Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Listing

The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981 due to its Outstanding Universal Value including its unique natural attributes and enormous scientific and environmental importance.

World Heritage sites are places that are important to and belong to everyone, no matter where they are located. They have universal value that is greater than the importance they hold for one particular nation. They are the best examples of the world’s cultural and natural heritage and must have values that are outstanding and universal.

As the world’s most extensive coral reef system, the Great Barrier Reef was recognised as a globally outstanding and significant entity. The listing covers an area of 348,000 square kilometres, stretching from the low water mark along the mainland coast up to 250 kilometres offshore. It includes vast shallow inshore areas, mid-shelf and outer reefs, extending beyond the continental shelf to oceanic waters over 2000 metres deep.

Collectively the landscapes (over 900 islands) and seascapes (2500 individual reefs) provide some of the most spectacular maritime scenery in the world. The diversity of species and habitats, and their interconnectivity, make the Reef one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems on earth. No other World Heritage property contains such biodiversity. Read more about the Reef’s Outstanding Universal Value.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee regularly reviews the state of conservation of all properties on the World Heritage List. It can place a property on an ‘in danger’ list if it believes the property is threatened by serious and specific dangers.

The World Heritage Committee has considered the state of conservation of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area since 2011. In its decisions, the World Heritage Committee has requested the Australian Government undertake a range of measures to ensure the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef is not compromised. These measures include developing the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050 Plan).

The Queensland Government works in partnership with the Australian Government to manage the Reef’s Outstanding Universal Value.

The Queensland Government has committed more than $1 billion since 2015 to protecting the Reef. This includes further substantial actions to reduce water pollution, improve land condition, reduce emissions and reform fisheries management.

In response to concerns in 2021 about the long-term outlook for the Reef, the World Heritage Committee requested a reactive monitoring mission assess the Reef’s state of conservation. UNESCO’s two advisory bodies, the World Heritage Centre and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, conducted the mission in March 2022. A Report on the Reactive Monitoring Mission was released in November 2022.

International concerns about the Great Barrier Reef are in response to the declining long-term outlook for the Reef in the face of climate change, together with insufficient progress towards meeting the Reef water quality targets.

The Australian Government submitted an update to the State of Conservation of the Great Barrier Reef Report in March 2023. This included information about key policy changes to protect the Great Barrier Reef since the reactive monitoring mission.

The Reactive Monitoring Mission Report and other inputs informed the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s decision to not place the Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its September 2023 meeting.

The World Heritage Committee has requested a progress report be submitted by 1 February 2024 for consideration at the next meeting.

This demonstrates the Queensland Government’s commitment to protecting the Reef, including increased investment and action, is working.

It recognises the significant commitments both the Australian and Queensland governments have made including the urgent delivery of the recommendations in the Reactive Monitoring Mission report.

That includes a further $160 million to support fishers to significantly reduce net fishing and other high risk fishing activities that impact the Reef, ensuring the Great Barrier Reef is gillnet free by mid-2027.

The Queensland Government is committed to achieving the 2050 water quality targets and seeing a reduction in overall pollutant discharge through the Queensland Reef Water Quality Program. It also continues to take decisive action against climate change, setting bold but achievable targets to continue reducing emissions while creating jobs.

The Queensland Government will continue to work with the Australian Government to take strong action to further protect the Reef ahead of the next World Heritage Committee meeting.