Media Release Fight For Our Reef

New mapping tool highlights how protected species hotspots and dangerous gillnetting overlap on our Reef

March 24, 2022

New mapping by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and James Cook University has identified important regions for iconic endangered and protected marine wildlife like dugongs, turtles and sawfish in our Great Barrier Reef, and how dangerous gillnet fishing overlaps with these areas.

The organisations compiled existing research to identify biologically important areas where there are high densities, breeding or feeding congregations of each species. The first-of-its-kind map shows that Cape York, Bowen-Whitsunday and the Gladstone-Capricorn Bunker Region are key protected species hotspots but are also subject to high levels of commercial gillnet fishing.

AMCS Great Barrier Reef fisheries expert and map co-author Simon Miller said gillnet fishing is a key threat to iconic marine wildlife like dugongs, sawfish and turtles which can become entangled and drown in the large nets, and that fishing standards desperately needed to improve on our Reef.

“This mapping shows there are some vital hotspots for protected species on the Great Barrier Reef and many of these areas have high levels of gillnet fishing and little current protection,” said Mr Miller.

“The Bowen-Whitsunday region for example is important for dugongs, four species of turtle, two types of dolphin and three species of sawfish, and yet has some of the highest gillnet fishing effort on the Great Barrier Reef.

“Our Reef should be a refuge for these species and we need to be providing the highest level of protection possible in these hotspots to protect them from a cruel death in gillnets. These areas should be prioritised for a network of Special Management Areas or Net-Free Zones to help threatened species populations recover.

“With our Reef under threat from global heating, we need to be doing all we can to tackle the local issues, such as water pollution and illegal and poor fishing practices, to recover populations of iconic threatened species that are so important for the health of Great Barrier Reef ecosystems.”

Mr Miller said the map also shows that areas including the Hinchinbrook region, Port Douglas and Broad Sound-Shoalwater Bay are also important areas to a number of threatened species.

Mr Miller said with the UNESCO/IUCN Reef Monitoring Mission currently visiting to assess Australia’s protection of the Reef for the World Heritage Committee, it was important for the Queensland government to demonstrate it is doing all it can to protect the Reef from local threats like poor fishing practices and water pollution.

“This mapping will be a useful tool for the Queensland government to better protect key hotspots for protected wildlife on the Great Barrier Reef to give these species a chance to recover,” he added.

Notes to editors

The mapping shows hotspots for 18 different threatened marine species: Australian snubfin dolphin, Australian humpback dolphin, dugong, flatback turtle, green turtle, hawksbill turtle, leatherback turtle, loggerhead turtle, olive ridley turtle, dwarf sawfish, green sawfish, largetooth sawfish, narrow sawfish, speartooth sawfish, grey nurse shark, whale shark, white shark and manta rays.

The map also includes a heatmap of commercial gillnet fishing effort between 2014 and 2020 to identify areas of high fishing pressure.

GBR Marine Park zoning, existing Net Free Zones, Dugong Protection Areas, IUCN Important Marine Mammal Areas, and reef systems that may be more resilient to global heating are also shown.

A gillnet is a net that is hung vertically in the sea to entangle fish. In Queensland waters they are typically used to catch barramundi. But these nets are invisible and deadly for marine wildlife like turtles, sawfish and dugongs. They get caught in the nets and drown.

To view map and accompanying report, click here.