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Australia's Oceans - New Horizons

Oceans Policy Consultation Paper

Commonwealth of Australia 1997
ISBN 0 642 26659 X


Submissions and consultations

Oceans policy

Please read the document and either provide comments on the issues arising from development of an Australian Oceans Policy in writing or in discussions with representatives from the Commonwealth Government by 28 April 1997.

Either of these actions may be undertaken by contacting:

Mr Philip Burgess
Director, Marine Strategy Section
Portfolio Marine Group, Environment Australia
GPO Box 787, Canberra ACT 2601

Telephone: 02-6274 1418 Fax: 02-6274 1006

E-mailed responses are welcomed and should be sent to:

Where possible, your submission should be accompanied by a copy on disc, either suitable for a PC or Mac computer.

The Consultation Paper is also available on the World Wide Web at the following

Additional copies of the Consultation Paper may be obtained from the Community Information Unit, Environment Australia on 1800 803 772 between Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm.

Marine science and technology plan

The Government is developing a Marine Science and Technology Plan in conjunction with the Oceans Policy. The Plan will provide a strategy, consistent with the Oceans Policy, for integrated and innovative science, technology and engineering. A Scoping Paper for the Plan is expected to be available to the public in April 1997.

If you would like a copy of the Scoping Paper for the Marine Science and Technology Plan, or wish to make a submission concerning the issues arising from its development, please contact:

Dr Ralph Jensen
Chairman of the Working Group for the Marine Science and Technology Plan
Science and Technology Policy Branch
Department of Industry, Science and Tourism
GPO Box 9839, Canberra ACT 2601

Telephone: 02-62136403 Fax: 02-62136394

1. Oceans policy consultation paper

Why do we need an oceans policy?

Australia has one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones of any nation - over 11 million square kilometres of marine waters and their resources.

The government is aware of the ecological and economic significance of our marine and coastal environments.

The government is committed to working cooperatively with the States, Territories, and local governments as well as business and the wider community to solve problems such as marine pollution and the degradation of fisheries habitat.

But managing our marine environment is much more than just managing our coastline and marine parks.

Now that Australia has ratified the Convention on the Law of the Sea we have a responsibility to effectively manage the entire Exclusive Economic Zone, an area larger than the Australian land mass.

To achieve this goal, and for the first time in the Nation's history, the government will develop a comprehensive and integrated Oceans Policy to ensure that we meet this challenge. The Commonwealth Department of Environment will lead the development of this policy which will provide a strategic framework for the planning, management and ecologically sustainable development of our fisheries, shipping, petroleum, gas and seabed resources while ensuring the conservation of the marine environment. The policy will be cooperatively developed with government, industry and the community.

- Investing In Our Natural Heritage, Statement by Senator the Honourable
Robert Hill, Minister for the Environment, 20 August 1996

What is this paper for?

This paper has been developed to assist consultations with State, Territory and Local governments, peak bodies and organisations and the general public on the broad framework and associated actions that should underlie an Oceans Policy for Australia. It is not intended to be a comprehensive coverage of every issue relevant to the development of an Oceans Policy, but is designed to stimulate discussion and generate ideas.

The paper sets out a draft vision, goal and objectives for the Oceans Policy. It also includes an indication of some of the broad issues relevant to an Oceans Policy as well as briefly introducing some of the features of our oceans.

How will the Commonwealth Government consult on the development of the oceans policy ?

A two stage consultation process is planned.

Commencing in early 1997, consultations will be held with, or submissions sought from, peak industry, business, conservation and other organisations covering a wide cross section of ocean interest and user groups. These may include recreational bodies, local government associations, tourism councils, major ports and harbour boards, technology providers, universities, research institutions and the scientific community generally, conservation, fisheries, shipping, mining, oil and gas and engineering organisations and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and agencies.

Submissions and comments on the Consultation Paper are also welcomed from the wider community.

Following this first stage of consultations further public comment will be sought during 1997 and it is expected that the Policy will be finalised for the commencement of the International Year of the Oceans in 1998.

