The findings of the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report and the Strategic Assessment of the Great Barrier Reef Region are clear.
Impacts on the Reef are compounding over time and space, diminishing the Reef’s ability to recover from disturbances.
Greater reductions of threats at all levels — global, reef-wide, regional and local — together with actions to improve the Reef’s health and resilience, are required to prevent the projected decline in the Reef’s health.
These policy documents set out a comprehensive and systematic approach for how stakeholders can work together to achieve these outcomes.
The Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Forum approved the Reef 2050 Cumulative Impact Management Policy and the Net Benefit Policy on 20 July 2018. These two documents, along with the Good Practice Management for the Great Barrier Reef document, are part of a suite guidance materials to support implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan.
The Reef 2050 Cumulative Impact Management Policy and Net Benefit Policy complement each other by providing guidance on how to reduce threats and improve the Reef’s resilience in the context of continuing climate change pressures. They set out principles and steps to guide their practical application. They’re about everyone working together to protect the Reef.
The cumulative impact management policy outlines a systematic method for managing cumulative impacts on the Reef.
All stakeholders can contribute to the reduction of impacts on the Reef and this policy provides guidance on the range of impacts affecting the Reef, the scale at which impacts are occurring and tools to assess and manage impacts.
Adoption of this policy at planning, assessment and approval, monitoring, evaluation and reporting phases for decisions and activities within and adjacent to the Reef will ensure threats to the Reef are addressed in a systematic and consistent manner.
The policy does not propose an assessment of cumulative impacts for individual decisions or activities where the cumulative impacts have been considered in overarching plans or assessments, and where decisions/activities are consistent with these plans or arrangements.
The steps in cumulative impact assessment for the marine area are similar to best practice environmental impact assessment, with a broader focus on understanding the context and underlying pressures on the marine system, its values and desired outcomes.
The key performance indicator for the implementation of the cumulative impact management policy will be a reduction in the risk of threats to the Reef as reported in the five-yearly Outlook Report.
The net benefit policy provides guidance on designing and implementing programs to improve the Reef's resilience and condition of its values. It is a new approach for protected area management globally.
The policy provides guidance on how to deliver net benefit outcomes for the Reef using a diverse range of approaches and working collaboratively with stakeholders at local, regional, national and international scales.
Its intent is to drive a strategic and coordinated approach to the delivery of actions designed to improve the Reef’s health and resilience, and to facilitate the effective tracking of actions.
The key performance indicator for the implementation of the net benefit policy will be an improvement in the condition and/or trend of the Reef's values as reported in the five-yearly Outlook Report.
These Reef 2050 policies are important guidance for delivering the Australian and Queensland governments’ 35-year plan to protect the Reef. The policies were finalised by the Australian and Queensland governments in July 2018.
Given the complexity of management, the scale of pressures and threats affecting the Reef, and the complex ecosystem responses, implementation across jurisdictions and sectors will be staged.
The establishment of the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program, together with the development of spatially explicit decision support tools will support the implementation of approaches set out in draft policies.
A review of Australian and international literature relevant to these policies has been undertaken by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
The review examines contemporary theory and practice related to managing cumulative impacts and achieving no net loss and net benefit outcomes for the environment, and looks at their application to the Great Barrier Reef.
As managing cumulative impacts and delivery of net benefit programs and actions are rapidly evolving fields nationally and internationally, we welcome contributions to this body of knowledge.
Flowchart for managing cumulative impacts
Drivers are overarching causes that can drive change in the environment (State of the Environment and Strategic Assessment Report) and have also been referred to as underlying causes of change in the environment.
- For the purposes of the Reef 2050 draft Cumulative Impact Management and Net Benefit policies and the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program, it is proposed to adopt six drivers of change for the Great Barrier Reef system:
- Climate change
- Population growth
- Economic growth
- Technological developments
- Societal attitudes
- Governance systems
Pressures and impacts are mechanisms that exert a change force (either positive or negative) on a value.
- Pressures and impacts:
- Acid sulphate soils - Exposure and subsequent oxidation of potential acid sulphate soils.
