Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Australian Centre for Ocean Resources and Security - Faculty of Law


The Great Barrier Reef sustains a variety of commercial and recreational activities and livelihoods including fishing, tourism, recreation and shipping. Those activities pose a source of harm to the biodiversity, use and amenity values of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area. The threat of day-to-day shipping operations on the Reef’s ecosystem is largely unquantified but could represent a not inconsequential contribution to the overall levels of contaminants entering the Marine Park, potentially diminishing the amenity or water quality at sites which are already affected by other activities or susceptible to influxes of land sourced pollutants. There is also the potential for more serious impacts to the outstanding natural, social and economic values of the region following a major shipping accident.

While the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is the principal custodian of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the administration of a suite of measures to regulate all ships and vessel activities in the region is shared with two other Commonwealth government authorities and one state government authority. The complexity of international and domestic shipping and environmental protection laws presents many challenges for the region’s responsible management. This thesis examines the environmental and socioeconomic impacts to the Reef from the operations of ships and other vessel based activities and the practical application and effect of regulatory measures that have been developed and implemented to remedy those impacts. It describes the origins, development and implementation of the key ship routeing initiatives in the form of compulsory pilotage, a vessel traffic service and provisions under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003 to control use and access to high conservation zones. It also analyses recent developments at international and national law prescribing actions that can be taken to deal with operational vessel sourced waste discharges, the administrative arrangements for dealing with a maritime casualty as well the preparedness and response to oil and chemical spills.

A significant part of the intellectual value of the thesis is derived from analysing the operation and interaction of international, Commonwealth and Queensland State marine pollution legislation and identifying issues which could affect the efficacy of those laws and related measures in protecting the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area. The findings of the research support the premise that shipping and other vessel based activities within the Great Barrier Reef are generally conducted to a high standard. Nonetheless, as shipping and other vessel based activities continue to expand within the region, so does the risk of an accident or marine pollution event. It is suggested that the ship regulatory authorities should judiciously apply the precautionary principle and keep under review the widest possible range of ship safety, marine pollution prevention and environmental standards and measures available under international law to ensure the Great Barrier Reef remains a national and international icon.

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