Tropical sea cucumber fisheries follow a predictable pattern of serial depletion. Overfishing is exacerbated in developing countries where management systems lack capacity to control large numbers of fishers influenced by poverty. In contrast, the tropical sea cucumber fishery in Australia's World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) is operating in a developed high-income country with relatively few licensed fishers to manage. The development of this fishery is reviewed here in a meta-analysis of catches from 1991 to 2011. The fishery expanded to replace high-value teatfish species (Holothuria whitmaei and H. fuscogilva), fished heavily in initial stages of the fishery, with newly commercialized medium-value species such as burying blackfish (Actinopyga spinea) and curryfish (Stichopus herrmanni). These two species now constitute 80% of total catch. The annual average catch of burying blackfish was 208 tonnes years 2004–11 and curryfish catches increased rapidly at an average annual pace of 200% from 2007–11. This serial harvest pattern occurred in the absence of baseline studies and without independent resource assessments, information required to inform relevant harvest predictions and to determine fishery impacts. This situation does not support ecologically relevant and adaptive decision-making in management and the unfolding catch patterns in the GBRMP follow those in low-income developing countries. The missing knowledge and lack of data serve as arguments to support precautionary reductions in harvests and extending fallow periods in fishing zones.