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

Cairns and Port Douglas

Fitzroy Island

The region from the Daintree in the north to the Frankland Islands in the south attracts more visitors than any other within the Marine Park. It includes Green Island, one of the most recognised day trip destinations in the Great Barrier Reef, the historically significant Low Isles and a range of other high quality reef destinations.

Special management strategies have been put in place throughout the region to protect natural, cultural and socio-economic values and to provide a range of visitor experiences.

When operating in the region there are some key arrangements you should check.

Check Plan of Management requirements

The Cairns Area has a Plan of Management designed to preserve a range of opportunities and experiences. Through this Plan the natural and cultural values of the overall area are protected, the number of tourism operations is managed, along with the maximum group size to each Location. There are specific management arrangements for some sensitive locations and some activities.

It is important that you understand in detail the particular management arrangements for the Cairns Planning Area.

Check zoning requirements

Zoning is one of the primary management tools for the Marine Park and it is important that you understand the zoning for the area you intend to visit. You are responsible for knowing all the zoning provisions for the location you wish to visit.

Look up the colour of the reef, island or bay you wish to visit on the zoning maps, then check the Activities Guide for what you can and can't do in the zone.

More detailed information about zoning is available on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) websites.


Check Special Management Areas

There are Special Management Areas (SMA) throughout the Marine Park. They apply specific management arrangements to an area to improve conservation of the area or to manage use. They provide an overlay to zoning and are generally marked on the zoning maps.

There are Public Appreciation Special Management Areas for:

  • North Opal Reef (16-025)
  • Flynn Reef (16-065)
  • Thetford Reef (16-068)
  • Fitzroy Island Reef (16-054) - allows extensive aquaculture.

In addition to the rules for the Conservation Park (yellow) Zone, you cannot spearfish in these areas.

There is a Natural Resources Conservation Special Management Area declared for:

In addition to the rules for the Conservation Park (yellow) Zone, you cannot spearfish or conduct fishing or collecting in this area, except for trolling and bait netting for pelagic species.

Check designated Shipping Areas

If you conduct a cruise ship operation, check the designated Shipping Areas. They are an overlay to zoning and allow the navigation of ships through zones where they would otherwise not be permitted. You can locate the Shipping Area boundaries on the zoning map. Most of this region is a compulsory pilotage area for cruise ships.

Check your permit

You must have a permit to operate in the Marine Park. Read your permit carefully for additional conditions about operating in the region.

Check Island National Parks

There are many island National Parks in the Cairns and Port Douglas region. There may be booking and permit requirements to visit these islands, please contact your nearest QPWS office.

Check Responsible Reef Practices

For each of the activities you undertake consider how you and your clients can adopt responsible reef practices and further help protect the Reef.

Where can I get more information?

The GBRMPA, QPWS and a range of other regional contacts can help you with any questions you may have.

© Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority