Information Briefing: Importance of Ports in the Great Barrier Reef Region

Posted by on 27 February 2015


  • Ports Australia and the Queensland Ports Association (QPA) has prepared this paper to provide factual information on key issues related to the role of Ports in the Great Barrier Reef region.
  • Port activities have been a key focus in recent years, particularly where environmental and heritage matters related to the Great Barrier Reef are concerned.
  • Ports Australia and the QPA are affiliated peak industry bodies representing all Queensland port authorities: Brisbane, Gladstone, North Queensland Bulk Ports, Townsville and Ports North.


  • Ports play a key role in maintaining coastal populations by providing vital supplies such as building products and fuel that can only be provided through shipping and ports.
  • Ports are critical in supporting regional industries such as the mining, beef and sugar cane industries enabling the economy to grow through the export of their agricultural and mineral commodities.
  • The importance of ports and their efficient functioning is recognised in the National Ports Strategy, National Land Freight Strategy, the Queensland Ports Strategy and related transport legislation and regulations.

It is critical that access and operations at ports in the Great Barrier Reef region is maintained.


  • Ports have operated in the Great Barrier Reef region for over 150 years. All port areas are outside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park - they were excluded from the boundaries of the Marine Park when it was established in 1974.
  • When the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area was established at the low water mark in 1981 it was acknowledged that ports would be located within the World Heritage Area. This was seen as appropriate and manageable because the World Heritage Convention does not exclude human activities or industrial activities from operating within World Heritage properties. This remains the case today.
  • All ports are located in inshore coastal areas many kilometers from mid-shelf and outer coral reefs.
  • Port operations occur in waters that are naturally turbid (especially during windy periods or after heavy rain) and experience seasonal cyclonic influences. In some ports, high tidal ranges also contribute to turbidity levels due to strong tidal currents and exposure of tidal mud flats.
  • Our members are strongly committed to environmental sustainability and ensuring that the natural values in and surrounding port areas are conserved and protected. All ports have advanced environmental management and monitoring programs in place.
  • Queensland ports have a demonstrable long and successful history of responsible environmental management in operating near areas of high conservation value.
  • Ports have invested considerably time and funds in ensuring that they implement leading practices associated with port operation and dredging in areas of conservation importance.

Port operation and growth can continue whilst ensuring important environmental values are managed and protected.


  • As a network, Queensland ports currently manage around 25% of Australia’s total international trade. total national trade australian seaports 2012 2013
    (Ports Australia, Trade Statistics, 2014)1
  • Keeping our ports operating efficiently is vital to the economy and to the quality of life of all Queenslanders. Any restrictions, loss of operating access or closures of our ports has a catastrophic effect on communities, jobs and businesses.

The value of trade transiting through Queensland ports equates to approximately $50 billion p.a.2

  • Future economic growth is also closely tied to our ports. Expansions in any of our major industry sectors is dependent on obtaining increased port capacity:
IndustryExpansion Opportunities
Agriculture Plans to increase agricultural outputs (sugar, beef, bananas), particularly in northern Australia, are dependent on the creation of efficient transport supply lines to key markets in either southern Australia or Asia. Access to efficient and affordable port infrastructure is a vital cog in these supply lines.
Tourism The cruise ship and associated tourist daytrips is one of the fastest growing leisure activities in the world. Operators are continually looking for new, high quality destinations that can accommodate increasingly larger ships.
Resources Facilitation of the continued growth in the minerals and energy sectors (including the Galilee, Bowen and Surat basins) will be dependent on access to deepwater ports in central and northern Queensland.


  • A number of issues are affecting the operation and growth of the Queensland ports sector. Key issues facing ports are:
    • Master plans: uncertainty about master planning approaches, legislation and responsibilities is undermining confidence for operators and investors
    • World Heritage listing status: the interests and concerns of UNESCO are adding to the uncertainty and operational constraints influencing port profitability
    • Dredging: increasing limitations and changing policy on dredging is a high-risk issue.


1 Ports Australia (2014) Trade Statistics – Website
2 Queensland Treasury & Trade (2014) ‘Data Tables: Overseas Export of goods by Port, value, Queensland Ports 2002-03 to 2012-13