Coordinated multi-layered management for implementation of MSP across the GBR

Published: 25 October 2016
Last edited: 30 September 2020
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This solution addresses achieving effective MPA management, especially with resource limitations, in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia; it is primarily aimed at MPA managers, but also others who need to understand MPA management.


Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Deep sea
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Coastal and marine spatial management
Local actors
Protected and conserved areas governance
Lack of access to long-term funding
Poor governance and participation
Aichi targets
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas


Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia


Achieving effective MPA management, especially with resource limitations. Managing an MPA is usually a continuous, adaptive and participatory process, with the aim to achieve a desired set of objectives. To be effective, a management system should be coordinated across agencies, regularly reviewed and able to respond to changes in the MPA, to users and to management inadequacies. Sharing tasks across partners is one way that managers can be more effective.


Primarily aimed at Great Barrier Reef Marine Park managers, but also others who need to understand MPA management.

How do the building blocks interact?

Collectively these building blocks outline how to achieve effective MPA management in a complex area like the GBR, especially when resources are limited. To be effective, management should be coordinated and shared across agencies, regularly reviewed and able to respond to changes in the MPA, to users and to management inadequacies. Building block 1 outlines the range of multi-layered management ‘tools’ (spatial and temporal) used by the Australian and Queensland governments across the entire GBR. Many of these management approaches are complementary, operating irrespective of the jurisdictional boundaries. BB2 outlines a broad and comprehensive ecosystem-based management approach addressing issues relevant for effective marine conservation within both the terrestrial and the marine realms. BB3 outlines some of the complexities of managing major assets (e.g. vessels) for field management and explains how sharing assets can still provide effective field management. Three further aspects for implementing effective management are also discussed: identifying MPA boundaries in the field (BB4); using technological aids to locate marine boundaries (BB5); and the importance of integrating compliance activities across the GBR (BB6).


There are many benefits of sharing responsibility for management across a range of governmental agencies, industries and key partners, especially if an MPA is the size and complexity of the Great Barrier Reef (see Blue Solution - Sound legislative governance framework, esp cross-jurisdictional agreements (BB1), complementary legislation (BB2) and partnerships with key sectors (BB6). Similarly, working effectively to ensure a high level of coordination between agencies, as well as undertaking compliance planning and enforcement across the MPA, may appear difficult and costly, but the advantages have been shown to be well-worth the effort required. This may include the coordination of intelligence and information gathered from a range of sources over time which can lead to more effective management and enforcement. Having all users understand the locations of MPA and zone boundaries is also worth the effort. Not all methods to mark boundaries need to be expensive but they do need to be readily available and easy to interpret. There can be many benefits of effectively using technology to assist with field management, monitoring and enforcement. While such technology may not be cheap, long-term benefity are usually woth the expense


Various tools have evolved since the late 1970s to address the fact that management of the large and complex GBR is shared between the Australian Government and the State (Queensland) Government. There are 13 different federal and State government agencies directly involved in preparing, implementing and evaluating various management plans, strategies, programs and initiatives. A formal Intergovernmental Agreement ensures responsibility is shared by the various federal and State agencies. In addition, key industries and user groups also play important roles by assisting with some of the management challenges. The GBR is so complex that, rather than a single management plan, it has a comprehensive management system comprising a wide range of marine spatial plans and other management tools. The comprehensive Zoning Plan is one of the key management tools and is a critical component in helping to manage the multiple uses in the GBR. However, other spatial and temporal management tools and strategies are also used, each with a legislative basis in either Federal or Queensland legislation; including: • Plans of management for specific areas requiring detailed management provisions, e.g. limiting numbers or applying approved policies • Site plans and special management areas for specific high use areas or where special local arrangements are required • Other spatial restrictions, such as designated shipping lanes, Defence Training Areas, species-specific protection Areas • Other plans regulating use which may or may not be spatial and/or temporal – e.g. fishery management plans, species recovery plans and formal agreements with Traditional Owners GBR protection and management relies on collaborative efforts built upon partnerships between government agencies, Traditional Owners, stakeholders and community members, with activities both on the water and in the catchment. Field management is only one aspect of the overall management of the GBR. Field management is also a shared responsibility, coordinated by a specific group within GBRMPA comprising officers of the federal and State agencies. Sharing responsibility, resources and information are key management approaches. For example, a single report of an activity or incident may seem of little consequence but coordinating a wide range of information and intelligence across agencies and over time is likely to show patterns and high-use periods that assist with more effective management and enforcement.

Contributed by's picture

Jon C. Day ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

Other contributors

ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University