Publications archive

South-west Marine Region

Marine bioregional plan for the South-west Marine Region - Draft for Consultation

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2011

The public consultation period on the South-west draft Marine Bioregional Plan is now closed.



  1. The South–west Marine Bioregional Plan
    1. Goal of the plan
    2. Scope of the plan
    3. Objectives of the plan
    4. Contents of the plan and supporting information resources
    5. Definitions
  2. The South–west Marine Region and its conservation values
    1. Conservation values—the Commonwealth marine environment
    2. Conservation values—protected species
    3. Conservation values—protected places
  3. Regional priorities, strategies and actions
    1. Regional priorities
    2. Strategies and actions


Draft South-west Marine Bioregional Plan

For generations Australians have understood the need to preserve precious areas on land as national parks. Our oceans contain many iconic, precious and fragile sites which deserve protection too.

Australia has the third largest marine area of any nation in the world. Our marine region runs from the coral-rich tropical seas of the north to the sub-Antartic waters of the Southern Ocean.

Our oceans are twice the size of our continental land mass. They cover almost 16 million square kilometres, and in the unique area off the coast of south-west Western Australia, reach depths of almost six kilometres.

In parts of the south-west, almost 90 per cent of the marine species are not found anywhere else in the world. A third of the worlds whale and dolphin species are found in the region.

The fact is our marine environment is under long-term pressure from climate change, marine industries and pollution.

We know that Australias oceans are a direct link for trade with the world. Our commercial and recreational fishing and energy sectors help to drive economic and social prosperity in communities throughout the nation. But we also know that Australians need their oceans to be healthy if they are going to provide us with fish to eat, a place to fish, sustainable tourism opportunities and a place for families enjoy for generations to come.

Thats why the Gillard Government has committed to developing plans to manage our oceans better and is creating a national network of Commonwealth marine reserves.

These plans are being developed under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and backed by the best available science.

In this draft plan for the South-west marine region, you will find information about the extraordinary array of marine life and ecosystems in this part of Australia.

This draft plan will be open for input from the community for the next three months and I encourage you to have your say. The feedback the Government receives during this time will help in finalising this plan and inform a decision on a final proposed network of marine reserves in the region.

We have a once in a generation opportunity to put in place the measures needed to protect our precious marine environment for future generations.


Tony Burke
Minister for the Environment


The release of the draft South-west Marine Bioregional Plan marks the start of the formal public consultation period on both the draft plan and the draft South-west Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network. Stakeholders will have 90 days in which to submit comments on both the draft plan and the proposed network.

The department invites public feedback on the draft South-west Marine Bioregional Plan and the proposed marine reserve network.

There are three ways to submit feedback:

Further details about the stakeholder consultation process and opportunities to be involved are available at The website also contains fact sheets on specific items of interest and answers to a number of frequently asked questions. If you have any questions about how to make a submission or on any other aspects of the marine bioregional planning process please email or phone 1800 069 352.


1.1 Goal of the plan

The South-west Marine Bioregional Plan has been prepared under section 176 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The plan aims to strengthen the operation of the EPBC Act in the Commonwealth marine area of the South-west Marine Region to help ensure that the marine environment of the region remains healthy and resilient.

The bioregional plan describes the marine environment and conservation values (protected species, protected places and key ecological features) of the South-west Marine Region, sets out broad objectives for its biodiversity1, identifies regional priorities and outlines strategies and actions to achieve these.

1.2 Scope of the plan

This plan is for the South-west Marine Region, which covers the Commonwealth marine area extending from the eastern end of Kangaroo Island in South Australia to the waters off Shark Bay in Western Australia. The Commonwealth marine area starts at the outer edge of state waters, 3 nautical miles (5.5 kilometres) from the shore (territorial sea baseline), and extends to the outer boundary of Australia's exclusive economic zone, 200 nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline. Section 24 of the EPBC Act defines the Commonwealth marine area.

The plan does not cover state waters but, where relevant, does include information about inshore environments and the way they interact with species and habitats of the Commonwealth marine area.

Under section 176 of the EPBC Act, once a bioregional plan has been made, the minister responsible for the environment must have regard to it when making any decision under the Act to which this plan is relevant. However, the plan does not otherwise alter the scope of the minister's statutory responsibilities, nor does it narrow the matters the minister is required to take into account or may wish to take into account in making decisions. The EPBC Act provides that this plan is not a legislative instrument.

1.3 Objectives of the plan

Consistent with the objectives of the EPBC Act, and in the context of the principles for ecologically sustainable development as defined in the Act, the South-west Marine Bioregional Plan sets the following objectives for the South-west Marine Region:

  1. conserving biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem health
  2. ensuring the recovery and protection of threatened species
  3. improving understanding of the region's biodiversity and ecosystems and the pressures they face.

1.4 Contents of the plan and supporting information resources

Part 2 of the plan describes the conservation values of the region (see Section 1.5 for the definition). Part 3 introduces the regional conservation priorities (see Section 1.5) and outlines strategies and actions to address them.

Schedule 1 presents a full description of the pressures on the conservation values of the South-west Marine Region that are assessed as being of concern or of potential concern (see Section 2.2 of the Overview). Schedule 2 provides specific advice on matters of national environmental significance in the region.

