- On this page:
- Indigenous heritage
- The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area
- Status of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage listing
- Commonwealth Heritage listed places and properties
- The Commonwealth Heritage Strategy
- Commonwealth Heritage List management plans and registers
- National Heritage
The heritage of the Great Barrier Reef — including its places, values and experiences — dates back tens of thousands of years, and shapes and drives what this precious ecosystem is like now and how it is managed.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 is the primary piece of legislation to manage the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The main object of the Act are to provide for the long term protection and conservation of the environment, biodiversity and heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef Region.
The Great Barrier Reef is recognised as a World and National Heritage site and contains Commonwealth heritage listed places. Each heritage listing recognises different values in the Marine Park and includes obligations for the identification, protection, monitoring and reporting of heritage.
World and National heritage matters are managed by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been custodians of the heritage values of the Reef since time immemorial.
Protecting the Reef’s heritage will help ensure it can be enjoyed by future generations.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the Traditional Owners of the Great Barrier Reef region.
Indigenous heritage includes everything in Sea Country, such as natural values, Indigenous values and historic values.
It includes tangible and intangible expressions of Traditional Owners’ relationships with country, people, beliefs, knowledge, law language, symbols, ways of living, sea, land and objects, all arising from Indigenous spirituality.
There are more than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner clan groups that maintain heritage values for their land and sea country.
Their traditional cultural practices and knowledge of marine resource use is under increasing pressure from the activities of modern day society in both remote and urban areas.
In 2019 the Authority and Traditional Owners finalised an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Strategy for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Together with the Authority’s Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement program, the Heritage Strategy aims to help Traditional Owners keep Indigenous heritage strong, safe and healthy.
The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's natural wonders and was inscribed as a World Heritage property in 1981 for its unique natural attributes.
The Reef was inscribed by the World Heritage Committee for its ‘Outstanding Universal Value'.
Under the World Heritage Convention, a property is considered to have outstanding universal value if it is of “cultural and/or natural significance that so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity” and meets at least one or more of 10 criteria. The Great Barrier Reef is listed for all four World Heritage natural criteria.
The 2019 Outlook Report found that while the Great Barrier Reef retains its outstanding universal value as a World Heritage Area, its integrity is increasingly challenged.
Status of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage listing
The World Heritage Committee regularly reviews the state of conservation of all properties inscribed on the World Heritage List.
The World Heritage Committee is made up of 21 members that are signatories (States Parties) to the World Heritage Convention. Australia has been a member of the Committee a number of times. In assessing the status of World Heritage properties, if there are concerns about the future of a property, the WHC may decide to place a property on the list of World Heritage in-danger.
This decision is based on the most current information and in line with the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention.
In July 2021 the World Heritage Committee considered the state of conservation of the Reef and decided not to place the Great Barrier Reef on the World Heritage in Danger list.
As part of the decision, the World Heritage Committee requested a report on the state of conservation of the Great Barrier Reef and Australia invite representatives from the World Heritage Centre and the International Union for Conservation of Nature to complete a reactive monitoring mission.
Australia submitted the state of conservation report to the World Heritage Centre in February 2022 and the reactive monitoring mission took place in March 2022. The Reef Authority provided technical advice on the state of the Great Barrier Reef and its management to inform the report and the mission.
The state of conservation of the Great Barrier Reef will be considered at the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee. The reactive monitoring mission report and state of conservation report will inform the draft decision.
The Reef Authority are deeply committed to protecting the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. The Reef Authority will continue working constructively with the World Heritage Committee, and the Australian and Queensland governments to implement the Committee’s recommendations.
Commonwealth Heritage listed places and properties
There are five Commonwealth Heritage places within the Great Barrier Reef Region.
- Lady Elliot Island Lightstation,
- Dent Island Lightstation,
- North Reef Lightstation (near Curtis Island)
- Low Island and Low Islets Lightstation
- Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area.
The North Reef Lighthouse and Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area are the responsibility of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and the Department of Defence, respectively.
- The Reef Authority owns and manages the other three properties on the Commonwealth Heritage List:
- Dent Island Lightstation
- Lady Elliott Island Lightstation
- Low Isles Lightstation and Low Island
These places have been assessed as reflecting important aspects of Australia's development as a nation and being owned or controlled by the Australian Government.
As the managers of these properties, the Reef Authority is charged with identifying, conserving, managing, interpreting and celebrating the heritage values at these places.
The Commonwealth Heritage Strategy
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Commonwealth Heritage Listed Places and Properties Heritage Strategy 2022-25 outlines our strategic approach to identifying, protecting and managing the heritage values of Commonwealth heritage places within the Marine Park on behalf of the Commonwealth.
The Strategy is a requirement of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation 1999 Act (the EPBC Act).
The Strategy was revised in 2022 to maintain the long-term protection and conservation of the heritage values of the Marine Park. It will be reviewed again in 2024-2025.
Commonwealth Heritage List management plans and registers
It is also a requirement under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (s. 341ZA) to have plans in place in accordance with Commonwealth Heritage management principles.
The plans describe and assess the heritage values at each Commonwealth heritage place and set out obligations, appropriate policies and management regimes to ensure that the heritage values are managed and protected.
- Lady Elliot Island Lightstation:
- Lady Elliot Island Lightstation Heritage Management Plan
- Lady Elliot Island Lightstation Heritage Register
- Low Isles Lightstation and Low Island:
- Low Isles Lightstation and Low Island Management Plan being developed
- Low Island and Low Islet Lightstation Heritage Register
For more information on Commonwealth heritage places refer to here.
In May 2007, the Great Barrier Reef — along with other Australian World Heritage sites — was placed on the National Heritage List.
The National Heritage List is Australia’s list of natural, historic and Indigenous places of outstanding significance to the nation.
Note: for some places, the names given here may vary from the officially listed place names. For the official National Heritage place names (and numbers of listed places), see the Australian Heritage Database.