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

Cooktown and Ribbon Reefs Region

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Activities Guide An introduction to zoning in the Great Barrier Reef - 99.4 kb


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Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan


Qld Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park Zoning Plan

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The region from Lizard Island in the north to the Daintree in the south is renowned for the spectacular Ribbon Reefs complex along the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef and for Lizard Island. The township of Cooktown is the centre of a small but growing tourism industry.

Special management strategies have been put in place in the area offshore from Cooktown 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 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.

When you operate offshore from Cooktown, you must be aware of the:

  • Public Appreciation Special Management Areas:
    • Yonge Reef (14-138) - lee side
    • Lizard Island Reef (14-116b) - Mermaid Bay to Pigeon Point.

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

  • Seasonal Closure Special Management Areas:
    • area adjacent to Day Reef (14-089) Scientific Research (orange) Zone
    • area adjacent to Ribbon Reef No 10 (14-146) Marine National Park (green) Zone
    • area adjacent to Ribbon Reef No 7 (15-026), Ribbon Reef No 6 (15-032) and Unnamed Reef (15-034) Marine National Park (green) Zone
    • Ribbon Reef No 5 Patches (15-042) Buffer (olive green) Zone
    • Ribbon Reef No 2 (15-075a) and Ribbon Reef No 3 (15-050) inter-reefal areas Buffer (olive green) Zone.

You cannot fish in these areas from 1 January to 31 August each year.

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 maps. This region is a compulsory pilotage area for cruise ships.

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 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 offshore from Cooktown. There may be booking and permit requirements to visit these islands, please contact your nearest QPWS office for information.

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