The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMPA) was established in 1975 to protect the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and to ensure its sustainable use. The Marine Park covers 344 400 km2, an area bigger than Victoria and Tasmania combined.

The GBRMP has always been a multiple-use marine park, allowing a range of uses and most reasonable activities, but with an overriding conservation objective of ecological sustainability; this means that the entire area is protected, but zoned to allow different activities in different zones and minimise impacts and conflicts.

The GBRMP extends 2300 km along the Queensland coast, and includes most of the waters from low water mark on the mainland coast, to the outer (seaward) boundary up to 280 km offshore. It is complex jurisdic-tionally, with both the Federal and State (Queensland) Governments involved in the management of the waters and islands within its outer boundaries. In terms of global marine protected areas, the GBRMP is:

• one of the world's largest (it certainly contains the largest network of No-Take Areas);

• probably the best known, and

• arguably the most methodically planned and comprehensively managed, particularly over such a large scale.

As the world's largest coral reef ecosystem, the GBR is also an important global resource. The GBR and its associated features directly contribute significantly to Australia's economy, with direct and indirect value added contibution estimated $5.4 billion in 2006-07. This includes $5.1 billion from the tourism industry, $153 million from recreational activity and $139 million from commercial fishing. This economic activity generates about 66 000 jobs, mostly in the tourism industry, which brings over 1.9 million visitors to the GBR each year. About 69 000 recreational vessels are registered in the area adjoining the GBR. These industries, and their flow-on activities, underpin a significant and growing proportion of Queensland's regional economy. They rely on the continued health of the GBR system for their long term economic sustainability.

Because of the iconic status of the GBR, many people believe that the entire area is a marine sanctuary or a marine national park, and therefore protected equally throughout. Many do not appreciate that the GBRMP is a multiple-use area, in which a wide range of activities and uses are allowed, including most extractive industries (but not mining nor drilling for oil), while still protecting one of the world's most diverse ecosystems. The multiple-use zoning system provides high levels of protection for specific areas, whilst allowing a variety of other uses to continue in certain zones. These include such diverse uses as shipping, dredging, aquaculture, tourism, boating, diving, military training, commercial fishing and recreational fishing.

The broad objectives of zoning in the GBRMP are set out in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (the Act). The statutory Zoning Plan provides details on what, and where, specific activities are allowed, and which activities require a permit.

Under the Act, the Authority has power to perform any of its functions in co-operation with Queensland, with an authority of that State, or with a local governing body in that State. This is important given the adjoining Queensland marine parks, National Parks and islands.

The Australian Government's primary legislation for environmental regulation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, also provides for such aspects as the protection of world heritage values, biodiversity conservation, and the protection of threatened and migratory species.

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