The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s largest world heritage areas, covering an area equal to the total area of Japan at 348,000 square kilometers. The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is slightly larger than the marine park, as it extends to the low water mark of the entire Queensland coastline and includes the islands within the marine park boundary. The Great Barrier Reef became a World Heritage Area in 1981 when it was inscribed on the World Heritage List because of its outstanding universal value. The Great Barrier Reef meet all 4 of the heritage criteria to be included as a natural property. These criteria included:
- Being an outstanding example representing a major stage of the Earth’s evolutionary history
- Being an outstanding example representing significant ongoing geological processes, biological evolution, and man’s interaction with his natural environment
- Containing unique and rare and superlative natural phenomena, formations and features and areas of exceptional natural beauty
- Providing habitats where populations of rare and endangered species of plants and animals still survive.
The Great Barrier Reef contains archaeological sites of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin and over 30 shipwrecks and many historical lighthouses which are of cultural and heritage significance. The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority which also work with other agencies, stakeholders and community groups working together to protect and conserve the reef for future generations.