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Plastic poses a significant threat to marine life on the Great Barrier Reef, including turtles, dugongs, dolphins, and seabirds. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Reef Authority) encourages community, industry, and government choose sustainable options, minimise waste, and engage in stewardship activities to reduce plastic impacts on the Reef. 

Plastic makes up more than 80 percent of the marine debris found on the Reef. It is possible for this debris to break up into smaller pieces and travel vast distances, increasing the impact risk.

  • Marine plastic debris includes: 
  • Macroplastics: plastic items more than five millimetres in size, such as plastic bottles and straws. 
  • Microplastics: plastic items less than five millimetres in size, such as microbeads from personal care products, microfibres from synthetic clothing materials. 
  • Secondary microplastics broken up from larger macroplastic pieces. 
  • Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear, such as crab pots and fishing nets. 

We can all do our part in alleviating the pressures on the Reef by changing our own behavior. The Reef Authority supports immediate action at a local, national and international level to reduce all sources of plastics and to stop plastic marine debris before being it is released into the environment. 

Repurposing and reimagining 

This action includes changing the composition or function of products to minimise waste or non-renewable materials, or re-designing products to reduce or remove plastic content. Two examples are the voluntary phase-out of personal care products containing microbeads, and the actions of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation to implement targets to reduce waste from packaging and improve recycling by 2025. 

Reducing and reusing plastic 

Reducing and reusing plastic limits the amount of plastic that ends up in the Reef. To decrease the overall environmental impacts, industry and consumers should replace single-use plastic items like straws, coffee cups, pods, and plastic beverage containers with reusable products. As an example, Citizens of the Reef has pledged to end the use of single-use plastics such as straws, and the Queensland Government has banned single-use plastic bags. 


Recycling captures items that cannot be repurposed. There are many effective government policies in place that address recycling, including kerbside collection and the Queensland Government container refund scheme. 

Recovering and removing plastics 

Plastic litter can be removed through beach clean-ups and gross pollutant traps. These complement long-term, strategic source reduction activities and anti-littering campaigns. 

Take part in our Reef Guardian program 

Through the Reef Guardian program, the Reef Authority facilitates community adoption of 'reef friendly' behaviours and practices. Schools, local government, and industry lead this initiative. Providing support for capacity-building activities can help reduce plastic and other marine debris at source, while promoting stewardship empowers stakeholders to be part of the solution. 

With support through the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, we have already seen on-ground community clean-ups, targeted education and awareness-raising. For example, Traditional Owner groups, Local Marine Advisory Committees, organisations such as Tangaroa Blue and Eco Barge Clean Seas Inc, and many volunteers work hard to clean up the marine environment and the information they collect is used to identify the source of marine debris. 

As part of this effort, international partners are also being engaged to develop a plan for preventing and mitigating marine debris impacts. Among them are the International Coral Reef Initiative and the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance. 

Marine debris such as plastic and other debris threaten the Great Barrier Reef and kill marine life including turtles, dugongs, dolphins and seabirds. Collective action by community, industry and government to choose sustainable options, minimise waste and undertake stewardship activities is required to reduce marine debris impacts on the Reef. 


Updated 6 Jun 2023
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