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Program Area 1: Providing expert knowledge to influence and advise key decision makers on managing, reducing or avoiding significant threats to the Reef

The Authority continues to work with stakeholders and partners to manage threats to the Great Barrier Reef’s (the Reef) resilience, including climate change, water quality, coastal development and fishing.

It provides expert technical and policy advice to partner organisations in relation to avoiding, mitigating and managing Reef-related threats.

With an increasing number of government and non-government organisations involved in Reef protection, the Authority focuses its involvement where it can have the greatest impact.

Summary of performance results for Program Area 1

Performance criterion

2018–19 Target

2018–19 Actual

As the authoritative voice on the Reef, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s positions on the values and threats to the Reef shape its priorities and investment and that of its key stakeholders.

Key stakeholders’ policies, positions and priorities are influenced by the Authority’s strategic advice and position statements for key issues, values and threats.


The Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program’s reef knowledge framework delivers improved access to data to support reporting, incident response and Reef 2050 planning and adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef.


The Outlook Report for 2019 is delivered to the Minister by 30 June and is recognised as the authoritative source on the state of the Great Barrier Reef Region and is utilised by key partners, stakeholders, and international bodies and Reef 2050 programs and activities.


Criterion source: Performance indicators are recorded in the Authority’s chapter in the Department of the Environment and Energy’s 2018–19 Portfolio Budget Statements p.246, and in the Authority’s corporate plan for 2018–19 p.15.

Results against performance criterion

Strategic advice and position statements

Through the joint governance arrangements for delivery of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050 Plan), the Authority provided advice on the current state of the Reef, and the management response required to address pressures and threats to the long-term protection and conservation of the Reef’s environment, biodiversity and heritage values.

As a member of the Reef 2050 Plan Joint Secretariat, the Authority influenced the implementation of the plan to ensure outputs and outcomes were consistent with managing the Marine Park’s key threats.

Position statements clearly outline the Authority’s position on threats to the Marine Park over which the Authority has limited statutory control. Position statements consider key threats, their impacts and actions to address these impacts.

The Authority received generally positive feedback from stakeholders on the marine debris position statement. There was a 293 per cent increase on hits to the webpage following its release and the document was downloaded more than 860 times.

The Authority is represented on governance arrangements for the Queensland Government’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Plan and engages in marine debris education and stewardship activities through the Reef Guardian Programand the non-government organisation Tangaroa Blue. The Authority’s position is embedded throughout its core business and is tailored to a range of stakeholders, for example education initiatives and products at Reef HQ Aquarium and behaviour change workshops with Local Marine Advisory Committees.

The Authority provided sound advice to the Minister for the Environment, the Department of the Environment and Energy, and other Queensland and Australian government members of Parliament on the management of the Reef. This included items such as reef health, our climate change and marine debris position statements, and implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan.

The Authority played an integral role in framing delivery of the Reef Trust Partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, particularly in regard to control of crown-of-thorns starfish, community and Traditional Owner engagement, Reef restoration and monitoring and reporting funding components. The Great Barrier Reef blueprint for resilience (the Blueprint) continues to guide the Authority’s actions for a more resilient Reef. For example this includes, delivering on-ground actions to enhance resilience, like ramping up crown-of-thorns starfish control, and empowering people to be part of the solution with the development of the climate change position statement.

International Coral Reef Initiative secretariat and international engagement

Established in 1994 by the governments of Australia, France, Japan, Jamaica, the Philippines, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) is an informal partnership between nations and organisations that strives to preserve coral reefs and related ecosystems around the world. ICRI brings together the world’s key coral reef countries and organisations, and provides an important platform for knowledge sharing and capacity building for coral reef managers and policy makers.

From mid-2018, the Authority led Australia’s role as co-chair of the ICRI Secretariat in partnership with the governments of Indonesia and Monaco. The three co-chair countries developed the ICRI Secretariat Plan of Action 2018-2020 for the secretariat term, which was adopted at the 33rd Annual ICRI General Meeting held in Monaco in December 2018. The plan of action comprises the following four main themes: to promote effective and adaptable solutions to improve the protection of coral reefs, understand the trends of coral reefs, investigate the impacts of the Live Reef Food Fish Trade and to help to reduce anthropogenic threats to coral reefs. The secretariat term will end in mid-2020.

The Authority is recognised as a leader in Reef management among ICRI members. Through its role as co-chair of the ICRI Secretariat, the Authority is supporting the sharing of knowledge and expertise by encouraging active engagement by coral reef countries in ICRI and conducting a range of capacity building activities.

A key activity during 2018 was ICRI’s third International Year of the Reef, which the Authority supported with a range of educational and promotional materials and events. During the year thousands of people across communities from Bundaberg to Cape York pledged their commitment to #LovetheReef and take action to reduce environmental impacts on this World Heritage natural wonder.

With support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Authority sponsored 15 participants from seven coral reef countries (Belize, Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Palau, Vietnam, Samoa and Ecuador) to attend the Global Eco Asia Pacific Tourism Conference in Townsville from 26 to 28 November 2018.

The Authority hosted ‘Presenting for Protection: eliciting behaviour change in visitors to World Heritage areas,’ a one-day ICRI side event on 29 November 2018. The Authority also facilitated this workshop that focused on how sustainable tourism contributes to the presentation of World Heritage values.

In addition to the Authority’s work as part of ICRI, through hosting international visitors and attending major international fora, the Authority demonstrates its commitment to the protection and enhancement of the Reef’s outstanding universal value and the protection of reefs internationally.

The Authority is also committed to delivering on Australian Government priorities including the Commonwealth Blue Charter, the Marine World Heritage Programme, and Norway High Level Panel on Building a Sustainable Ocean Economy.

Reef knowledge and information

The Authority continued its focus on developing an effective Reef knowledge platform and provided science-based information, including delivery of Marine Monitoring Program reporting and the Eye on the Reef system.

On 30 June 2019, the development phase of the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMReP) officially concluded, and several components of the program design and its associated prototype are now ready to be implemented.

When it is fully implemented, the resulting knowledge system will enable resilience-based management of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and its catchments through an integrated approach to collecting, accessing and visualising information. This will guide Reef management and assist day-to-day operations and strategic planning through responsive reporting of the Reef’s condition, assessment of trends and the ability to predict future risks and likely outcomes from management responses. It will also guide investment on effective management actions for current and emerging issues, and evaluate progress towards targets and outcomes of the Reef 2050 Plan.

The program is ambitious, innovative and globally unprecedented in its scale and scope, and its full implementation will provide numerous benefits to Reef management. These benefits will take several years to be fully realised. In the short term there remain several issues that need to be resolved with program partners to enable implementation. These include program governance, the scale and sources of program funding, and the nature of the program’s data management architecture.

The development phase of the program was designed around three integration principles:

  • effectiveness: enabling the early detection of trends and changes in the Reef’s environment, informing the assessment of threats and risks, and driving resilience-based management
  • efficiency: enabling management priorities and decisions to be cost-effective, transparent and based on cost-benefit and risk analysis
  • evolution: ability to adapt based on changes that occur to the Reef, management and stakeholder needs, and the availability of new technologies.

More than 200 experts and stakeholders contributed to development of the program framework, monitoring and modelling design, and tools to guide effective and efficient management of the Reef. Outputs of the development work define what will be required to deliver an integrated knowledge system that encompasses the combined Indigenous, social, economic and environmental attributes of the Reef.

Key achievements during the reporting period included:

  • Completing the overarching monitoring program design process for RIMReP, including thematically-focused monitoring recommendations and a series of subsequent integration projects; outputs will inform recommendations for monitoring investment.
  • Delivering a prototype online Reef knowledge system that brings together and helps synthesise data from a purpose-designed, management-focused, integrated monitoring program.
  • Developing an implementation roadmap to guide implementation and evolution of the Reef knowledge system to 2024.
  • Improving the Authority’s knowledge and understanding of key threats through direct investment in monitoring and influencing research programs. For example, funding to address key monitoring gaps, including inshore, mid-shelf and offshore zoning plan monitoring and dugong monitoring in the Northern Great Barrier Reef. These investments contributed to key synthesis documents about the Reef and its catchment, such as the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019 (Outlook Report 2019) and the Reef Water Quality Report Card.
  • Co-developing key National Environmental Science Programme (NESP) projects with hub leads and researchers, resulting in outputs such as the identification of species essential to ecosystem function and a decision support framework for coral reef management under a changing climate.
  • Direct investment in a program of habitat mapping to reveal for the first time the full three-dimensional complexity of the Reef. This innovative project is bringing together several different research approaches to provide a state-of-the-art underwater map that identifies areas providing critical habitat to the animals and plants that build and maintain the Reef.
  • Developing a prototype satellite-based operational tool to allow managers to compare the disturbance and recovery potential for individual reefs and map resilience dynamics on the Reef to guide decision making.
  • Providing information for the Outlook Report 2019, higher-level policy development, program planning and actions directed towards addressing threats to the Reef’s health.
  • Enhancing access for Reef managers and the public to 2018 and 2019 information from several key long-term monitoring programs (e.g. Marine Monitoring Program, dugong surveys, zoning plan).

Indigenous heritage

A comprehensive, integrative Indigenous heritage strategy was formulated by the Indigenous Heritage Expert Group under the RIMReP design process.

RIMReP partners and other external stakeholders adopted the Indigenous heritage monitoring framework proposed by the expert group as a suitable framework to guide Indigenous heritage activities.

The Authority’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Strategy for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, released in March 2019, is also underpinned by the group’s monitoring framework and its components.

Marine Monitoring Program

The Marine Monitoring Program is managed by the Authority as a foundational element of RIMReP.

Water quality, pesticide, coral and seagrass monitoring is conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), James Cook University, Cape York Water Monitoring Partnership, University of Queensland, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), Reef Catchments (the Natural Resource Management group for the Mackay–Whitsunday–Isaac region) and community volunteers.The program integrates information from a range of other monitoring programs including Seagrass Watch, AIMS Long-term Monitoring Program, and Reef Health and Impact Surveys.

The Marine Monitoring Program’s achievements in 2018–19 included:

  • Completing the year’s routine monitoring of inshore coral, seagrass, water quality and pesticides throughout the Reef, which has been ongoing since 2005.
  • Monitoring of water quality in response to the floods over the 2018–19 summer. Partners James Cook University and AIMS undertook water quality sampling following the largest floods since 1969–70 in the Cape York Normanby and Pascoe Rivers, and extensive flooding of the Burdekin River. This was complemented by the satellite imagery analysis, which captured broadscale information on the exposure of coastal ecosystems to flood waters.
  • Convening the annual workshop in November 2018 on the condition and trend of the inshore marine environment during 2017–18 for key regional and industry stakeholders.
  • Contributing to the coral and seagrass scores for the Reef 2050 Water Quality Report Card, a combined two-year report card (data from 2017 and 2018) to be released by Australian and Queensland government ministers in mid-2019. This summary is underpinned by a product drafted by the Authority from detailed peer-reviewed annual technical reports provided by contracted partners at AIMS, James Cook University and the University of Queensland. The data also informed the regional report cards (Mackay, Whitsundays and the Wet Tropics regions).
  • Concluding an investigation by CSIRO on the relative importance of multiple pressures on the condition of inshore coral.
  • Contributing information to the Outlook Report 2019, and making the best available science accessible to marine parks managers through the Reef knowledge system prototype.
  • Participating in the Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program (Paddock to Reef Program) as a member of the Program Leaders group and the core Advisory Committee. The Paddock to Reef Program measures progress towards targets in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan 2018–22.

Research and monitoring

Reef Guardian Research Grants are awarded to post-graduate students working on research that is directly relevant to management. During 2018–19, grants were awarded to seven students from six universities working on research projects including microplastics, spatial tools to identify temperature refuges, catchment run-off, microbial roles in nutrient cycling and coral reef restoration.

The Authority worked closely with the NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub and other partners to identify and guide critical areas of research for the development of RIMReP, implementation of the Great Barrier Reef blueprint for resilience and continual improvement of the Marine Monitoring Program under the Paddock to Reef Program. Likewise, the Authority worked with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to help guide investments through their partnership with Reef Trust.

Authority staff continue to actively engage with the research community to articulate management needs and bring new research findings back to the Authority. Additionally, its science seminar series continues to be an effective conduit for bringing management-relevant research to staff, with 20 seminars by leading researchers conducted in 2018–19.

Outlook Report 2019

The Outlook Report 2019 identifies the condition of values and key threats to the Great Barrier Reef Region (the Region), the effectiveness of its management and the long-term outlook for its ecosystem and heritage values. It also provides an independent assessment of the effectiveness of existing protection and management measures in managing uses and key threats to the Region.

The report is evidence-based and supported by more than 1400 references. Its independent peer-review, by four leading experts in coral reef ecology, marine policy and heritage, further strengthened the report and its compliance with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (Marine Park Act).

An independent assessment of the effectiveness of existing protection and management for the region was completed to inform chapter seven of the Outlook Report. The final assessment report provides information on the strengths and weaknesses of management undertaken by all entities with a stake in managing the Reef and its adjacent catchment. This independent report followed the framework for evaluating the effectiveness of management of protected areas developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Commission on Protected Areas.

The World Heritage Centre recognises the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report as an authoritative source on the state of the Region. It requested that Australia’s state of conservation of the property report, to be submitted in December 2019, link to the findings of the 2014 and 2019 Outlook Reports.

The Authority will use findings of the recently released Outlook Report 2019 to adapt and strengthen its management to improve the long-term outlook for the Great Barrier Reef Region. Full analytics on the uptake of the findings of the Outlook Report 2019 and its reach will not be available until after this annual report is tabled.

Findings from Outlook Report 2019 will inform a review of the Reef 2050 Plan to be completed in June 2020. Meetings between the Authority and Reef 2050 Plan partners over this financial year have set the scene for the review. As part of the independent management effectiveness review for Outlook Report 2019, a specific Reef 2050 Plan Insights Report was also produced by independent assessors. The Reef 2050 Plan Insights Report will contribute to informing the forthcoming 2020 review of the Reef 2050 Plan, by providing insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the plan and its contribution to the effective management of the region.

Educational materials based on Outlook Report 2019 will be distributed during 2019–20 and stakeholder updates will also be made during this time.

Analysis of performance against purpose

Strategic advice and position statements

A full review of the Reef 2050 Plan is required every five years to respond to new information, changing circumstances and emerging issues, particularly those presented in the Authority’s Outlook Report 2019. The first full review of the Reef 2050 Plan is due in 2020 and will build on the mid-term review undertaken in 2017–18. This work has commenced. The Authority is also leading the development of new targets to be set through the 2020 review.

Position statements require internal and external consultation, and approval by the Authority Board. Waiting for, and addressing, feedback at these essential steps has slowed delivery of the final documents.

The Authority maintained its focus providing high-quality and well-considered advice to the Minister for the Environment, the Department of the Environment and Energy and other parliamentary stakeholders throughout 2018–19. Following the 2019 Australian Government Election, the Authority provided comprehensive briefings to the new Minister for the Environment, the Hon Sussan Ley MP; Assistant Minister for the Environment and Waster Reduction, Mr Trevor Evans and Special Envoy to the Great Barrier Reef, the Hon Warren Entsch MP.

Reef knowledge

The RIMReP will enable resilience-based management of the Reef and underpins the evaluation of the Reef 2050 Plan’s progress towards outcomes, objectives and targets. The program funded critical monitoring gaps to prevent interruption to highly valuable long-term datasets. This information informed the Outlook Report 2019.

A primary focus of the 2018–19 financial year was progressing the design of the RIMReP knowledge system, and using this as a basis to develop an implementation roadmap and prototype. The prototype demonstrates the potential of a fully implemented program and already provides a platform to understand the wide variety and locations of monitoring on the Reef. It provides the ecosystem models that help managers prioritise actions and a qualitative evaluation of progress towards the targets identified in the Reef 2050 Plan.

In 2019–20, the prototype knowledge system will continue to evolve and guide the transition to a fully integrated monitoring program for the Reef. Establishing long-term governance, funding and data management arrangements will be a key focus for the remainder of 2019.

Outlook Report 2019

The Outlook Report is evidence-based and relies on the publication of peer-reviewed literature and the release of monitoring data before a cut-off date.This information is used to develop the report’s grading and findings.

During 2018–19, the Authority was unable to access and incorporate some monitoring data due to the timing of completion and release of data from established monitoring programs. While this placed pressure on meeting statutory timeframes, outcomes were met in the required timeframe.