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Special Tourism Permissions

Special tourism permissions relate to capped tourism activities, usually in the Cairns, Hinchinbrook and Whitsunday Planning Areas*, which allow operators to continue to do something that was permitted before Plans of Management or regulations came into effect but which is no longer generally permitted (see Identifying Special Permissions below).

Historically, special permissions were granted to those permit holders who proved they met eligibility criteria.

In recognition of the valuable opportunities provided by special permissions, some important management arrangements and conditions must be met if you wish to retain existing ones.

Reasonable level of use required for special tourism permissions

If you hold a special tourism permission the amount you have used that permission will be reviewed when you apply to continue the permission. Reasonable use will be an average of 50 days per year over the term of the permit, unless otherwise specified in the tourism permission or the policy. If you have multiple vessels or aircraft on a permit, only some of them may be permitted to undertake the limited activity.

We will generally look separately at the use made of each special endorsed vessel and aircraft on your permit. However, if you have more than one endorsed vessel or aircraft listed on a permit, you may have the flexibility to spread the use of any of your endorsed or non-endorsed vessels or aircraft across all your endorsed vessels or aircraft.

If you have made reasonable use of the permission, you will have first option to continue your operation under a further tourism permission. You can check your reasonable use through Permits Online (

For more information, please refer to the Authority’s policy on Managing Tourism Permissions to operate in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (including Allocation, Latency and Tenure).

In addition, over the permit term, you must achieve 'reasonable use' of the permission — this is using the permission on average for at least 50 days per year per vessel over the life of your permit term. Please note: As part of the Reef Authority's response to COVID-19, latency requirements had an "exemption period" (1 March 2020 to 30 June 2023). These dates will be removed from the required use calculations.

The decision maker can, however, consider days used during that exemption period if they assist the permit holder in meeting the "reasonable use" requirements.

Provided the minimum requirements above have been achieved, and you also apply for your following permit before your current one expires, you will retain first option to continue your special permission.

Any special tourism permission not meeting the reasonable use requirement will usually become 'spare' and potentially available for re-allocation.

Allocating special tourism permissions

How to obtain Specials?

You cannot apply for Specials through the Marine Parks permit application process. However, you may be able to acquire a Special Tourism Permission from an existing Permit Holder (a marine broker may be able to assist) and then transfer the Special into your name/business entity. Please refer to the transfer process within A Guide for Current Permit Holders.

Alternatively, following community and industry input, the Reef Authority may release one or multiple Specials for the Planning Area under a publicly advertised expression of interest process in accordance with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 2019.

Identifying special tourism permissions

Under the Plans of Management, some operation types have daily or increased access these are referred to as Special Tourism Permissions (Specials). Specials are capped and allow tourism operators to continue to do something that was permitted or occurred before the Plan(s) came into effect and is now limited by the Plan(s). Most Specials have daily access to a Planning Area.

  • Cairns Area Plan of Management 1998
  • Regional Tour Operation (vessel or aircraft);
  • Long Range Roving Operation.
  • Daily access is also permitted when operating to a permits mooring or pontoon – mooring and pontoon locations are defined and capped.


  • The Whitsundays Plan of Management 1998 
  • Regional Tour Operation (vessel or aircraft)
  • Bareboat Operation
  • Bowen Operation
  • Long Range Roving Operation.


  • The Hinchinbrook Plan of Management 2004
  • Open Tour Operation (crewed vessel or crewed large vessel or aircraft )
  • Open Tour Operation (crewed large vessel)
  • Bareboat Operation
  • Long Range Roving Operation


  • Specials may also include additional endorsements. These endorsements could be for accessing a Location (including a Sensitive Location or Locality) with a larger group size or without a booking requirement. If applicable, this access is reflected in permits as an endorsement. Examples include:
  • access to a Sensitive Location without a booking in the Cairns or Hinchinbrook Areas or access to a setting 5 area in the Whitsunday Area
  • fishing in the Conservation Park Zone in the Whitsunday AreaOther capped permissions 
    Some other permissions are also capped due to Site Management Plans or Marine Parks Regulations. These include 
    •    the activity of swimming-with-whales in the Cairns Area (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 2019 (Cth).
    •    mooring and pontoon operations Lady Musgrave Reef (GBRMPA ELibrary: Site Management Arrangements: Lady Musgrave Reef (23-082)
Aerial island photo - Great Barrier Reef - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Updated 3 Jul 2024
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