Review of World Heritage assessments in Great Barrier Reef outlook report 2019

Report prepared for Australian Marine Conservation Society
Great Barrier Reef World Heritage areas Marine reserves Marine management Great Barrier Reef

Released in August 2019, the 2019 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report (OR) contains an assessment of the heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) including World Heritage (WH) values. This assessment is required under the GBR Marine Park Regulations and has been included in the 2014 and 2019 ORs.

The Outlook Report is an important document produced by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) every five years. It provides a comprehensive overview and assessment of all aspects of the GBR Region including its natural assets, cultural significance, threats and risks. Key to the Report’s value is the range of evidence used, the comprehensive approach, its independent peer review, and the assessment of the long term ‘outlook’ for the Region.

This review, commissioned by the Australian Marine Conservation Society, was tasked to consider the following matters:

(a) The adequacy of the assessment of World Heritage values in the 2019 GBR Outlook Report; and

(b) Recommendations for improvement.

The authors are proposing a revised approach (section 3) to assess the GBR’s WH values. This draws on the experience of the past two reports and the work of IUCN’s World Heritage Program. It follows four steps:

  1. assessing key indicator values as has already been done in the OR;
  2. collating these values into broad groupings within the relevant WH criteria and akin to the approach adopted by IUCN for their World Heritage Outlook Reports;
  3. assessing the level of concern and trend for each grouping; and
  4. determining an overall status for those broad groupings based on a four-point scale consistent with the OR.

Key conclusions:

  • Among the key purposes of a SoOUV is the "basis for the future protection and management of the property" and the benchmark against which the state of conservation of a WH property is assessed.
  • Recognising that many of the ‘elements’ of the SoOUV are very broad, an indicative value or attribute should be chosen as a surrogate for the elements within each criterion
  • A four-point grading system, along with the borderline concept, should be applied given that it mirrors that used already in Outlook and is similar to that used by IUCN to assess natural World Heritage properties. The existing wording for the grading statements in the OR should be retained
  • Inclusion of the “borderline” assessment score is good. However, it has been used only a very limited number of times in the 2019 OR. Given the inherent uncertainties underpinning a number of the assessments and the relatively coarse 4-grade ranking system, the judicious use of “borderline” would be appropriate
  • The trend of the values is an essential and complementary part of any assessment of values
  • Given the profile accorded to WH-listing, the assessment of WH warrants a specific section in its own right that includes the assessment of individual values combined to provide a set of values for each WH criteria which are then grouped to provide more useful assessments of all the elements of the SoOUV
  • The Indigenous Heritage assessments within the 2019 OR need to be improved, including addressing the concerns raised in this review (see pp.3-36 and Appendix 3).
  • The scale of the GBR Region means that some assessments would be better presented at the appropriate regional scale. Section 1.6 of the 2019 OR notes, there is no standard way of dividing up the Region when interpreting the data. (p. 11). Agreed regions should be defined before the 2024 OR.
  • Even after 15 years and three ORs, we note that a number of the assessments show low confidence and only limited data (e.g. Halimeda banks, shorebirds, seabirds). We consider that priority should be given to either collecting relevant data or determining whether or not to continue including such assessments in future ORs.
  • The GBR OR provides a good template for the assessment of other WH properties and the status of their natural and cultural WH values.


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