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The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Strategy for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is the Authority’s long-term strategy to strengthen the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Reef heritage.

It is a significant step in honouring the knowledge and value of Traditional Owner connections to the Great Barrier Reef and increasing the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value of the Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef Region is incredibly rich in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage, dating back thousands of years before the Reef was formed.

“It is vitally important that our heritage sites, culturally significant places and traditions are kept for our present and future generations.” - Gooreng Gooreng Traditional Owner, 2017


Board members Duane and Ian - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority) -

Indigenous heritage includes everything in Sea Country, including natural values, Indigenous values and historic values. It includes tangible and intangible expressions of Traditional Owners’ relationships with the country, people, beliefs, knowledge, law, language, symbols, ways of living, sea, land and objects, all arising from Indigenous spirituality.

From artworks, fish traps, middens and tools to songlines, languages and traditional practices, the sea itself and everything in it has stories and significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

  • Examples of components of the Strategy
  • The ocean, plants and animals, views, and sky and stars
  • Respect, knowledge, language and stories, lore and responsibility
  • People, ancestors, the present and the next generation
  • Places significant for sites, plants, animals, corals, burials, birthing, food and totems
  • Cultural keystone species, for example, turtles, dugongs, humpback whales
  • Technologies, such as fish hooks, stone tools, artefacts, and scar trees
  • Cultural behaviours, including traditional hunting, passing down knowledge, working together, remembering ancestors and keeping people, places and heritage safe
  • Historical places associated with colonisation, like missions and massacre sites
  • Historical connections, for instance, between Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders and with South Sea Islanders.[1]

The strategy sets out how the Authority can work in partnership with Traditional Owners to combine their thousands of years’ expertise in Reef management with modern Marine Park management tools to help keep Sea Country heritage strong, safe and healthy.

Key outcomes and actions

The Strategy has three major outcomes.

  • Keep heritage strong: respect, recognise and protect the connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the Reef.
  • Actions under this outcome focus on empowering Traditional Owners through governance and advisory structures, respecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in all Authority business, and promoting understanding of Indigenous heritage values.


  • Keep heritage safe: protect Indigenous heritage values through Authority processes.
  • Actions under this outcome focus on how the Authority can incorporate Indigenous heritage values into our policy, planning, permitting and compliance processes.


  • Keep heritage healthy: partner with Traditional Owners and others in Reef management.
  • Actions under this outcome focus on how we can work with Traditional Owners through partnerships, including Traditional Use of Marine Resource Agreements, compliance training and other co-management initiatives, including Traditional Owner-led Sea Country values mapping.

Key Initiatives

This outcome envisages a future where the connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the Reef is respected and recognised by all Reef users. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples freely practice their culture and look after their heritage, passing to the next generation the spiritual practices and Indigenous knowledge that have sustained their health and identity over thousands of years.


Governance of the Marine Park includes Indigenous membership on the Marine Park Authority Board and an Indigenous Reef Advisory Committee.


A Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan is underway to increase cultural competency within the Authority and actively contribute to reconciliation, including acknowledgements and cross-cultural training.

Education and communication

Authority has launched a Master Reef Guide module  on Indigenous heritage and implemented several educational and communication initiatives focusing on Traditional Owner connection to Sea Country.

This outcome envisages a future where Indigenous heritage is identified, considered and protected across the full range of Authority tools and processes, including planning, permitting and compliance.


The Authority is committed to increasing co-management of the Reef with Traditional Owners. The Authority views co-management as encompassing a broad range of partnership activities and formal agreements with Traditional Owners to manage the Marine Park.

Managing in partnership brings together thousands of years of Traditional Owner expertise and knowledge in Sea Country management with the legislative tools and expertise of the Authority to achieve cultural, environmental and social outcomes.

Options for increasing co-management are being identified and incorporated into programs and processes across planning, permitting and in-park management.

Permissions system involvement

The Authority is developing processes to facilitate greater access to Traditional Owners expertise for consideration in permitting decisions, including cultural protocols.

Woppaburra Traditional Owners and the Authority have trialed place-specific Guidelines for the Great Keppel area, which set out important values in the area, the cultural protocols for engaging with Woppaburra Traditional Owners, and a process for the Authority seeking and considering input from Woppaburra on a range of permit applications.

The guidelines led to changes in permit applications and conditions, proponents contacting Woppaburra directly before applying for permits, and greater partnerships between researchers and Woppaburra Traditional Owners.

Through the Sea Country values mapping project, other Traditional Owners are being invited to request and develop place specific guidelines for their Sea Country.

Policy and Planning Roadmap

The policy and planning roadmap is transforming the way Indigenous heritage is considered in policy and planning. This includes working with Traditional Owners on increasing planning protection and reviewing policies for consistent recognition and consideration of Traditional Owners.

  • This outcome envisages a future where Traditional Owners and other Reef managers manage the Reef together to keep Sea Country and Indigenous heritage strong, safe and healthy.
  • Sea Country values mapping

The Authority is committed to supporting Traditional Owners manage and safeguard their Indigenous knowledge and heritage. A strong, consolidated Traditional Owner knowledge base contributes towards maintaining Indigenous knowledge and giving Traditional Owners a solid foundation for sea country planning and management.

In addition, the Authority recognises it increases the ability of Traditional Owners to choose to share information on their values with other managers to increase co-management and heritage protection.

Several Traditional Owner groups are leading Sea Country values mapping projects. Traditional Owners identify their own needs and conduct their own activities to increase their mapping of the Sea Country values.

Activities have included topographical modelling, development of Assessment Guidelines, Sea Country planning, drone mapping and fishtrap restoration. Traditional Owners then consider which values they would like considered in Authority tools and processes, leading to partnership outcomes including permitting Assessment Guidelines and protection of sites.

Enhancing partnerships

The Authority aims to increase co-management through expanding, deepening and strengthening partnership activities, including engagement, Traditional Use of Marine Resource Agreements, Indigenous compliance programs and service level agreements for the delivery of environmental and heritage services.

The Authority is investigating other opportunities for partnerships which further support and progress co-management.

The Authority is committed to supporting social and economic outcomes through programs and partnerships, recognising independent sustainable communities are essential to achieving better heritage outcomes in the long term.

The long standing Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreements program now covers 23 per cent of the coastline.

Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreements are incorporating heritage projects into their implementation plans and forging stronger management partnerships with the Authority, including through Sea Country mapping projects and assessment guidelines.

The Field Management Program has a long history of Indigenous   involvement which continues to expand. The Indigenous Compliance Team continues to the deliver many of the Reef Joint Field Management Program activities and priorities, with a focus on compliance mentoring, training and delivery.

Fee for service arrangements are being expanded for on-ground management by Indigenous groups. Large scale projects including the Raine Island Recovery Project, Douglas Shoal environmental remediation project, crown-of-thorns starfish management and Green Turtle Research and Protection Program are delivered in partnership with local Traditional Owners.


The Authority’s Indigenous Reef Advisory Committee oversaw development of the strategy. More than 70 Reef Traditional Owner groups from Cape York to Bundaberg were invited to provide valuable input, with more than 35 Traditional Owner groups attending workshops.

Public consultation including more than 70 Traditional Owner groups showed support for the strategy across all objectives and actions.

In February 2019, the Marine Park Authority Board and the Indigenous Reef Advisory Committee jointly launched the Heritage Strategy at the Reef HQ Aquarium.

Yirrgandji TUMRA - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Manduarra TUMRA - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority) -
Woppaburra TUMRA - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Gunggandji TUMRA - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Updated 13 Dec 2022
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