Queensland Governments’ investment in the Reef has increased to an unprecedented $4.4 billion from 2014-15 to 2029-30. Of this, more than $3.2 billion is from the Australian Government. This includes over $1.2 billion recently committed by the Australian Government for reef protection and restoration programs.
Learn more about our investments.
Just as science has helped the world understand and appreciate the incredible richness and diversity of the Great Barrier Reef it is at the heart of our efforts to manage and protect it as part of our World Heritage.
The more we learn about the Reef, the better equipped we are to ensure it remains healthy. All Reef policy and programs are supported by science.
This critical information comes from a wide range of sources - research institutions, government agencies, universities, commercial companies and consultants, stakeholders, Traditional Owners and the community.
The Australian Government has been funding Reef research since 1972, with the establishment of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
As well as research into tackling direct threats like the deadly Crown-of-thorns starfish, Australia draws on its world-leading expertise in meteorology and climate science to monitor and address the impact of climate change and severe weather events like cyclones and floods.
Science and management
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has managed this national treasure for over 40 years, working with scientists as members of boards, on research teams and in one-on-one communication between staff and scientists.
The Reef Authority uses science to:
- measure the effect of impacts on the Reef (including cumulative impacts)
- identify emerging risks to the Reef
- define objectives (including targets)
- set triggers for management intervention
- develop policy and management strategies
- assess performance
- provide expert advice
- make decisions (for example on permits and environmental impact assessments).
Scientific information about the Reef comes from a range of sources including:
- research institutions and government agencies such as the Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, James Cook University, the Centre for Marine Studies at the University of Queensland, and the Queensland Department of Environment and Science
- reef-based industries
- members of the community
- Traditional Owners.
Australian Government programs contributing to science for management include:
- the Cooperative Research Centre for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (CRC Reef )
- the Tropical Ecosystem Hub, as one of the key investments under the National Environmental Research Programme (NERP)
- in the near future, the National Environmental Science Programme’s Tropical Water Quality Hub
- Reef Programme Research and Development.
The Reef Authority uses scientific information to prepare its five-yearly Outlook Report which examines the Great Barrier Reef ’s health, pressures and likely future. The report is required under Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (section 54) and aims to provide a regular and reliable means of assessing Reef health and management in an accountable and transparent way. The report has been central to informing the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.
National funding for environment research
The National Environmental Science Program (NESP) is a long-term commitment. It funds environment and climate research through an investment of $145 million from 2014–15 to 2020–21, and a further $149 million from 2020–21 to 2026–27. The program supports decision-makers. It provides them with the best available information, based on world-class science. This helps them to better understand, manage and conserve Australia’s environment.
This current phase of the program is building on phase 1 and past achievements by continuing to invest in research related to threatened species, climate systems and other key environmental issues. The work is being delivered through 4 multi-disciplinary and applied research hubs. The hubs are partnerships between organisations that collectively bring together multiple disciplines and viewpoints to form a national capability. The Marine and Coastal Hub’s research is informing management of Australia’s marine and coastal environments, including estuaries, coast, reefs, shelf and deep-water.
The Marine and Coastal Hub is delivering:
- applied research to support management of Australia’s marine and coastal environments including estuaries, coast, reefs, shelf and deep-water
- targeted biodiversity and taxonomy products to support efficient system monitoring
- environmental monitoring systems and decision-support tools.
The hub is also driving coordinated research across all 4 new hubs under NESP’s ‘protected place management’ cross-cutting initiative. This research is supporting management of Australia’s protected places and heritage, including the national park estate and Ramsar sites in both marine and terrestrial environments.
Lethal injection for Crown-of-thorns starfish
Science has made a breakthrough in the control of venomous, coral-eating Crown-of-thorns starfish with the development of a single injection method. Previous control involved multiple injections to kill the starfish. This new method is non-lethal to other marine life and provides a vastly more effective means to protect coral in specific high value tourism sites. Throughout the year teams of divers are in the water culling hundreds and thousands of Crown-of-thorns starfish.
The injection produces an allergic reaction in the starfish causing it to break apart and die within 24 hours. Previously divers had to inject these starfish more than 20 times to get the same effect. It’s delivering great results. For example more than 27 000 starfish were removed in just eight days at Arlington Reef and 9000 at Batt Reef, as well as 14 000 at Spitfire Reef near Cooktown.
Stretching along 2300 kilometres and covering an area roughly the size of Italy, the Great Barrier Reef presents a huge challenge for scientists studying its marine life. Marine animals don’t stay in one place, which makes it even more difficult to collect information about their habitats and habits.
Tourism operators and visitors to the reef are becoming citizen scientists, helping collect information through the Australian Government-supported Sightings initiative, which is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Eye on the Reef monitoring program. Beginning in 2007 by tourism staff, Sightings was quickly taken up by other visitors and has gone one step further thanks to an ingenious solution suited to the age of social media.
A free smart phone app can be downloaded so that anyone on the reef - whether they’re on a boat, snorkelling, diving, or fishing - can record and report what they’re seeing in real time. It also uploads pictures so the photographer can share sightings with Facebook friends.
With more than 12 000 sightings of 300 different species throughout the reef, the app has listed over 270 species, capturing their GPS position, habitat, behaviour and size as well as images and videos.
The eReefs project uses the latest technologies to collate data and new integrated modelling to produce powerful visualisation, communication and reporting tools for the Great Barrier Reef. It draws on the expertise of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, Australian Institute of Marine Science and Queensland government.
Just as the Bureau of Meteorology provides weather information, it provides integrated and interactive information on the reef at a scale and detail that hasn’t been available for governments, reef managers, policy makers, researchers, industry and local communities.
Its Marine Water Quality Dashboard combines daily satellite images of the reef’s water colour with more than 10 years of records relating to sea surface temperature, chlorophyll levels, suspended sediments, and dissolved organic matter. By integrating data already available on water quality, the dashboard is helping to document and respond to potentially devastating environmental events like coral bleaching.
Science and water quality
Multiple sources of science and data are helping governments take quick and practical action. For example, data on how a change in farming practices is impacting on nutrient and pesticide levels in the water is used to help land managers reduce pesticides and fertilisers flowing from catchments into the reef. This is a top priority for both the Australian Government Reef Trust, and the Queensland Reef Water Quality Program. These initiatives are underpinned and informed by the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan, Paddock to Reef monitoring, modelling and reporting program, which quantifies reduction in pollutant loads entering the reef. This ensures that actions to improve the quality of water flowing from catchments adjacent to the Reef are fit for purpose and based on the latest science and data.
The Scientific Consensus Statement, is an independent, evidence based, peer reviewed statement that outlines the latest science relating to land use impacts on water quality in the Great Barrier Reef. It provides the foundation for decisions on reef investment and previous iterations were fundamental to inform the development of the current Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan. It also informs the investment decisions under the Reef Trust, including the $1.2 billion recently committed by the Australian Government for Reef protection and restoration programs.