Welcome to the Coral Sea Marine Park, one of Australia’s most spectacular marine treasures.
It covers 989,836 square kilometres and lies off the coast of Queensland, and is one of the world’s largest marine parks.
The Coral Sea Marine Park has a diverse array of habitats, such as coral reefs, sandy cays, deep sea plains and canyons.
Far beyond the Great Barrier Reef, this marine park protects:
- 16 different seafloor environments (including seamounts, canyons and plains)
- 34 reefs and 56 cays and islets
- 15,000 km² of reef systems
- an abundance of corals, reef fishes, sea stars, clams and sea cucumbers.
Here you can find unspoiled world-class dive sites, such as isolated reefs, where colourful coral walls are the perfect backdrop for cruising reef sharks.
The park includes iconic black marlin spawning aggregations near Osprey Reef, and every year humpback whales migrate through the marine park from Antarctica.
You might catch a glimpse of a delicately patterned pipefish, or spot a huge, boldly blotched potato cod. Either way, the excellent visibility will help. You can expect to see for up to 60 metres.
Above the water, marine turtles and seabirds breed in safety on isolated cays. Six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles can be found in the Coral Sea.
This marine park is enormous (2200 km at its longest and 1300 km at its widest).
The Coral Sea Marine Park has National Park, Habitat Protection and Special Purpose zones.
The Coral Sea Marine Park is far offshore, so it isn’t as well known or visited as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
For those who make the journey, this marine park rewards visitors with exceptional:
- nature watching
Most people visiting the park travel on live-aboard tour boats from Port Douglas, Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Airlie Beach or Gladstone, often calling in at some Great Barrier Reef sites on the way.
- offshore reefs
- deeper waters.
For divers, some of the most prized underwater sites in the Coral Sea Marine Park. Click here to explore the reefs of the Coral Sea, including Holmes Reef and Bougainville Reef, each with unique features and a rich variety of species to enjoy.
Osprey Reef has been listed as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. Click here to explore the wild and remote Osprey Reef.
Some of the locals you may encounter include:
You might even spot a humpback whale between June and November.
There are at least 45 historic shipwrecks in the Coral Sea Marine Park. Click here to find out more about the military and maritime history in the Coral Sea.
Fishing in the pristine waters of the Coral Sea is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You could expect to encounter:
- marlin, both black and blue
- dogtooth tuna
- giant trevally
- mahi mahi
- many other species.
Most charter fishing trips will take you on three day or more live-aboard voyages to experience some amazing fishing on isolated reef systems.
The park also supports commercial fishing and shipping, which contribute to economic growth, employment and social wellbeing in Queensland coastal towns and communities.
Recreational fishing is allowed in much of the Coral Sea Marine Park, but not in the National Park zones. Check which zone you’re in before you start to fish.
Explore more of the Coral Sea:
The Coral Sea Marine Park is an ecologically significant place and an amazing destination.
Problems such as marine pollution, illegal fishing, climate change and invasive species can impact marine environments around the world, including remote ones like the Coral Sea.
Parks Australia is looking after the Coral Sea Marine Park by working in partnership with:
- other government departments.
The work is helping us learn more about the Coral Sea Marine Park, and finding the best ways to protect it now and into the future.
In 2016, Parks Australia organised the Coral Sea Clean-up and Bio-discovery Voyage.
Marine park managers were joined by:
- marine debris scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
- volunteers from Tangaroa Blue, Surfrider Foundation, and Take 3 community organisations.
The voyage team traveled across the marine park, collecting data on locations and levels of marine debris, including microplastics.
Understanding what types of debris are out there and where they turn up helps us work towards eliminating them at their source.
And of course, the team removed all the marine debris they found during the voyage.
Back in port, the team worked with artists in Cairns to host a marine debris art project.
Artists sculpted marine animals from debris, and the exhibition helped raise community awareness of marine debris issues.
Some local tour operators are now undertaking voluntary marine debris clean-ups as part of their visits to the Coral Sea.
Marine debris (rubbish in the oceans) is a global problem.
- discarded and lost fishing nets and buoys
- millions of plastic bags
- water bottles
- countless tiny bits of plastic (microplastics).
Some rubbish is dumped directly into the oceans. Other pieces are lost at sea. A lot starts on land, travelling to the oceans in drains and waterways, or on the wind.
Marine debris kills marine life through entanglement and ingestion:
- Turtles and birds get tangled in discarded nets and drown.
- Seabirds eat plastic, thinking it is food, and their chicks starve when fed regurgitated plastic instead of fish.
Microplastics and their compounds make their way up the food chain, including into the seafood we eat.
And marine debris spoils the places we like to visit, making beaches unsightly.
Sea cucumbers are animals, not plants.
They have tube feet and are related to sea stars and sea urchins (they’re echinoderms).
Sea cucumbers play an important ecological role, acting like seafloor vacuum cleaners. They suck up dirty sand, digest the attached particles (this is their food), and then excrete clean sand back out onto the seafloor.
In tropical areas sea cucumbers are known as bêche de mer or trepang.
For some they’re a prized seafood delicacy, sometimes taken illegally and traded on the black market.
Parks Australia works closely with Maritime Border Command and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to stop illegal activity in marine parks.
In recent years we’ve been collaborating with these organisations to stop foreign fishing crews trying to smuggle sea cucumbers from the Coral Sea.
When these illegal operators are caught, their boats are destroyed, their catch seized and their captains and crews prosecuted.
We’re also working with scientists to find out how sea cucumber populations respond after poaching.
A crucial part of managing our parks is to have a good understanding of what’s in them, and to make checks for unexpected changes such as:
- the arrival of pest species that might impact local ecosystems
- the start of a coral bleaching event.
As part of the 2016 voyage, the team worked with scientists to survey the plant and animals living on islets and surrounding reefs in the Coral Sea Marine Park.
This was part of Parks Australia’s Bush Blitz program.
The teams surveyed four sites and found 178 different types of plants and animals.
At least 100 species were documented for the first time in the park, improving our understanding of species distributions here.
And two bug species new to science were discovered.
No pest species were detected, which was great news for the park.
The results of this survey provides a benchmark, so when we revisit these sites and repeat the surveys, we’ll have a picture of how these environments are changing.
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