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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

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Caring for the commons: socio-cultural considerations in oceans policy development and Implementation

A report commissioned by Environment Australia 1997

Commonwealth of Australia
ISBN 0 642 54524 3

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Executive summary

The worldwide decline in the sustainability of the oceans' resources brings with it the need to manage the oceans as one of the world's last commonly-held resource pools. Socio-cultural considerations will determine the policy options capable of achieving an effective management regime. The stakeholders in the policies are those current and future Australian citizens who have major economic, socio-cultural interests and/or environmental interests in the oceans (Figure 1). In one respect or another this will involve every citizen.

For the purposes of this paper, the interested parties in oceans' policy are identified by level of contribution to the national income, area of social responsibility of government and non-government agencies, and the effects of environmental impact, respectively. Applying these criteria, documents are reviewed and opinions are canvassed from members of (a) the industries of tourism, oil, shipping, fishing and farming; (b) community-based initiatives such as the national Coastal Strategy, CoastCare, local watchdog groups, sailing associations, conservation or ganisations, and Indigenous communities; and (c) environmental scientists and managers knowledgeable about the risks to the oceans from unsustainable resource extraction, terrestrial run-off, loss of biodiversity and pollutants such as oil slicks and ballast water.

The management priorities for each of the stakeholder groups are identified through review of existing documents, submissions to the inquiry, and interviews with members of twenty major Australian initiatives with an interest in oceans policy such as CoastCare, Australian Seafood Industry Commission, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) (Appendix 1). In spite of the extreme diversity of interests in the future management of the oceans, there was almost complete unanimity on three basic policy principles:

Working definitions of the principle terms being applied to oceans policy development and implementation are:

Five management options for the oceans as a 'commons', that is, a pool of commonly held resources, are evaluated against the three policy principles, applying the working definitions to each option:

All respondents and most commentators identify a need for a stewardship ethic for the oceans, whichever management option is chosen. Each of the management options has at least one proponent among the major responsible agencies. Strongly held views by 80% of submission writers and respondents advocated some version of collaborative, multi-party management based on cooperation between industry, science, government, and community.

The paper concludes with a profile of Community Stewardship With Integrated Management (CSWIM), a tool kit for implementing the option preferred by almost all groups involved in the policy process. Policy implications and examples of current best practices for this approach are drawn from a wide range of examples including Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, GBRMPA, Landcare, Integrated Local Area Planning, and Canadian community partnerships.