Australia Barrier Reef and Tourism (BARRIER)
CASE NUMBER: 179
CASE MNEMONIC: BARRIER
CASE NAME: Great Barrier Reef and Tourism
1. The Issue
Often called the eighth wonder of the world by the Australian
tourist promoters, the Great Barrier Reef stretches 1,250 miles
along the northeastern coast of Australia. The Reef covers an area
about half the size of Texas and is the largest structure ever
created by living things. Due to its popularity and location, the
Great Barrier Reef is under attack by the tourist industry, miners,
and oil companies who want to drill for oil there. The Reef is
also under attack by a natural predator, the Crown of Thorns
Starfish. Because of the increased stress, the Great Barrier Reef
is beginning to show signs of degradation. In an attempt to
control the destruction to the Reef, the Great Barrier Reef Marine
Park was created in 1980, as a result of the federal Great Barrier
Reef Marine Park Act of 1975. The Act provided for the creation
of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority which is the body
that manages the protection and development within the Park.
However, degradation still continues.
The Great Barrier Reef is not one structure, but rather it is
made up of more than 2,500 individual reefs. These individual
reefs are sometimes close together and sometimes they are widely
separated. Coral reefs are often called the rain forests of the
ocean, harboring countless numbers of species. The Great Barrier
Reef alone is home to "10,000 species of sponge, 350 species of
coral, 4,000 species of molluscs, 350 species of echinoderms and
more than 1500 species of fish. Divers estimate it would take a
thousand dives just to see the reef's highlights." Species range
in size from a few inches to a few feet, in shapes from "torpedo to
pancake," and come in all the colors of the rainbow and in
The 80,000 year old Reef is also "the breeding area for a
number of rare and endangered species. Humpback whales come from
the Antarctic to give birth to their young in Reef waters. Six of
the World's seven species of sea turtle breed on the Reef..."
Like other coral reefs, the Great Barrier Reef was built
by the births, deaths, and workaday lives of countless
billions of coral polyps, tiny colonial animals that form
limestone skeletons for support as they reach upward
toward sunlight. Coral beds--again, numberless masses of
them--are the solid structures in, on, and around which
the other creatures of the reef live.
As a result of its beauty and natural wealth, the Great
Barrier Reef is a popular spot for both tourists and locals. The
increase in the number of visitors has inevitably resulted in the
degradation to areas of the Reef. The numbers of some species have
been slowly diminishing while in some areas, the Reef itself has
Once sleepy towns have been transformed into tourist resorts.
In 1992, 1.2 million people (both foreign and local tourists) came
to see the Great Barrier Reef with the number of tourists expected
to grow at least ten percent a year. The creation of a new
airport in Cairns in the early 1990s, has transformed it into a
luxurious tourist resort. During the construction period of
several resorts, "hills were leveled, harbors dredged and
artificial beaches created." This was only to be the beginning
of the destruction.
Prior to all of the tourist resorts and the increase in ways
to travel to the Reef, only a handful of tourists came to see it.
In the past, it was very difficult to find transportation to the
Reef so it was too troublesome to visit. Today, tourists are
shuttled to various locations of the Reef by high-speed catamarans,
dive boats, seaplanes, even helicopters. The increase in
transportation modes also translates into more tourists visiting
the same handful of islands, straining the Reef nearby. The
increase of tourists places added stress on a small fraction of the
Reef - there is more diving, more swimming, more shell collecting,
more walking on the Reef, etc. and these actions have translated
themselves into killing the coral.
Often the tourists seem oblivious to the damage they cause the
Reef. Tourists damage the Reef while "walking across reef flats
smashing coral, collecting molluscs and fish, overturning coral
boulders, etc." Many visitors do know that the Reef is suffering
from all of the attention and that it is a protected area. This
has not stopped them from collecting live shells, however. Many
people can not resist the temptation of picking up a shell or two.
'Most visitors know that the reef's protected now,' Geoffrey
Mercer, one of the park wardens, told me recently. 'They know
it's forbidden to collect live shells, but a lot of them just
can't resist the temptation. They bring the shells all the
way back to the hotel, and then their consciences get the
better of them; they drop them in one of the nearby tidal
pools.' Geoffrey grins. 'If you want to see the prettiest
shells on Heron Island, check the area around the hotel.'
In 1990, swimmers had to be told to stop urinating in the
water because it was killing the coral. Coral grows in low
nutrient waters and the increased levels of nutrients, from the
urine, began to have an effect on the coral necessitating the
statement. Swimmers often do not realize that urinating in the
water can have such a dramatic affect. Coral will eventually die
after being constantly dosed with nutrients such as urine.
