The Great Barrier Reef is spectacular and most of us would immediately visualise its azure waters and the kaleidoscopic colours of coral reefs. However, islands are often not fully recognized as being a critical part of this reef ecosystem. Indeed, many iconic reef species such as marine turtles and seabirds simply could not continue to survive without their island breeding grounds. Conservation of island ecosystems is critical to the long-term management of these and many other species within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
As part of a World Heritage Area, the Great Barrier Reef Islands deserve our very best management efforts. Unfortunately, significant threats are still acting on these ecosystems. Marine debris, particularly plastic bags, discarded netting and rope easily entangle marine turtles and seabirds, and those same bags and smaller plastic pieces are often eaten, being mistaken for food. The results are catastrophic. Breeding areas remain subject to the ravages of invasive weeds that modify, for the worst, entire ecosystems. In some cases, other threats such as climate change are almost certainly having an impact on seabirds and marine turtles, but we do not yet understand this well enough to make the appropriate management interventions that might reduce these impacts.