Islands Project - Figure 1
The Southern sector of the Great Barrier Reef where the project is focused.


The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) faces many pressures, including climate change, invasive species, fishing, industrial development, and tourism. In the face of these threats, environmental managers need a framework with specific objectives to guide their conservation investments. Managers of the GBR’s 900 islands face difficult decisions when it comes to investing in conservation management. With insufficient staff and funds to deal with all management problems, where should they invest limited resources to achieve the best outcomes? These conservation decisions must be made in the face of spatially heterogeneous and dynamic threats, including invasive plants and animals and inappropriate fire regimes, and within a constrained budget. A suite of actions can be applied to address conservation objectives, but they cost different amounts, and contribute differently to goals. Furthermore, most decisions must be made under considerable uncertainty. This problem – complex, dynamic and multifaceted – describes the reality of much conservation decision-making, and defines the problem faced by managers of islands in the GBR World Heritage Area.


The project will deliver outcomes that are useful to a range of stakeholder organisations including state and Australian Government bodies, the tourism sector and conservation planners/managers. Research-user organisations include the Queensland Government, the Department of the Environment (former Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).


This project aims to address the problem faced by island managers by developing a decision-making framework for investing in management actions. Working closely with GBRMPA and the Queensland Government, the project will develop a cost-effective approach to prioritising management actions across GBR islands. More specifically, the goal is to maximize conservation outcomes, defined by specific objectives for diverse natural features (native plant and animal species, vegetation assemblages, breeding aggregations). A decision-support tool with GIS capability will help managers to identify management priorities within and between islands. The project will deliver results that are useful to a range of stakeholder organisations including state and Australian Government bodies, the tourism sector, and conservation planners and managers. Research-user organisations include the Queensland Government, the Australian Department of the Environment, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

Islands Project - Figure 2
Representative sample of islands in study region


The main project outputs will be:

  • A compilation of all available data, including quantified expert judgements, on islands in the sub-region to set parameters for key variables to be used in the management prioritization.
  • A novel, cost-effective, transparent, and accountable approach to prioritizing management actions for multiple objectives across islands in the selected sub-region, shaped and understood by GBR managers.
  • An interactive, spatially explicit decision-support tool for day-to-day use that will allow managers to identify action-specific management priorities within and between islands.


The project covers both Queensland and Commonwealth Islands in the southern sector of the GBR, from Mackay to Bundaberg. This region was chosen based on the national and international significance of these islands in relation to vulnerable and endangered species, tourism value, and the likely threats presented by expanding industrial development. For the initial development of the decision-support tool, 13 islands have been chosen as a representative sample of the Southern GBR islands. These islands differ in size, geomorphic types, species, regional ecosystems, threats and commercial and recreational uses. As a result, they encapsulate the varied challenges for management.


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