Hotels are also damaging the Reef. They generally pipe their
sewage and wastewater directly into the ocean, damaging nearby
coral. The development of hotel resorts has led to the damage of
both the coastline and the Reef. With the construction of hotels,
comes the runoff of heavy sedimentation and the suffocation of the
coral. Runoff from agricultural development also leads to
increased nutrient levels in the water. Research commissioned by
the Park Authority "estimates that run-off from the mainland has
increased fourfold since European settlement."
Today visitors to the Reef may stay in posh resorts and travel
to the Reef on luxury catamarans. One such catamaran comes
equipped with "dining room, bar, spa and a lounge room bristling
with hi-tech video editing facilities to capture your first dive on
film." There are also some "sophisticated" resorts.
Resorts are not to be outdone by the catamarans. One resort,
which was built but did not succeed, was designed to be a hotel
moored to the Reef itself. The hotel was a seven-story, 200-
bedroom building operated as a first-class hotel. There were
closed circuit televisions in guest rooms and semi-submersibles
with "huge viewing windows to take guests below the surface and
among the fish and living coral of the reef." Another resort
complex features an indoor ice skating rink.
Tourist resorts do not have to have a negative impact on the
Reef, but if they are to be safe to the Reef, they must be planned,
built and managed with the Reef's fragile ecosystem in mind.
Permanently anchored pontoons, for example, "should be anchored
over sand to prevent the shade they cast from killing any corals
Many people are beginning to complain that thus far, tourism
has been linked with the economy and the environment but not with
sustainability. The fact that this component is missing is
troublesome. Until a strategy is created which includes this
component, tourism will have an adverse impact on the Reef.
Recreational fishing is no longer harmless either. Over
25,000 small boats are privately owned by residents living along
the coast near the Great Barrier Reef. This means that the Reef
is overfished, severely depleting the stock of fish. The boat
owners are also not always careful where and how they drop their
anchors. This reckless behavior leads to damaging the Reef when
the anchors hits and smash the coral.
A constant battle continues with the oil developers who claim
that oil drilling will not damage the Reef. The developers argue
that the exploration and drilling would be performed four miles
offshore of the Reef, hence no damage would be incurred by it. An
additional harm would come when and if an oil spill occurs.
Management of the spill would be "hindered by a lack of information
as to the environmental impact of detergents used to contain the
Not only do authorities have to worry about spilled oil from
exploration but they also must worry about the potential spills
which could occur as a result of an oil tanker colliding with the
Reef. Each year more than 2,000 large ships, many carrying
hazardous cargoes, sail the narrow channel which runs inside the
Reef. Legislation was passed that made it mandatory for these
ships to carry a pilot who is intimately knowledgeable of the area.
However, this will not preclude the possibilities of spills from
occurring, just reduce the chances.
A final, yet very serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef is
the persistent outbreaks of the Crown of Thorns Starfish. In the
1960s the first outbreak began. The Crown of Thorns Starfish is a
predator; that is, it eats other living animals - small reef-
building animals called coral polyps. Polyps usually construct
communal limestone homes which are built up into a multitude of
shapes and sizes that eventually give rise to what is known as a
'coral reef.' The crown of thorns starfish is mobile. Using
suckers under its arms called 'tube feet', it is able to move
across coral reefs to find new prey. After finding a suitable
coral, the crown of thorns pulls its stomach out through its mouth
(a process known as 'stomach eversion') over the coral polyps and
releases digestive juices onto the coral, breaking down the polyp's
tissue into a readily absorbed 'polyp soup.' It leaves only a
white coral skeleton which is soon invaded by algae, worms, boring
molluscs or reef settling organisms.
A second outbreak began in 1979. As a result of the two
outbreaks almost one-third of the Reef has been attacked, with some
parts of the Reef ninety-five percent destroyed. A third
outbreak began in the late 1980s. It is nearly impossible to stop
the Starfish, making the outbreaks even more serious. One of the
few ways to kill the Starfish is for divers to inject the animals
with poison or to remove them by hand. These processes take many
months to be successful and cost between $5 and $16 per Starfish.
Along with few solutions to the problem of outbreaks, there
are few answers as to the cause of them. Research has uncovered
Crown of Thorns spines in old Reef sediment suggesting that
outbreaks have occurred in the past and may be a normal part of the
natural reef cycle. However, the fact that outbreaks are becoming
more frequent is still a mystery. Many scientists blame both the
tourism industry and the development industry. The "increasing
land clearing for urban and industrial expansion, forestry and
agricultural activities...generally cause an increase in water and
sediment runoff during heavy rains."
