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Recreational Opportunities

Ecosystems can provide a spectrum of leisure opportunities for such activities as tourism, sports, hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits.


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Cultural Services


What are recreational opportunities and how are they derived?

Natural ecosystems provide the opportunity for nature based activities such as bushwalking and hiking.

Healthy fish populations provide opportunities for activities such as recreational fishing.

Recreational choices are particular combinations of recreation activities (eg. swimming) in particular settings (e.g. in a wild, natural and remote mountain stream; in the surf at a patrolled beach; or near a remote coral reef). Each combination of activity and setting constitutes a different recreation opportunity (based on 2007 survey data, SEQ residents generated 127 million activity/events that same year). All recreation settings can be described by their bio-physical, social and managerial attributes. 

People do outdoor recreation activities for many (often concurrent) reasons: for relaxation/re-creation; for physical, mental and/or spiritual health; to experience nature, landscapes and/or other people’s cultures; to celebrate and practice their own culture; for environmental/outdoor education; through eco/adventure/nature-based tourism; to socialise; and in competition - to be the fastest, most skilled or most resilient. Benefits of outdoor recreation can be categorised as: health; environmental; cultural; educational; economic; and social. These benefits are interactive or synergistic rather than discrete.

Table 1 below presents the magnitude different ecosystem functions contribute to providing recreational opportunities (relative to other ecosystem functions). Gas regulation is important for regulating air pollutants that can be harmful to people, particularly if people are breathing harder through the exertion of energy. The capacity of an ecosystem to treat and/or assimilate wastes has many significant benefits for outdoor recreation such as biodegradation combined with bio-recycling to assist in preventing pathogens and toxins from accumulating in soils and water bodies (e.g. this is essential for the aquatic and marine food chains which produce the fish caught by recreational fishers).

Climate regulation is important to the provision of this service as extreme weather conditions can strongly influence participation in outdoor recreation and places where recreation is carried out (e.g. wind speed directly affects some activities such as surfing, sailing). Extreme fire weather can cause sites for almost all land-based activities to close and major storms bring risks including lightning strikes, floods and rough seas.

Water quality and quantity and where, when and how water is distributed in ecosystems are major influences on outdoor recreation. Most participants in most land-based activities prefer sites close to water features (e.g. streams, lakes, springs and surf beaches). Water features themselves provide the physical places for many different outdoor recreation activities – creeks, rivers and seas for swimming; large lakes and the sea for motor boating, skiing and sailing; high energy beaches for surfing; coral and rocky reefs for SCUBA diving, snorkelling, steep rivers and creeks for white water kayaking/canoeing/rafting.

Vegetation can provide shade, cool islands where the canopy is dense enough and wind breaks. The visual screening and noise attenuation provided by vegetation helps people to camp and do many other activities at relatively high densities in relatively small areas. Vegetation can be used as subtle alternatives to fencing and regulatory signs to segregate incompatible recreation activities and as safety barriers near cliffs and other potentially dangerous features.

Supporting habitats are important to recreational opportunities as evidence suggests that humans have an innate need to directly experience (by sight, smell, sound or touch) native plants and animals. Raw materials provide much of the infrastructure for outdoor recreation. The landscape provides shape, texture and colour to the region through the diversity of habitats and ecosystems for people to explore.


Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Recreational Opportunities.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation

Climate Regulation

Disturbance Regulation

Water Regulation

Soil Retention

Nutrient Regulation

Waste Treatment and Assimilation


Biological Control

Barrier Effect of Vegetation

Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats

Soil Formation

Provisioning Functions

Raw Materials

Water Supply

Genetic Resources

Provision of Shade and Shelter

Pharmacological Resources

Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity



Human-made ecosystems such as dams provide many recreational opportunities.

The ecosystems of SEQ provide opportunities to explore the region by horseback.

Regardless of whether we actually use this ecosystem service, ecosystems provide numerous opportunities to enjoy recreation. In many cases however no human inputs are required for individuals to use this ecosystem service (e.g. an individual taking a swim at their local beach or a walk in their local bushland). However, most people who have discretional time and cash will choose to travel (at least sometimes) long distances to where preferred outdoor recreational opportunities are located.

Roads, car parks, single or multi-purpose recreation trails, boardwalks, camping areas, picnic areas, lookouts, boat ramps, moorings, jetties, toilets, potable (drinking) water supply systems (treatment plants, storage and distribution networks) and sporting equipment are just some of the human inputs that can facilitate the use of this ecosystem service. Some reacreational activities can be conducted both indoors and outdoors. Indoor activities (e.g. climbing in indoor climbing gyms or surfing in wave pools) are superficially similar but lack the challenge of uncontrollable factors - such as weather, rock stability, presence of sharks or snakes.


Are there any barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service and its benefits?

There are many factors which constrain participation in outdoor recreation including: laws, policies and planning and management decisions which limit participation in outdoor recreation activities to particular circumstances; competition between mutually incompatible outdoor recreation activities in the same place at the same time; the distribution/location, diversity, quality and quantity of places legally available for outdoor recreation; health of the individual and their socio-economic position; and the safety and sustainability of places for outdoor recreation.

In most situations, outdoor recreation is either a secondary use of areas which have another primary (or main) use or value (eg. rural lands for farming; dams for domestic, farming or industrial water supply; Indigenous cultural heritage; commercial fishing; state forests and private plantations for commercial forestry; national parks for nature conservation; stock routes for moving livestock; roads for vehicular transport). Competition with other land uses which are incompatible with outdoor recreation is another barrier to recreational opportunities.

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.


Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Recreational Opportunities contributes to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            




The diversity of ecosystems provides diverse recreational opportunities.

Links to other publications and websites

SEQ Outdoor Recreational Strategy
SEQ Outdoor Recreational Trends
SEQ Water Rec. Mgnt Framework
Qld Outdoor Recreation Federation
Recreational Opportunities Spectrum

There are three measures of change relating to outdoor recreation (specific combinations of activity and setting) that are relevant to understanding if we are sustainably managing recreational opportunities:

1) Quality - measured by a combination of visitor satisfaction and bio-physical changes;

2) Quantity - the area of land or water, volume of water or length of trail meeting specified standards;

3) Diversity - measured as the variety of (activity + setting) combinations available.


How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ? 

All outdoor recreation activities have biophysical, economic and social impacts. These impacts may be neither obvious nor known to the people whose activities cause the impacts. Impacts (e.g. over-fishing, erosion, noise, weed and soil pathogen spread and wildfires) can be significant at site, regional or ecosystem scales. If impacts are not managed successfully, there can be large scale loss of recreation quality and diversity with associated loss of ecosystem quality and outdoor recreation benefits.

Much policy, planning, management, educational/interpretive/promotional and regulatory effort goes into attempting to ensure that outdoor recreation activities are safe (in the context of both activity and setting); close to where people live; meet peoples needs for recreation choice/diversity; do not unacceptably impact on the primary use or values; and is financially and ecologically sustainable.

The Queensland Outdoor Recreation Federation, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (Department of Environment and Heritage Protection) and local governments are able to advise on access to national parks and other outdoor recreational opportunities and issues in SEQ. See also the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Queensland Government's Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing who have produced many technical reports on research and information regarding this ecosystem service.