Given their key role and responsibilities in the management of coastal waters, the State and Territory governments will be involved in the development of an Oceans Policy from the earliest stage possible. In addition to bilateral discussions, a working group will be established under the Intergovernmental Committee for Ecologically Sustainable Development to progress the development of the Oceans Policy in partnership with all the States and Territories.

How should submissions be prepared?

Submissions can be sent in either electronic or paper format by 28 April 1997 to the contact address given on the inside cover of this paper.

In your submission on the Oceans Policy it would be helpful to the Commonwealth government if you could address the following questions as well as providing your views on any other matter or issue relevant to your interests in the oceans. Many of the issues relevant to the questions are touched upon in the third section of this paper, "The Task".

2. Our oceans

Physical and biological aspects

Australian waters span almost 60 degrees in latitude from Torres Strait in the north to Antarctica in the south, and 100 degrees in longitude from Norfolk Island in the east to Heard Island and the McDonald Islands in the west. They include a great range of geographic, geologic and oceanographic features, and around 12,000 islands.

Australia's marine domain is a part of the interconnected world ocean which covers 71% of the planet. The waters surrounding Australia and its external territories are part of three large, interconnected oceans of the Southern Hemisphere: the Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans.

Australia's physical ocean features include:

The Australian mainland is surrounded by a physical continental shelf between 15 and 400 kilometres wide, and approximately 2.5 million square kilometres in area. The Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the extensions of the continental shelf that go beyond those limits contain major physical features that rival those of the continent itself. Fields of seamounts to the south of Tasmania contain peaks rising to 2-3 times the height of our highest terrestrial peaks. Steep slopes off the east coast drop to four times those measurements within a few tens of kilometres off the continental slope. The edge of the continental shelf is dissected by marine canyons, drowned river valleys and the scars of earlier periods of sea level change. Major coral reef complexes on the north east and north west form some of the most complex biological systems on earth. Many of the major shelf areas and abyssal plains and other deeps are unknown in any detail. The biological systems of the oceans, the seabed and the shelf areas are far less well known than our terrestrial fauna and flora. The more accessible species and areas are relatively well studied, but for many large areas there is only very sparse information and knowledge of biological systems. Australia's marine fauna and flora is extremely rich and more diverse than its terrestrial fauna and contains a high number of species unique to our waters.

Features of Australia's marine biodiversity include:

Source: Commonwealth of Australia, 1994

In the shallow waters of the coast and upper shelf, Australia's marine fauna and flora is dominated by two major influences. In the north it is dominated by tropical influences from the Indian and Pacific Oceans, while in the south by temperate and cold temperate influences and a 40 million year history of geographic and climatic isolation. These influences have interacted to provide the range of biogeographic provinces now recognised and the unique biological diversity of our oceans.

Economic importance

The oceans and their resources are a largely under-developed and unexplored realm that have significant potential to contribute to Australia's economic development and strategic interests. Marine-based industries were valued at approximately $16 billion annually in 1987 and $30 billion in 1994 - representing annual growth of about 8 per cent in real terms. If this growth continues, even at a substantially slower rate, marine industries are likely to become a more significant part of the national economy in the future.

Marine industries are a major part of our export sector - estimates for 1994 are $6.6 billion, or 7 per cent of Australia's total exports. They also employ well over 220, 000 people, including an estimated 187,000 in marine tourism. The Australian Marine Industries and Sciences Council has developed a Marine Industry Development Strategy which looks at a wide range of issues relevant to boosting the economic contribution of the marine sector to Australia. In addition to growth in existing industries, there is considerable potential for development of new marine-based industries. Examples include pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals derived from marine organisms. Australian research, technology and skills, combined with access to very large and biologically diverse areas, place us in a strong position to develop and capitalise on such new industries. In some sectors, the resource base on which industry depends is relatively untapped - both in Australia and overseas. This heightens the prospects for growth and will also result in considerable competition among maritime nations to develop leadership in technologies and industries needed to access and manage such resources. Marine resources represent a potentially significant area for economic development in fisheries, tourism and conservation.