Other scientists believe that the increase in human
activities, such as shell collecting and fishing, have caused a
decline in the natural predators of the Crown of Thorns Starfish.
The conclusion is that humans have triggered the increase in
3. Related Cases
See CORAL case
See CUBA case
Key Words (1): Tourism
4. Draft Author: Deborah Meisegeier
B. LEGAL CLUSTER
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was established under the
federal Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act of 1975. The Act called
for the creation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
which is the body in charge of managing the protection and
development within the Park. The Park is not a national park but
instead is a "multiple-use protected natural area."
The Park Authority has approximately ninety staff members and
is responsible for "striking a balance between development and
protection of the fragile Great Barrier Reef." The Authority is
responsible for protecting the Reef for its own sake and for the
fishing and tourism industries which are dependent upon the Reef's
health. The Authority stresses that any use of the Reef or any
nearby areas must not interfere or threaten the Reef's ecological
The Park is recognized by the International Union for the
Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) now the World
Conservation Union. It fits the definition of Category VIII
(multiple-use protected area) and Category IX (biosphere reserve).
In 1981, the Reef was added to the World Heritage List as a natural
site. In 1990, it was declared a 'Particularly Sensitive Area'
by the International Maritime Organization.
6. Discourse: AGREE
7. Forum: IUCN
8. Number of Parties Affected: 1
9. Legal Standing: LAW
C. GEOGRAPHIC FILTERS
The Great Barrier Reef is located in the state of Queensland.
The region was settled in 1824 by the Europeans. It is Australia's
fastest growing state with a population of 2.7 million. There
are three international airports in Queensland making it even more
accessible to visitors.
The Great Barrier Reef extends along Queensland's coastline
for more than 1200 miles. In addition to the Great Barrier Reef,
there are also rain forests in Queensland. The two natural wonders
actually meet in the far north region of the state.
The climate of the state is tropical to subtropical. The four
seasons are typically not distinctive and temperatures are usually
higher inland. There are low humidity levels making almost any
a. Continental Domain: AUSTRALIA
b. Geographic Site: AUSTRALIA
c. Geographic Impact: AUSTRALIA
11. Sub-national Factors: YES, QUEENSLAND
12. Type of Habitat: OCEAN
D. TRADE FILTERS
13. Type of Measure: REGSTD
14. Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: INDirect
15. Relation of Measure to Impact:
a. Directly Related: NO
b. Indirectly Related: YES (TOURISM)
c. Not Related: NO
d. Process: YES (HABITAT)
16. Product Type: TOURISM
17. Economic Data:
a. Industry Output ($): $6.1 billion
b. Employment: 525,000
Overall the tourism industry generated $6.1 billion in 1992-
93. Tourism from the Great Barrier Reef generates approximately
$1,370 million per year. In addition to the money generated from
tourism, "corals themselves are gathered and sold as part of the
international trade of reef products." Growth levels in
employment are expected to rise due to the successful Sydney
18. Degree of Competitive Impact: LOW
The idea of zoning was introduced as the best resolution to
the dual objectives of protection and multiple use. "Levels of
protection within these zones vary from almost complete absence of
restriction on activities, to almost complete restriction of human
There are currently four different types of zones:
preservation zones - in these areas, virtually all activities are
prohibited scientific research zones - in these areas, scientific
research is allowed under strict control marine national park zones
- in these areas, scientific, educational
and recreational uses are allowed.
general use zones - in these areas, some commercial and
recreational fishing are allowed.
In addition to the zone divisions, the general use zones are
further divided into type A and type B, with the type B zones more
strictly regulated. This strategy allows a greater degree of
Tourism is permitted in 99.8 percent of the Marine Park.
The Park Authority is eager to prevent damage from occurring to the
Reef. The use of zoning, allows people to enjoy the Reef without
contributing to its death.
In addition, in October of 1991 a pilotage legislation came
into affect. Certain vessels (determined by size and cargo) are
required to carry a pilot who is intimately knowledgeable of the
area. This law was created to reduce the possibilities of any ship
groundings or spills.
New zoning was proposed in 1992 which took into account
information which was previously not available. A new zone was
proposed which would reduce activities around the areas where
dugong, turtles, and other fauna live.
Another proposal called for the removal of nutrients from all
sewage discharged from tourist resorts into the waters. A tourism
management strategy has also been proposed. The attempt of this
proposal is to reduce the affects of the developers during the
construction of new resorts. New bans on fishing were also
introduced in an effort to control overfishing, by both commercial
fishers and recreational fishers.