A series of information resources has been produced to support implementation of this plan. Conservation value report cards summarise the most up-to-date scientific information on the distribution, conservation status, vulnerabilities, pressures and management of the Commonwealth marine environment, cetaceans, pinnipeds, seabirds, reptiles, sharks, bony fish and protected places.

A conservation values atlas presents a series of maps detailing the location and spatial extent of conservation values (where sufficient information exists to do so). The atlas is available at

These resources will be updated as significant new information becomes available.

Additionally, the bioregional profile for the South-west Marine Region is an important reference document. It provides a full description of the region with comprehensive scientific reference lists.

1.5 Definitions

Biologically important areas: These are areas where aggregations of individuals of a protected species display biologically important behaviour, such as breeding, foraging, resting or migration. Biologically important areas are those parts of a region that are particularly important for the protection and conservation of protected species. Regional advice (Schedule 2 of the plan) often relates to these areas because of their known relevance to a protected species. Regional advice focused on these areas should not be construed to mean that legislative obligations do not apply outside these areas. Biologically important areas should not be confused with 'critical habitat' as defined in the EPBC Act (see below).

Commonwealth marine environment: Section 24 of the EPBC Act defines a Commonwealth marine area. Under the EPBC Act, the environment in a Commonwealth marine area is a matter of national environmental significance (see below, and sections 23 and 24A of the EPBC Act). In this plan, the 'Commonwealth marine environment' refers to the environment in a Commonwealth marine area.

Conservation values: For the purpose of marine bioregional planning, conservation values are defined as those elements of the region that are either specifically protected under the EPBC Act, have heritage values for the purposes of the EPBC Act, or have been identified through the planning process as key ecological features in the Commonwealth marine environment. Although key ecological features are not specifically protected under the EPBC Act, the marine environment as a whole is a matter of national environmental significance under the Act. Key ecological features are identified as conservation values within the Commonwealth marine environment to help inform decisions about the marine environment.

Critical habitat: A register of critical habitat is maintained under the EPBC Act. The register lists habitats considered critical to the survival of a listed threatened species or listed threatened ecological community. Once a habitat is listed in the register, the habitat is protected when it is in or on a Commonwealth area, and the EPBC Act makes it an offence for a person to take an action that the person knows significantly damages or will significantly damage critical habitat.

Ecologically significant population: This definition applies to species listed as migratory. In accordance with the EPBC Act Policy Statement 1.1: Significant impact guidelines—matters of national environmental significance, for listed migratory species, consideration should be given to whether an ecologically significant proportion of a population is found in the area. Whether the species in the area represents an ecologically significant proportion of a population needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis, as different species have different life histories and populations. Some key factors that should be considered include the species' population status, genetic distinctiveness and species-specific behavioural patterns.

Environment minister/environment department: The minister and department administering the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Important population: This definition relates to populations of species listed as vulnerable. An important population is a population that is necessary for a species' long-term survival and recovery. This may include populations identified as such in recovery plans, and/or populations that are:

This definition is consistent with that provided in the EPBC Act Policy Statement 1.1: Significant impact guidelines—matters of national environmental significance (2009). In accordance with these guidelines, in determining the significance of an impact on a vulnerable listed species, consideration should be given to whether an important population is found in the area.

Key ecological features: Key ecological features are elements of the Commonwealth marine environment that, based on current scientific understanding, are considered to be of regional importance for either the region's biodiversity or ecosystem function and integrity.

For the purpose of marine bioregional planning, key ecological features of the marine environment meet one or more of the following criteria:

Matters of national environmental significance: The matters of national environmental significance protected under the EPBC Act are:

Additionally, nuclear actions, including uranium mines, are a matter of national environmental significance.

Population: A population of a species is defined under the EPBC Act as an occurrence of the species in a particular area. In relation to critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable threatened species, occurrences include but are not limited to:

Protected places: Protected places are those protected under the EPBC Act as matters of national environmental significance (places listed as world heritage properties, national heritage places or wetlands of international importance), Commonwealth marine reserves and places deemed to have heritage value in the Commonwealth marine environment (such as places on the Commonwealth Heritage List or shipwrecks under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976).

Protected species: Species protected under the EPBC Act are commonly referred to as protected species. Under the EPBC Act, protected species can be listed as threatened, migratory or marine species. All cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are protected under the EPBC Act in the Australian Whale Sanctuary4 (and, to some extent, beyond its outer limits). It is an offence to kill, injure, take, trade, keep or move a listed species without authorisation.

Those protected species that are threatened species listed as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable or migratory are matters of national environmental significance.

Those species that do not fall in one of the two categories above and that are:

are protected under the EPBC Act but are not matters of national environmental significance.

1 Biodiversity is defined under the EPBC Act as the variability among living organisms from all sources (including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part) and includes:

  1. diversity within species and between species; and
  2. diversity of ecosystems.

2 productivity (or biological productivity) – the process through which algae and seagrasses transform inorganic nutrients into organic matter through photosynthesis. The process is at the basis of the ocean's food web, as phytoplankton and algae are consumed respectively by zooplankton and grazing organisms and these are in turn consumed by larger and larger predators. Nutrients rich waters promote and support productivity.


4 The Australian Whale Sanctuary includes all Commonwealth waters from the 3-nautical-mile state waters limit out to the boundary of the exclusive economic zone (i.e. out to 200 nautical miles, and further in some places).