Informing Management Strategies for the Great Barrier Reef

Informing Management Strategies for the Great Barrier Reef

Dr. Cathy Dichmont (CSIRO)

Shaping the future of the Great Barrier Reef is no easy task. The Reef catchment area covers almost 350,000 square kilometres. The region contributes $7 billion to the Australian economy annually, primarily through tourism, however farming, fishing and the research sectors are also important.

Future management decisions regarding the Reef need to strike the right balance between economic growth, environmental protection and community wellbeing. 

To ensure all voices are heard in the decision-making process, CSIRO and partners are creating a framework to empower local people to contribute to local management decisions through a case study in Mackay.

Community acceptance of decisions surrounding the Great Barrier Reef’s future is reliant on transparency and grassroots involvement. With this in mind, a ‘bottom-up’ framework has been developed by CSIRO to empower local community members to affect local decisions. Representatives from across the community are working collaboratively to determine key areas that will require future management decisions. 

To do this, the representatives prioritise management objectives from the most important to least important using a novel way to solicit information. The prioritisation framework gives Reef managers and decision makers vital information on what is important to each stakeholder group, what they all agree on and how willing they are to negotiate on each objective. Management decisions are then elicited from the community representatives and assessed against the ranked objectives to determine the likely impacts of each decision.

The framework was developed and tested in Mackay with a large group of stakeholders including local residents, farmers, fishers, tourism operators, community and environmental groups, plus decision makers across government.

The decision makers that will use the findings from the project to inform future strategies for Mackay include Mackay Regional Council, Queensland Government (fisheries and parks), the Ports Corporation and the Federal Government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

With a focus on the coasts’ fisheries and biodiversity, six key topics were agreed on and explored by the group: mangroves, seagrasses, inshore corals, fisheries, urban development and ports.

The stakeholder group identified the economic, environmental and social pressures associated with each of these topics, and based on those threats, determined the best management action to address these pressures.

For example, the three most important objectives identified by the stakeholder group are “Reduce direct impacts of infrastructure and development”, “Reduce influx of pollutants” and “Increase compliance with environmental and resource use regulations”. The key actions to address these objectives therefore focused on cumulative impacts and measures to increase compliance to existing legislation through changes to existing practices and education campaigns. Based on the pressures and weighted objectives, the impacts of these management options could be quantitatively tested, determining the possible consequences, advantages and limitations of each decision.

Within six months the management framework will be finalised and demonstrated in Mackay. Once trialled and evaluated, we plan for this framework to be rolled out and customised across any coastal community in Australia.

For more information, contact Dr. Cathy Dichmont (



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