Protected Species Hotspots on the Great Barrier Reef

Iconic threatened species like dugongs and turtles are still caught and killed in gillnets on the Great Barrier Reef.

New mapping by AMCS and James Cook University identifies hotspots for protected species, and identifies where these species are threatened by high commercial gillnet fishing pressure.

Biodiversity Hotspots Great Barrier Reef

Cape York, the Bowen-Whitsunday Region and the Gladstone-Capricorn Bunker Region are vital hotspots for so many threatened species. Yet in many of these areas there is little existing protection and high fishing pressure.

We need the Great Barrier Reef to be a refuge for species like dugongs, turtles and sawfish. We should be providing the highest level of protection possible in these hotspots. The Queensland Government should demonstrate to the World Heritage Committee their commitment to protecting the Reef and its threatened wildlife by protecting key hotspots from commercial gillnet fishing.

About The Map

For the first time, AMCS and James Cook University have pulled together decades of published research to map biologically important areas for threatened marine species, commercial gillnet fishing pressure and protected areas within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area all in one place.

Biologically important areas are where we find key populations of our iconic wildlife or where they congregate to breed, eat and migrate. These areas are different for each species and so each one is represented in a layer in the map below. For each species we have categorised areas as being of high, medium, low or no importance, based on the best available information for the species. 

The map also includes fishing data from the mandatory logbooks that commercial fishers fill out. We can then see where gillnet fishing pressure is highest on our Reef and how this overlaps with important areas for different species. Where fishing pressure overlaps with important areas is where there is the highest risk to threatened species. 

Some areas of the Reef already provide protection from gillnet fishing, these areas are included on the map. This includes Great Barrier Reef Zoning, existing Net-Free Zones and Dugong Protection Areas. 

More detail on the map is provided in the supporting report.

Read report now

This map will be a vital resource for fisheries and Great Barrier Reef Managers, conservationists and the public and can help inform where gillnet fishing is causing the highest risk to iconic wildlife on the Great Barrier Reef. These areas can then be prioritised for improved protection.

Why is gillnet fishing a threat?

Gillnets are long, virtually invisible nets that are very effective at catching fish. But these nets cause carnage, they are indiscriminate killers that catch, trap and drown threatened species like dugongs, dolphins and turtles. 

Gillnets on the Reef can be up to 1,200m long. And if every licensed commercial fisherman set his gillnet, the nets would stretch from Brisbane to Noosa. 

The Great Barrier Reef should be a refuge for dugongs, turtles and sawfish. Not a gauntlet of invisible fishing nets in their key hotspots. 

It is important that we maintain the outstanding biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef and increase populations of threatened species to maintain the function of Reef ecosystems. Doing so helps boost the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef in the face of other threats like global warming and poor water quality.

What needs to be done?

This work shows a number of key hotspots on the Great Barrier Reef for threatened species. Hotspots such as Cape York, Bowen-Whitsunday and the Gladstone-Capricorn Bunker Region are home to a huge diversity of important areas for our Reef icons.

But in many of these areas there is still high gillnet fishing effort and relatively low existing protection from Marine Park Zoning or Net-Free Zones.

The risk of gillnet entanglement and protected species deaths are high in these hotspots subject to high gillnet fishing. 

Which is why we need the Queensland Government to step in and protect species like dugongs, dolphins, turtles and sawfish in these important and highly biodiverse areas. 

Removing the threat of gillnets in protected species hotspots will save our reef icons from a sad death in commercial gillnets, helping to boost local populations and reef resilience.