Land-based protected areas in Queensland: your ultimate guide
Issued: 4 Jun 8 min read

From encouraging biodiversity to fostering a strong economy, Queensland’s protected areas do more for the state than you might think! Learn all about why these spaces are so important.

As anyone local will happily tell you, Queensland is a treasure trove of biodiversity and natural splendour. From the rugged outback to the lush rainforests, our state is a playground for explorers and conservationists alike. Amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life, Queensland's protected areas stand as sanctuaries of serenity and havens for our precious wildlife. We’re not the only ones who think so – many of our unique landscapes hold international significance, with five World Heritage areas situated right here in the Sunshine State.

From ancient forests housing sacred trees to vital habitats for vulnerable species – Queensland is full of incredible spaces that need protection. These spots aren’t just slices of paradise; they're vital ecosystems that safeguard our planet's ecological balance.

We’re here to talk you through why Queensland’s land-based protected areas are so important, from their benefits to you to how they keep our state running.

What are protected areas?

From a global perspective, the International Union for Conservation of Nature defines a protected area as a clearly defined geographical space that’s been set aside to achieve the long-term conservation of nature. Basically, protected areas are legally recognised spaces with natural and cultural values deemed important enough that they need some extra help staying safe.

Below, we give some further detail and examples of what Queensland’s protected areas look like.

Protected areas are refuges for threatened species like the yellow-footed rock wallaby

Why are protected areas important?

Protected areas play a vital role in safeguarding our amazing biodiversity and cultural values for generations to come – and this status comes with the goal of long-term security and safety. These national parks and other safe havens are home to crucial ecosystems that keep us alive and healthy – we’re talking clean air and water, habitats for native wildlife, and the chance for us to reconnect with the natural world. These areas are particularly important for First Nations peoples, as they are the Traditional Owners of the Land. Their physical and spiritual connection to Country is vital, and protections are a key step in honouring their right to this connection. Keeping these areas protected is a way to respect the legacy of care that has come for centuries before us.

Climate change

Protected areas are vital players in local and global responses to climate change, from both mitigation and adaptation points of view. These areas act as significant carbon sinks, storing vast amounts of carbon in vegetation and soils, which can help offset greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, protected areas offer cost-effective solutions for helping to lessen the impact of various natural disasters – another tick for climate resilience and disaster risk-reduction strategies.

Threatened species

Queensland's protected areas play a crucial role in safeguarding loads of threatened species – and with close to 1,000 native creatures currently at risk in Queensland, these protected zones serve as vital refuges for their conservation. Remarkably, over 72% of threatened species listed under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 find refuge in national parks and other public protected areas, with about 26% heavily reliant on these zones for survival. When you add in the stat that 149 threatened species are exclusively found within Queensland's protected areas, it really brings home how important these areas are for our vulnerable wildlife.

Ecosystem services

We rely on nature and its intricate ecosystems for things like clean water, air, and pollination. Protected areas, like parks, help shield communities from disasters and support species during climate changes. These ecosystems also help agriculture by preserving soil, water, and pollinators. As landscapes change, protected areas become even more vital for maintaining these services and supporting both nature and people.

Connection to Country

Queensland's protected areas are not just about conservation – they also hold deep and spiritual cultural significance for the First Nations peoples who have cared for this land for generations. These areas provide sacred connections to Country, so keeping the land protected is crucial for enabling First Nations people to continue their legacy of care – not just now, but for future generations. Protected areas also allow us to learn directly from First Nations peoples about traditional land conservation and management. A great working example of this is the Queensland Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger Program, a partnership between the Queensland Government and First Nations communities to care for Country.

Health and wellbeing

Protected areas are valuable community spaces where we can connect with nature, culture, and recreation. There are research-backed benefits to spending time in nature – it’s great for reducing stress and anxiety. As cities grow, these natural spaces become even more important for maintaining a healthy balance between people and the environment.


Our national parks and other protected areas are a great booster for the local economy (PDF, 5.6MB) . In 2018, national park visitors contributed over $297 million and supported 2,700 jobs! Beyond tourism, protected areas create employment opportunities in sectors like ranger services, Indigenous ranger groups, and industries like construction and conservation. They particularly support regional economies, with over 90% of Queensland's protected areas located outside of Southeast Queensland.

