In an Australian first, an environmental legal group wants the Great Barrier Reef to have its own legal identity so it can be defended in court.

A legal environmental group wants the Great Barrier Reef to have its own legal identity so governments and developers can be held to account.

The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) plans to launch a campaign on February 20 to boost support for the idea which would be an Australian first.

The approach would allow the reef to be defended in court.

“By giving the reef legal personality it means that the reef can effectively hold not only the industry but the federal and state governments to account for their mismanagement,” an EDO spokesman, Fergus Power, told AAP.

“Our argument is that every person should have the right to act on behalf of the Great Barrier Reef.”

Mr Power says if corporations can be granted legal identities then this should extend to the Great Barrier Reef.

The approach has worked in New Zealand where the North Island’s Whanganui River was granted a legal identity in 2012.

Mr Power says the EDO is exploring the idea because the state and federal governments aren’t making decisions in the best interests of the reef.

He also fears the reef could be listed as a World Heritage site “in danger” when UNESCO meets in June.

“We have a case now where the federal government is moving toward giving [development] approval powers to the Queensland government over matters that deal with World Heritage areas,” Mr Power said.

“They inevitably have a conflict of interest because the state stands to gain enormous sums of money in terms of taxes involving mining companies.”

Mr Power says of most concern are the impacts of dredging, port and resort developments and increased shipping along the Queensland coast.

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell and his federal counterpart Greg Hunt released their 2014 State Party Report on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area on Sunday.

The report shows Australia has made substantial progress in reef management and a commitment to responding to the requests of the World Heritage Committee, Mr Hunt said.

Comment has been sought from Mr Powell’s office.