View to Hinchinbrook Island from the highwayThe coastal zone of the Great Barrier Reef has been subject to intensive development. Coastal development has led to degradation or loss of coastal ecosystems, increase in run-off, and reduced water quality. These impacts threaten the health of the GBR. The key economic activities on land in the GBR coastal zone are related to shipping, intensive agriculture, urban development, and tourism. All these activities are set to expand and intensify.The broad goal of this project is to identify strategic priorities for protection and restoration of coastal ecosystems that support the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, in the context of changing land use, and expanding infrastructure.

Systematic conservation planning determines the best spatial use of limited conservation resources to minimise the loss of valued aspects of the natural world in the future. It is faced with a significant challenge with coastal Untitleddevelopment because development is difficult to predict and, hence, threats to ecosystems and species are highly uncertain. This challenge is increased by the necessity to account for cumulative impacts of all coastal development and activities in the coastal zone. We need a novel approach that integrates the uncertainty of the future and cumulative impacts to identify conservation areas that will be relevant and effective in the coming decades.


Our research project develops a new methodology called scenario-based systematic conservation planning. It brings together the research fields of scenario planning, spatial modelling, governance analysis, ecological impact assessments and systematic conservation planning. First, this method uses spatially explicit scenario planning to identify plausible futures to 2035 for the GBR coastal zone. UntitledLand use change modelling to produce eight scenarios (maps) is done in ArcGIS and IDRISI using spatial data, for instance, on land use, tourism, vegetation and sea level rise. Spatial marine use (e.g. shipping) related to land uses is added to the scenarios. Spatial analyses also produce maps of disturbance probability where each area is assigned a probability of transitioning, for example from natural to urban, across all scenarios.

The resulting maps of scenarios are used to conduct ecological impact assessments for each scenario on identified terrestrial and marine assets of the coastal zone such as regional ecosystems, water quality, seagrass, and dugongs. Depending on data availability and knowledge of species and ecosystems, we use spatial modelling, expert elicitation and/or conceptual models to estimate impacts of scenarios. The scenarios also account for alternative approaches to governance of natural resources and development. Results of these analyses are finally brought together in a systematic conservation planning exercise.


The results of this project will guide planners and managers in resolving trade-offs between conservation objectives for terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments. Research-users include the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, Traditional Owners, Reef Rescue, Terrain NRM and WWF.


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  • Compilation of all available data on coastal ecosystems and their biodiversity patterns and processes and key socio-economic variables, as input to conservation planning and as a foundation for modelling change.
  • Generalised and, for sub-regions, detailed models of alternative futures for the coastal zone, considering climate change, change in land use and infrastructure, and effects of land uses on water quality in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.
  • A comprehensive set of quantitative and, where necessary, qualitative goals for coastal ecosystems and their biodiversity patterns and processes.
  • An assessment of the strengths and limitations of governance in the coastal zone, with insights into how governance can be better coordinated and recommendations on the feasibility and potential effectiveness of new instruments for management.
  • Application of spatially explicit decision-support tools to involve stakeholders in resolving spatial options to achieve goals and resolving conflicts between goals.


    Coastal ecosystems in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, Australia.


    Professor Bob Pressey, James Cook University 

    Dr Amélie Augé, James Cook University

    Mr Jon Brodie, TropWater, James Cook University 

    Dr Allan Dale, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University 

    Ms Amelia Wenger, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University 

    Mr Hugh Yorkston, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority


    Augé A.A. (2013) Conservation goals and objectives for the Great Barrier Reef coastal zone. Report from a workshop to identify goals, define assets and formulate methods to articulate quantitative objectives. Report to the National Environmental Research Program. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns (24pp.).

    Augé AA, Maughan M, Pressey RL, Brodie J, Dale A and Yorkston H (2013). Spatially explicit scenarios for conservation planning in the Great Barrier Reef coastal zone, Australia. Pages 179-182, In R. Devillers, C. Lee, R. Canessa, and A. Sherin (editors) “Proceedings of the CoastGIS Conference 2013: Monitoring and Adapting to Change on the Coast, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada”.

    Dale, A., Vella, K., Pressey, R.L., Brodie, J., Yorkston, H. and Potts, R. (2013). A method for risk analysis across governance systems: a Great Barrier Reef case study. Environmental Research Letters 8(1): 015037 doi 10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/015037.


    Dr Amélie Augé – Forget the crystal ball: Applying spatial scenarios to conservation planning for the GBR coast.

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