Queensland’s protected areas: fast facts

  • Queensland’s protected area network covers more than 14.5 million hectares (8.39%) of Queensland — that’s more than twice the size of Tasmania!
  • Queensland’s private protected area network is the largest in Australia – it includes 573 nature refuges and one special wildlife reserve and covers more than 4.62 million hectares.
  • Land-based protected areas in Queensland contain samples of 82% of Queensland’s most vulnerable regional ecosystems.
  • 6% of Queensland’s regional ecosystems are found exclusively in nature refuges.

Melrose Station is a new addition to Queensland’s 1,000-strong protected areas

Examples of protected areas in Queensland

Queensland already boasts more than 1,000 national parks and other protected areas, five UNESCO World Heritage sites, and five significant wetlands protected under the International Ramsar Convention. If you assumed famous areas like the Great Barrier Reef and K’gari (formerly Fraser Island) were protected, you’re correct – but many lesser-known areas still fall under a protected status. These protected areas are sorted into land-based categories including conservation parks, conservation reserves, national parks, resources reserves, and scientific areas.

As we touched on earlier, protected areas are havens for some of Queensland’s most vulnerable animal populations. Blackdown Tableland National Park, Glass House Mountains National Park, Lamington and Mount Barney National Parks within the Gondwana World Heritage Area, and Wooroonooran, Daintree, and Mt Lewis National Parks within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area stand out as critical habitats.

Bowling Green Bay National Park increased by 2.7 hectares when the Great Barrier Reef protected area was expanded

New additions

Queensland’s impressive protected areas folio keeps expanding in 2024. We’ve acquired Tonkoro and Melrose Stations followed by Vergemont Station – between the three of them, these areas provide suitable habitat for the endangered night parrot, vulnerable yellow-footed rock-wallaby, and highly restricted Opalton grasswren. This year has also seen the Queensland Government purchase property adjoining Daisy Hill to secure extra habitat for koalas. Sea-wise, we’ve added 140 islands in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to Queensland’s protected area register, which is a huge win for endangered animals like flatback turtles and seabirds.

Rules, regulations, and curly questions

Who can enter protected areas?

Of the more than 1,000 protected areas in Queensland, 600 are open to the public – that’s roughly 68% of our state’s total protected area system! These public-access spots are a mixture of national parks, conservation parks, and resource reserves that are all helmed by the extremely diligent Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS). The remaining areas not open to the public are generally private protected areas such as nature refuges and special wildlife reserves that have been established on private land. Sometimes parks also have to be closed to the public for safety or other reasons.

Looking for a specific spot? The QPWS website has a comprehensive A-Z guide of all publicly accessible parks in Queensland, with listings outlining each park’s special features and amenities.

What can I do in a protected area?

The whole point of a protected area is to keep the land and its inhabitants safe – so it’s important to be mindful of how we use these spaces. Queensland parks and forests have a whole range of fun (and legal) outdoor adventures and activities you can use them for, from hiking and cave tours to horse riding and kayaking depending on the specific location. Other activities require a little more organisation – there are certain things you’ll need a permit for in Queensland’s national parks, forests, and other protected areas.

Not sure what’s allowed? There’s a comprehensive list of permits for parks, forests, and other protected areas. If you’re curious about something that’s not on the list, you can contact Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services for answers.

Are all protected areas national parks and vice versa?

Short answer? Yes and no. All national parks in Queensland are classified as protected areas. As for the reverse, we mentioned earlier that there are different types of protected area categories – so not all protected areas are classified as national parks.

Keeping Queensland’s land and animals protected

While Queensland already has an abundance of protected areas, we’re committed to adding even more special spaces to this impressive roster. With a long-term target to grow Queensland’s land-based protected areas by 17%, each year sees new acquisitions and recruitment of new private protected areas. This helps move us further toward a comprehensive selection of spots that will safeguard our state’s future.

It’s not just about finding suitable land, fencing it off, and calling it a day – a lot of expansion efforts require us to work with private partners who share our vision and recognise these landscapes for the ecological value they hold. These partnerships also require close relationships with adjacent property neighbours – this ensures the areas are well looked after while also supporting economic opportunities for local communities.

Want to take a deep dive into all the juicy plans for our state’s future protected areas? For more information on plans for land-based areas, check out Queensland’s Protected Areas Strategy 2020-2030 (PDF, 5.6MB) in full.