Crunchy coral, killer asteroids, and toxic zooxanthellae: Issues for science and management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

Paul Marshall, Ph.D.
James Cook University

Wednesday, August 2, 2000
3:00 p.m.—Pacific Forum

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) is the largest marine protected area in the world. It is managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to provide for protection, wise use, understandin,g and enjoyment in perpetuity through its care and development. Knowledge of natural processes and the effects of humans are critical to informed decision making and policy development. However, the ability of science to resolve the cause and consequences of management issues and guide management responses varies with the nature and scale of the problem. It is important that scientists and managers alike recognize that science is integral to good management, but frequently limited in its contribution.

I examine three issues that have confronted the GBRMPA and explore the role of science in their management: anchor damage, crown-of-thorns starfish, and mass bleaching. These case studies illustrate that 1) scale and interconnectivity preclude comprehensive knowledge of many components of the GBR ecosystem; 2) the threats and issues that face such an intricate system are themselves complex, and 3) not all issues are amenable to management intervention. In addition, it is essential to recognize that management is a socio-political process, so that management of human interactions with the environment, and not the manipulation of the environment itself, characterizes most management strategies. Science rarely has all the answers, but its value will be maximized through an understanding of the decision-making environment and a commitment to interactivity and communication.

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