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 World Heritage Committee and Legislation Safeguarding the Reef

This is our second article on Australia’s cultural heritage on the Great Barrier Reef. In the realm of environmental conservation and cultural preservation, the Great Barrier Reef stands as a testament to Australia’s commitment to safeguarding its natural wonders. This second article delves into the legislative framework and Australia’s relationship with the World Heritage Committee, shedding light on the efforts to protect and manage the Great Barrier Reef’s unique ecosystem.

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Legislative Pillars: The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975

At the heart of the nation’s commitment to preserving the Great Barrier Reef is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. This pivotal legislation outlines the primary objectives of ensuring the long-term protection and conservation of the environment, biodiversity, and heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef Region. Recognized both nationally and globally, the Reef holds a dual status as a World and National Heritage site, with specific obligations to identify, protect, monitor, and report on its heritage.

Managed by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment, and Water, world and national heritage matters are meticulously overseen to guarantee the preservation of this natural wonder for generations to come.

World Heritage Status and Challenges

Inscribed as a World Heritage property in 1981 for its outstanding universal value, the Great Barrier Reef is subject to regular reviews by the World Heritage Committee. Under the World Heritage Convention, a property attains outstanding universal value if it holds cultural and/or natural significance that transcends national boundaries and is of common importance for humanity.

The 2019 Outlook Report acknowledged the Reef’s retained outstanding universal value while highlighting increasing challenges to its integrity. In a significant development in July 2021, the World Heritage Committee decided not to place the Great Barrier Reef on the World Heritage in Danger list. This decision followed a thorough assessment, and Australia’s commitment to conservation played a pivotal role.

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Collaborative Monitoring and Decision-Making

Australia’s involvement in the World Heritage Committee is vital to the ongoing protection of the Reef. The Committee, consisting of 21 members from States Parties, examines the state of conservation of listed properties. If concerns arise, a property may be placed on the World Heritage in Danger list. The decision not to place the Great Barrier Reef on this list in 2021 marked a recognition of Australia’s efforts in conservation.

As part of the decision, the Committee requested a comprehensive report on the state of conservation, leading to a reactive monitoring mission in March 2022. The upcoming 45th session of the World Heritage Committee will consider the findings of this mission and the state of conservation report, shaping the draft decision.

Commonwealth Heritage Strategy

Complementing the World Heritage efforts, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Commonwealth Heritage Listed Places and Properties Heritage Strategy 2022-25 outlines a strategic approach to identifying, protecting, and managing the heritage values within the Marine Park. This strategy, a requirement of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, reflects Australia’s commitment to long-term protection and will be reviewed periodically.


Australia’s relationship with the World Heritage Committee, coupled with robust legislative frameworks, underscores the nation’s dedication to preserving the Great Barrier Reef’s heritage for current and future generations. As the 45th session approaches, the collaborative efforts between the Reef Authority, the Committee, and the Australian and Queensland governments continue, ensuring that this iconic natural wonder remains a beacon of environmental conservation on the global stage.

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