take zones.
The Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017–2027 was released in June 2017. Its reform commitments included an expansion of vessel tracking to all commercial fisheries by 2020, including installing vessel tracking units in the net, line and crab fisheries (including tenders and dories) by the end of 2018.
Implementing this strategy component led to a legal requirement for vessel tracking in these fisheries coming into effect on 1 January 2019. Improved compliance with Marine Park zoning is expected as a result.
Read more in our 2019 Outlook Report.
Benefits of zoning and the importance of compliance
Since the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park rezoning in 2004, a growing body of research has reported important ecosystem benefits arising from the expansion of no-take zones.
As the Reef faces a range of pressures and impacts that threaten its health and future, no-take zoning and user compliance are more important than ever. However, during the 2016 and 2017 bleaching, zoning did not protect reefs from extreme temperatures due to climate change.
Reefs in no-take and no-entry zones have a greater density and biomass of fishes targeted by fishers than reefs in zones open to fishing. A wider ecosystem and fisheries benefit from this protection comes from the spread of targeted fish larvae out of no-take zones and the ‘spillover’ contribution to stocks in areas open to fishing.
Fish in no-take zones are larger and more numerous and may make a considerable contribution to sustaining populations in fished areas.
This spillover effect is important in educating fishers about the importance of compliance because it demonstrates the benefits they gain personally from no‑take areas and encourages them to report non-compliance.
Other ecosystem benefits of no-take zones in the Reef include lower levels of coral disease (potentially as a result of reduced damage to coral tissue from fishing activity) and fewer and less severe crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks (potentially due to increasing densities of predators of young starfish).
Long-term monitoring data has indicated that reefs in no-take zones have a more stable community structure. Whether these findings remain following broadscale coral mortality from back-to-back bleaching events remains to be seen.
However, research has shown that the magnitude of disturbance from impacts, such as a single coral bleaching event, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, coral disease and cyclones, was 30 per cent lower in no-take zones, and reefs recovered 20 per cent faster than nearby reefs that are open to fishing.
The differences in fish biomass between no-take zones and zones open to fishing suggest that most users comply with zoning.
However, non-compliance remains a significant problem, with 500–600 zoning offences involving recreational and commercial fishing recorded by the Marine Park Authority each year.
Lost fishing lines have been recorded in substantial quantities in no-take zones, and social surveys estimated that three to 18 per cent of recreational fishers fished in a no-take zone during the preceding year. Illegal fishing in no-take zones can reduce targeted fish densities significantly and is limiting the full potential of the ecological and fishery benefits of the Zoning Plan.
There is strong evidence for the importance and effectiveness of the Zoning Plan in maintaining ecosystem health and supporting the Reef’s resilience and recovery.
These, and perhaps other as yet unidentified benefits, may be crucial to the Reef’s long-term health and survival.
Minimising the impacts of illegal fishing and other zoning non-compliance is vital, and the recent funding and technology-related enhancements to compliance and enforcement capability in the Marine Park are an important and valuable investment in the future of the Reef.
Read more in our 2019 Outlook Report.