19.Industry Sector: Tourism (TOUR)
20.Exporters and Importers: JAPAN and AUSTRALIA
c. Leading Exporters (US $): $1.34 billion in 1992
d. Leading Importers (US $): N/A
The living, growing portion of a coral reef is a thin veneer
on the surface of the cemented limestone skeletons of millions of
dead corals and the remains of limestone producing (calcareous)
plants. The reef cement is partially formed by encrusting algae,
and partially by chemical precipitation from the water.
Coral polyps, with the help of single-celled plants
(zooxanthellae) living within them, convert dissolved limestone
from the water into hard limestone. Polyps build their communal
limestone homes into a multitude of shapes and sizes to produce the
complex and beautiful coral colonies we see underwater. Coralline
algae and calcareous sponges grow between the old coral colonies
and help cement them into solid reefs.
Reef building corals need warm waters in which to grow and
their plant helpers, the zooxanthellae, need light, just as plants
on land do. For this reason, coral reefs only develop well in
warm, shallow and clear tropical seas.
From this description of how coral reefs are built, it is
clear to see that reefs can not live in dirty water. Hence they
are threatened by the runoff of water (the water which drains from
the crops sprayed with pesticides), the soil which is drained into
the sea as a result of increased development, the spill of oil
(which may result both from the transportation of oil through the
Reef area and from any drilling and exploration which may take
place on the sea floor), and from high amounts of urine (which
results in increased levels of nutrients, killing the coral).
The death of the coral, however, is only one part. Dead coral
can not sustain life. Hence the species which live on and around
the coral will also be affected.
21.Environmental Problem Type: SPLS
Pollution, Sea (POLS)
The biggest environmental problem is the threat to habitat.
Already some species are dead, while others have been severely
depleted. However, sea pollution is also a major problem and must
not be ignored.
22. Species Information: CORAL REEF
23. Impact and Effect:HIGH and REGULatory
24.Urgency and Lifetime
While I was unable to locate data specific to the Great
Barrier Reef, I was able to locate data on coral reefs as a whole.
The predictions estimate that 70 percent of the world's coral reefs
will be severely degraded or dead by the year 2030.
Perhaps the best solution to the preservation of the Great
Barrier Reef is the expansion of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
and increased education to both visitors and natives. While the
Park has divided the Reef into different zones allowing various
types of recreational and economic activities, the Authority may
have to re-evaluate these zones. If degradation becomes too great
in some zones, it will have to restrict such activities. In the
long run, the health of the Great Barrier Reef will generate more
income (from tourism) than will destroying it from overfishing.
Enforcing the laws and collecting fines for those who disobey may
also slow down and eventually end harmful and prohibited
Education is also a key. All people who come into contact
with the Reef must learn about the fragile ecosystem and how they
can contribute to its continuation rather than its destruction.
Often times people do not realize how their actions adversely
impact the Reef. Educating them on how the Reef grows and how
their actions affect the coral may hinder, or at the very least
slow down, the ultimate death of the wonder they come to visit.
The Park Authority has issued basic guidelines for those
people who want to enjoy the beauties of the Reef. Included among
these guidelines are anchoring with care, shipping out the litter
that is brought in, and limiting the fish that is caught.
The Park Authority urges people who are fishing or boating
near the Reef to try and anchor in the sand, not in the coral.
They should also motor toward the anchor when hauling it in. These
simple efforts will reduce the damage done to the coral.
The Authority also suggests that "if you take it out, bring it
back." The belief is that if it was possible to bring it with
you, then it can also be removed by you. Discharging oil, fuel,
plastic containers, and any other type of garbage is very damaging
to the Reef. Fines up to $274,000 for individuals and up to
$1,370,000 for companies will be levied against offenders.
Finally, people should take only the fish that is needed for
today and leave the rest for another day. Doing this, can reduce
the effects of overfishing.
F. OTHER FACTORS
26. Culture: YES
There are three Aboriginal Trust areas next to the Cairns
Section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In an effort to
maintain the culture of the Aborigines, the Park Authority allows
traditional hunting and fishing by Aboriginal people in all zones
of the Cairns Section except Preservation Zones.
Permits for hunting or fishing are issued to the community.
The permits have some conditions, including a ban on the use of
firearms or noxious substances, and the authorities request that
the Aboriginal people report on any dugong or turtle caught.
