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Great Sandy Biosphere Reserve, Australia

The Great Sandy Biosphere Reserve is located in the Southeast Queensland Bioregion in eastern Australia. Renowned for its cultural and ecological significance, the reserve contains the Great Sandy Strait, a Ramsar-listed wetland, and Fraser Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The reserve incorporates the largest Sand Island and coastal sand mass in the world. 

Designation date: 2009


Regional network: SeaBRnet

Ecosystem-based network: World Network of Island and Coastal Biosphere Reserves




    Surface : 1,242,216 ha

    • Core area(s): 772,209 ha (terrestrial: 272,678 ha, marine: 499,531 ha)
    • Buffer zone(s): 148,775 ha (terrestrial: 105,946 ha, marine: 42,829 ha)
    • Transition zone(s): 321,232 ha 

    Location: 25°22’58.656’’S — 152°49’39.828’’E

    Administrative Authorities

    Mr. Chris Stone
    Communications and Engagement Coordinator - Burnett Mary Regional Group
    Bundaberg,  Qld.  4670

    Tel.: +61(0) 741 812 999

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    Ecological Characteristics

    The biosphere reserve has a volcanic hinterland with Mount Mothar representing the highest elevation (450 metres above sea level). Six major river systems flow through Great Sandy — the Noosa, Mary, Susan, Burrum, Isis and Cherwell Rivers.

    The area is home to the world’s richest and tallest rainforest growing on sand. However, human efforts to increase agricultural land cover are threatening this forest. Ecosystem development processes take place throughout the reserve, as can be seen in the dune systems, which overlap and pass through diverse stages, highlighted by the numerous plant species. In addition, 2,843 different flora species grow within the reserve. This large number is explained by the location of Great Sandy within the ‘McPherson-McLeay Overlap Zone’, an area containing one of the largest amounts of endemic species with a high level of genetic variety. Examples of rare and threatened flora species present in the reserve include Xanthostemon oppositfolius (Southern Penda) and Floydia praealta (Ball nut). Characteristic species are represented by Ficus coronate (Sandpaper fig) and Acacia fimbriata (Fringed Wattle). Although sandy soils contain few nutrients, a variety of sand-based forests exist including mangrove forests, eucalypt forests, riparian rainforest and dry rainforest, with Satinay and Turpentine species dominating most forests.

    Altogether, 96 regional ecosystems are distributed throughout the reserve. The area includes habitats for 49% of all bird species in Australia, while 40% of the world’s perched lakes are located in Great Sandy. Examples of fauna species include Mustelus antarcticus (Gummy Shark) and Coracina papuensis (White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike). The Woongarra Coast includes the most southerly coastal fringing coral reefs on the eastern Australian mainland and represents a significant habitat for fish. The Hervey Bay is characterized by significant biodiversity, consisting of rare marine fauna, coral reefs and sea grass beds. It is also a crucial habitat for Humpback Whales.


    Socio-Economic Characteristics

    The Biosphere Reserve is a great attraction for tourists: 950,000 people visit every year to undertake sightseeing activities within the Great Sandy and Poona National Parks. The Humpback Whale watching area of Hervey Bay also represents a major destination for tourists.

    Approximately 163,400 permanent residents live in the transition zone, and local authorities struggle to promote sustainable development and conservation activities in the context of rapidly increasing migration processes. Aboriginals first reached the area about 40,000 years ago and the oldest artefacts date back 5,000 years. Permanent occupation began about 3,000 years ago. The first European to set foot in the area was Captain James Cook in 1770, who was followed by a succession of European settlers, who initiated the timber and gold mining industry. Major conflicts took place between the Aboriginals and the Europeans, especially during the late 1890s, when the natives were either isolated from or segregated within society. Today, the Aboriginals have regained their independence, participate in meetings concerning the Biosphere Reserve, and have established strong connections with the local authorities.



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    Last updated: August 2019