- Altered ocean currents - Altered ocean currents due to climate change or anomalies related to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, and altered coastal water movement at a local scale.
- Artificial light - Artificial lighting including from resorts, industrial infrastructure, mainland beaches and coastlines, vessels and ships.
- Atmospheric pollution - Pollution of the atmosphere related to domestic, industrial and business activities in both the Region and adjacent areas. The contribution of gases such as carbon dioxide to climate change is not included as this is encompassed under threats such as sea temperature increase and ocean acidification.
- Artificial barriers to flow - Artificial barriers to riverine and estuarine flow including breakwalls, weirs, dams, gates, ponded pastures, and weeds causing changes to hydrology, groundwater and ecological connectivity.
- Coastal reclamation - Coastal land reclamation, including for ports and groynes.
- Cyclone activity
- Damage to reef structure - Physical damage to reef benthos (reef structure) through actions such as snorkelling, diving, anchoring and fishing, but not vessel grounding.
- Damage to seafloor - Physical damage to non-reef benthos (seafloor) through actions such as trawling and anchoring, but not vessel grounding.
- Disposal and resuspension of dredge material - Sea dumping of dredge material including smothering, loss and modification of seabed habitats and resuspension.
- Dredging - Dredging of the seafloor.
- Exotic species and diseases - Introduction of exotic species and diseases from aquaculture operations, hull fouling, ballast release, imported bait and release of aquarium specimens to the Region, plus the introduction of weeds and feral animals to islands.
- Extraction – discarded catch
- Immediate or post-release effects (such as death, injury, reduced reproductive success) on discarded species as a result of interactions with fishing gear. Does not include species of conservation concern.
- Extraction (fishing in spawning aggregations) - Retained take (extraction) of fish from unidentified or unprotected spawning aggregations.
- Extraction (herbivores) - Retained take (extraction) of herbivores (e.g. some fish, molluscs, dugongs, green turtles) through commercial and non-commercial uses.
- Extraction (incidental catch of species of conservation concern) - Immediate or post-release effects (such as death, injury, reduced reproductive success) of interactions of species of conservation concern with fishing gear.
- Extraction (lower order predators) - Retained take (extraction) of lower order predators (e.g. coral trout and snapper) through commercial, recreational and traditional fishing.
- Extraction (lower trophic orders) - Retained take (extraction) of lower trophic orders (e.g. scallops, sea cucumbers and prawns) through commercial, recreational and traditional fishing.
- Extraction (top order predators) - Retained take (extraction) of top order predators (e.g. sharks) through commercial, recreational and traditional fishing and the Queensland Shark Control Program.
- Grounding large vessel - Grounding of large vessels (>50m) including physical damage and the dislodging of antifoulants.
- Grounding small vessel - Grounding of small vessels (<50m) including physical damage and the dislodging of antifoulants.
- Illegal activities (other) - Illegal activities such as entering a protected or restricted area, illegal release of industrial discharge, shipping outside of designated shipping areas.
- Illegal fishing and poaching - Illegal fishing, collecting and poaching (foreign or domestic) including of species of conservation concern.
- Incompatible uses - Activities undertaken within the Region that disturb or exclude other users, such as recreational use in areas important for cultural activities.
- Increased freshwater inflow - Increased freshwater inflow from prolonged or heavy rainfall including flood events, and from changes to catchment ecosystems; resulting in reduced salinity.
- Marine debris - Manufactured material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment (including discarded fishing gear and plastics).
- Modifying supporting terrestrial habitats - Clearing or modifying supporting terrestrial habitats such as wetlands, saltmarshes, mangroves and sand dunes — this also includes trampling and damage from recreational vehicle use.
- Noise pollution - Noise from human activities, both below and above water.
- Nutrients from catchment run-off - Nutrients entering the Region in run-off from the catchment.
- Ocean acidification - Increasing acidity of the Region’s waters.
- Outbreak or bloom of other species - Outbreak of naturally occurring or native species, excluding crown-of-thorns starfish.
- Outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish - Outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish (i.e. when the density exceeds about 30 starfish per hectare).
- Outbreak of disease - Outbreak of disease, both naturally occurring and introduced.
- Pesticides from catchment run-off - Pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides) entering the Region in run-off from the catchment.
- Rising sea level
- Sea temperature increase - Increasing sea temperature.
- Sediments from catchment run-off - Sediments entering the Region in run-off from the catchment.
- Spill (large chemical) - Chemical spill that triggers a national or regional response or is more than 10 tonnes.
- Spill (large oil) - Oil spill that triggers a national or regional response or is more than 10 tonnes.
- Spill (small chemical and oil) - Chemical or oil spill that does not trigger a national or regional response and is less than 10 tonnes
- Urban and industrial discharge - Point and diffuse-source land-based discharge of pollutants from urban and industrial land use and mining, including polluted water, sewage, wastewater and stormwater.
- Vessel strike on wildlife - Death or injury to wildlife as a result of being struck by a vessel of any type or size.
- Waste discharge from a vessel - Waste discharged from a vessel into the marine environment.
- Wildlife disturbance - Disturbance to wildlife including from snorkelling, diving, fish feeding, walking on islands and beaches, and the presence of boats; not including noise pollution.
Put another way, pressures and impacts are the change mechanisms (e.g. processes or activities) that result from drivers. For the purposes of this policy, pressures are defined consistent with the Outlook Report ‘threats’ and the Strategic Assessment Report ‘impacts’.
The following table outlines the key values and attributes of the Great Barrier Reef. These values and attributes underpin Reef-related Matters of National Environmental Significance.
For the World Heritage Area, values have been based on the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value.
For the World Heritage Area, connections are based on the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value. For listed species, processes that have a major supporting role in maintaining the species are shown (for example, the role that beaches play in the nesting of listed marine turtles).
For wetlands of international importance, the connections shown are those discussed in the Ramsar Convention information sheet. ( o = relevant to the Matter of National Environmental Significance).
A review of Australian and international literature relevant to the Reef 2050 draft Cumulative Impact Management and Net Benefit policies has been undertaken by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
The review examines contemporary theory and practice related to managing cumulative impacts and achieving no net loss and net benefit outcomes for the environment, and looks at its application to the Great Barrier Reef.
As managing cumulative impacts and the delivery of net benefit programs and actions are rapidly evolving fields nationally and internationally, we welcome contributions to this body of knowledge.
Additional information can be provided to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is working with its Australian and Queensland government partners, Traditional Owners and stakeholders to develop case studies to examine how the Reef 2050 policies could be applied through different management tools and approaches, including stewardship actions. The aim is to ensure the policies have a practical application across relevant sectors and jurisdictions.
Planning for Priority Ports
Port Master Plans are being developed for the priority ports of Gladstone, Abbot Point, Townsville and Mackay/Hay Point. Master Plans will ensure the best possible use of existing port infrastructure to balance economic and operational objectives with environmental and community responsibilities.
Marine Park permission system
The permission system works at the scale of individual projects and is only one of the tools available to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. More strategic tools, such as Zoning Plans, Plans of Management, site plans and issue-specific policies, manage pressures and impacts at a broader scale. The permission system operates within these frameworks.
Traditional Use of Marine Resources
Traditional Owners have a unique and enduring connection with the Reef, and their cultural values are dynamic and diverse. Traditional Use of Marine Resource Agreements can be used to investigate and understand the cumulative impacts of various activities on the Great Barrier Reef values, including its cultural values, and deliver net benefits to the Reef’s health and resilience.
Plans of Management
Plans of Management are used by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to complement Marine Park zoning by addressing issues specific to an area, species or community in greater detail than broader Reef-wide zoning plans. The plans provide opportunities to identify and manage cumulative impacts with the overarching objective to provide for the long-term protection and conservation of the Reef’s environmental, biodiversity and heritage values.
Volunteers involved in stewardship programs deliver on-ground actions that are generally additional to any statutory requirements. In this way, such actions are of net benefit to the Great Barrier Reef.