The dugong is of significant cultural value to the Aboriginal
people. They are hunted for their meat, which is shared with the
community and is an important ceremonial food, and for their oil
which is used by older people as a cure for aches, pains, and
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority believes it has
taken steps to recognize the customary rights of the Aboriginal
people. However, more improvements are being sought as the Park
Authority is trying to improve liaison with the Aboriginal
27. Human Rights: NO
27. Trans-Boundary Issue: NO
28. Relevant Literature
---. "A 25-Year Strategic Plan for the Great Barrier Reef World
Heritage Area." Reflections, No. 27, June, 1992, pp. 4-13.
---. Australian Financial Review, April 8, 1987.
---. "Coral, Politics and Oil." The National Times, December 14 to
20, 1980, pp. 10-12.
---. Crown of Thorns. one in a series published by the Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland Nation Parks
and Wildlife Service, February, 1985.
---. "Daintree Road and the Reef." The Sydney Morning Herald. May
8, 1985, p. 10.
---. "Oil Drilling 'Will Not Damage Barrier Reef'." The Canberra
Times, June 14, 1980, p. 3.
---. Queensland Australia: The Great Barrier Reef State. tourist
---. Reef Region Fisheries. one in a series published by the Great
Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland Nation Parks and
Wildlife Service, February, 1985.
---. "Swimmers told to Stop Urinating on Great Barrier Reef."
Reuter News Service, January 17, 1991.
---. "The Float that Flopped." Australian Financial Review, June
---. The Great Barrier Reef. one in a series published by the Great
Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland Nation Parks and
Alexander, David."Guarding Watery Paradise." International
18, No. 4, May, 1988, p. 4-10.
Australian Academy of Science. Acanthaster Planci (Crown of Thorns
Starfish) and The Great Barrier Reef. No. 11, February, 1970.
Australian Overseas Information Service. Australia: An
Introduction. December 1994.
Australian Tourist Commission. Destination Australia. Venice:
Charles Patricolo & Company, 1995.
Beale, Bob. "Alarm Over Tests on Coral." The Sydney Morning Herald,
February 12, 1994, p. 7.
Bita, Natasha. "Lack of Funds Threatens $1bn-a-year Resource." The
Weekend Australia, April 6-7, 1991, p. 3.
Drogin, Bob. "Trouble Down Under." Los Angeles Times Magazine.
September 19, 1993, pp. 18-20, 60-62.
Endean,Robert. Australia's Great Barrier Reef. St. Lucia,
Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1982.
Glascott, Joseph. "Millions of Visitors for the Barrier Reef."
Hall, C. Michael. "Ecotourism in Australia, New Zealand and the
South Pacific: Appropriate Tourism or a New Form of Ecological
Imperialism?" in Cater, Erlet and Lowman, Gwen, (eds.). Ecotourism:
A Sustainable Option? Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1994.
House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and
Conservation. Protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Canberra:
Australian Government Publishing Service, 1985.
Kelleher, Graeme. "Sustainable Development of the Great Barrier
Reef Marine Park." in Hawkes, Suzanne and Williams, Peter (eds.).
The Greening of Tourism: From Principles to Practice, A Casebook of
Best Environmental Practice in Tourism. Burnaby, B.C.: Simon Fraser
Malcolm, Steve. "Rising Nutrient Level Harming Ecosystems." The Age
(Melbourne), November 1, 1994, p. 16.
McGregor, Adrian. "Tourists Hear the Call of the Islands." The
National Times, December 14 to 20, 1980, p. 15.
Passa, Dennis. "Australia's Great Barrier Reef Periled by Man,
Nature." The Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1991.
Perry, Michael. "Take a Dive on the Wild Side and Kiss a Fish."
Reuter Textline, August 8, 1993.
Reischl, Gerald. "Australia's Underwater Wonder." World Press
Review, Vol. 38, No. 3, March 1991, p. 62.
Scott, David Clark. "Starfish Threaten Australia's Great Barrier
Reef - and Tourism." The Christian Science Monitor, August 24,
Smith, Deborah. "The Unknown Risks to the Reef's Ecological
Balance." The National Times, December 14 to 20, 1980, p. 14.
Summerhays, Soames. "A Marine Park is Born." National Geographic,
(May, 1981), pp. 630-635.
Tarte, Diane and Hegerl, Eddie. "Great Barrier Reef: Guarding Our
Greatest Living Treasure." Habitat Australia, October, 1990, p. 17-
Weber, Peter K. "Saving the Coral Reefs." The Futurist, July-
August, 1993, p. 28-33.
White, Mel. "Australia's Great Barrier Reef." National Geographic
Traveler. Vol. 9, No. 1 (January, 1992). p. 96-111.
Wright, Judith. "The Reef's Defenders." The National Times,
December 14 to 20, 1980, pp. 12-14.
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