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This document has been prepared by the Marine Science and Technology Plan Working Group.
Commonwealth of Australia 1999
ISBN 0 642 72043 6
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The oceans surrounding Australia are of vital importance to the health and wealth of the nation. As most of the population live within easy reach of the ocean, the importance of the coastal seas and estuaries for recreation and tourism is obvious to most Australians. Less obvious is the importance of the oceans lying beyond the horizon seen from the beaches or headlands and, in particular, the importance of Australia’s Marine Jurisdiction (AMJ).
Two of the AMJ’s most impressive features are its size and diversity. The area of Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), within which Australia has the right to explore and exploit living and non-living resources, is forty percent larger than the Australian mainland. The AMJ, which includes this area, also includes that part of the Legal Continental Shelf lying beyond the 200 nautical mile EEZ outer boundary – a total area of around 16 million square kilometres. This is only the surface area – the volume of waters in the AMJ encompasses an enormous variety of conditions in waters that can be up to 5,000 metres deep.
This vast expanse of ocean extending from Antarctica to the tropics contains a large proportion of the southern hemisphere’s marine biological diversity, much of which is unique to Australian waters. It also contains substantial resources of considerable significance to the economy, both now and in the future. Marine industries already contribute around 9% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and that contribution is growing rapidly. Because of the size of the area involved, information concerning the nature of the sea floor, the biological diversity and extent of the marine resources is very limited. The size of the AMJ also gives rise to problems in matters relating to surveillance and defence.