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Onboard - Tourism Operator's Handbook for the Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef Islands

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Islands provide places for birds to roost and nest, and turtles to lay their eggs as well as habitats for a range of animals. To protect their many unique and special values about one third of the islands throughout the Great Barrier Reef have been declared National Parks. Island National Parks usually extend down to high water mark.

Which islands are National Parks?

Island National Parks have been declared across the Great Barrier Reef:

  • Far North Island National Parks
  • Cooktown/Cairns Island National Parks
  • Hinchinbrook/Townsville/Whitsundays Island National Parks
  • Mackay/Rockhampton Island National Parks

How are the islands managed?

The aim of island management is to preserve those values that make islands such a popular destination and protect the natural and cultural heritage values vulnerable to human disturbance. One key management priority is to ensure breeding seabirds and turtles, and their habitats are protected.

The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) manages most of the Great Barrier Reef islands.

What permits do I need?

You must have an appropriate Marine Parks permit to operate on cays that are awash at high tide and in intertidal areas (up to the high water mark) These areas are part of the Queensland Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park.

If you wish to operate within island National Parks you will need a Commercial Activity Permit in addition to a Marine Parks permit. The QPWS issue Commercial Activity Permits and will outline any special conditions that may apply, including dates of seasonal closures.

Are their any special islands?

Your Marine Parks permit may require that you stay a defined distance away from some Great Barrier Reef islands that are important for nature conservation. Check you permit for these exclusions. There may also be special conditions and exclusions on Commercial Activities Permits.

Some island Locations in the Cairns Planning Area are Sensitive Locations with individual management arrangements. Important seabird breeding islands in the Hinchinbrook Planning Area are protected as Significant Bird Sites while other islands are managed as Sensitive Locations. There are also Significant Bird Sites in the Whitsunday Planning Area.

How can I help protect islands?

Many islands throughout the Great Barrier Reef are recognised world wide for their importance as seabird and turtle nesting sites. Not all of these islands are declared National Parks, but all lie within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. You can help look after these islands by following responsible reef practices whenever you visit.

Image supplied courtesy of Tourism Queensland

© Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority