The Great Barrier Reef in Australia was the first reef to be recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is one of the seven natural wonders of the world
While coral reefs generally are very sensitive to climate change, the Great Barrier Reef is extremely resilient due to its size, diversity and charismatic fauna, which are vital to the reef ecosystem.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is working hard to ensure this diverse habitat is fully protected from environmental harm.
The Reef is one of the world's largest and most diverse ecosystems. Setting aside its environmental importance, it is also astoundingly beautiful — a wonderland of movement and colour.
It is the beauty and variety of the Reef that brings thousands of visitors to Australia each year and makes it such a big tourist attraction. Spanning over 2,000km (1,243 miles), it is the world's largest World Heritage site, with over 2,900 separate coral reefs, and is home to thousands of species of fish, coral, reptiles and plants.
Almost two million tourists visit the area every year, attracted by the chance to see this amazing ecosystem and to enjoy its world-class diving, snorkelling, sailing, fishing and island experiences. It is no surprise that so many Australians are working to help protect it.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is the Australian Government agency responsible for the Reef's protection and management. It works in partnership with many industries, including the tourism and hospitality sectors, commercial fishers and government agencies, to make sure the area is well managed and used sustainably.
In 2009, the GBRMPA published a comprehensive analysis of the Reef. The Outlook Report presents the environmental, social and economic values of the Reef, assesses its resilience to disturbance, and explores the likely future outlook for this priceless ecosystem.
In comparison to other reefs around the world, the Great Barrier Reef is in good shape. It is well protected and has comprehensive management arrangements in place. This means that it is likely to respond more strongly to the environmental challenges it is beginning to face. The Outlook Report identifies climate change, continued declining water quality from catchment run-off, loss of coastal habitats from coastal development, and a small number of impacts from fishing, illegal fishing and poaching, as the priority issues reducing the resilience of the Reef.
One of the success stories highlighted in the Outlook Report is the management of tourism activities. This includes the strong partnership between the GBRMPA and the local tourism sector, including hotels. For example, all hotels are required to have a licence for any activities operated in the Park. This partnership is widely recognised as world-leading, helping to ensure that any threats to the Reef associated with tourism activities have been reduced to a very low level.
Through its High Standard Tourism Program, the GBRMPA encourages tourism operators to adopt best practices for its business and operations in the Park, including hotels’ in-water activities, such as scuba diving. Additional benefits are offered to those operators who are independently certified as running sustainable operations. There are already 48 certified High Standard Operators, delivering a top quality tourism product to about one million of the Reef's visitors every year. These operators can be identified by the Ecotourism and Advanced Ecotourism logos of the Eco Certification Program.
The Reef also benefits from these improved practices because certified operators have made a commitment to best practice ecological sustainability, natural area management, and quality ecotourism experiences. They also work to protect and preserve the Reef's natural and cultural heritage.
Tourism operators are working in partnership with the GBRMPA to adapt their industry and to improve the Reef's resilience to the impacts of climate change. In 2009, the protection agency joined industry and state government agencies to launch the Great Barrier Reef Tourism Climate Change Action Strategy. Its strategy is to take action to minimise tourism's climate footprint, and prepare businesses to adapt to climate change now and in the future.
The resort of Lady Elliott, nestled on a coral cay on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef within the boundaries of the Park, is an example of best practice in climate change mitigation. Working closely with the GBRMPA, it employs low-emission, clean-burning diesel generators providing 240v power, low-energy light bulbs, solar water heating, a closed-circuit anaerobic sewerage waste management system, the collection and use of rainwater and desalination of pure seawater into fresh water for drinking. It demonstrates that it is possible for a resort to successfully operate within an extremely fragile environment, while minimising its impact and working to actively maintain the Reef through programmes such as re-establishing vegetation and bird habitats.
The Great Barrier Reef ecosystem is the foundation upon which a $5.3 billion tourism industry is built. Because it operates in such a special environment, the tourism industry strives to remain not only fresh and innovative, but also environmentally aware. The Reef is one of the healthiest coral reef systems in the world and the overall goal of the GBRMPA and its partners is to keep it that way.
Article written by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.