Current value of some of Australia's major marine industries
Industry Value (1994 figures)
Commercial fishing and aquaculture $1.6 billion (1995/96)
Pharmaceuticals and biotechnology Virtually untapped
Shipping, transport and ship building $3.8 billion
Tourism and recreation $15.0 billion
Oil, gas and engineering $8.0 billion

Source: AMISC, 1996 and ABARE, 1996

Socio-cultural aspects

The oceans are also important for a wide range of socio-cultural reasons. They form a major focus for domestic and international tourism and recreation. Recreational fishing is a valuable industry, as well as an important leisure activity for many Australians. The coastal zone is one of our national icons. Australia's oceans are also important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Our coastal and marine environments have been important to indigenous people for thousand of years. There are around 6,000 shipwrecks lying beneath Australian waters, many of which are of great historical and archaeological value, tracing the story of Australia's exploration, settlement and defence.

International issues

In 1994 the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) entered into force and Australia declared an EEZ of some 11 million square kilometres. Our management responsibilities will cover almost 15 million square kilometres when our claimable continental shelf area is determined. This area is nearly twice the size of the Australian landmass (see Map 1). The Convention establishes a comprehensive framework for the regulation of the oceans including the limits of national jurisdiction over the oceans, access to the seas, navigation, protection and preservation of the marine environment, pollution prevention and control, exploitation of living resources and conservation, scientific monitoring and research, seabed mining and other exploitation of non-living resources and the settlement of disputes. The LOSC provides Australia with sovereign rights over its EEZ and continental shelf resources. There is also an obligation to protect and sustainably manage the ocean on the basis of the best available scientific information. Other countries are guaranteed freedom of navigation in Australian waters and may be permitted access to the living resources not being used by Australia, subject to appropriate terms and conditions and to the limits of sustainability. There are also obligations under a number of other conventions in relation to the ocean including those dealing with shipping, fisheries, biodiversity, pollution and whaling. Such obligations have existed for many years under the various treaties and conventions to which Australia is a party including inter alia:

map of preliminary jurisdictions

In addition, other recent international initiatives, including the Global Program of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land Based Activities and the Agenda 21 Action Plan arising out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), establish non legally binding principles concerning the protection and sustainable use of the resources of the oceans and seas. The principles embrace an ecosystem approach to marine living resource management.

Commonwealth-State jurisdiction

In 1975 the High Court determined that the Commonwealth has sovereignty and sovereign rights over the adjacent territorial sea and continental shelf. As part of the 1979 Offshore Constitutional Settlement (OCS) the Commonwealth granted to the State and Northern Territory governments title to the seabed and concurrent legislative power within 3 nautical miles of the territorial sea baselines, providing them with a greater legal and administrative role in the offshore area. While the Commonwealth Government retains concurrent legislative authority within these State/Territory coastal waters, it has primary responsibility for the oceans and seabed from the 3 nautical mile limit to the 200 nautical mile limit and beyond in relation to the continental shelf where the shelf extends beyond the 200 nautical mile limit. The Commonwealth also has responsibilities under international law beyond 200 nautical miles for matters such as storm warnings, control of high seas fishing activity by Australian vessels and matters relating to the continental shelf (see Diagram 1).
diagram of our maritime zones

3. The task

The task ahead is to develop an Oceans Policy that will be the vehicle through which Australia's preferred vision for its oceans can be realised.

Draft vision for Australia's oceans

The oceans around Australia support a great variety of marine life and are some of the least polluted in the world. These oceans already provide considerable wealth, jobs and recreational opportunities for Australians. They have the potential to provide a lot more, but for all Australians to benefit, our vision for the future should be one where;

Draft goal of an oceans policy

To promote efficient, ecologically sustainable use of Australia's ocean resources while conserving the biological base and maintaining the underlying ocean processes.

Draft objectives of an oceans policy

  1. to understand, monitor, conserve and sustainably use the ocean environment and its resources,
  2. to promote economic development through ecologically sustainable ocean industries,
  3. to improve and use our expertise and capabilities in ocean related science, technology, research and engineering,
  4. to accommodate identified and agreed community interests and responsibilities; and
  5. to exercise and protect Australian rights and jurisdiction over offshore areas, including resources.

The Oceans Policy will provide a strategic framework for the planning, management and ecologically sustainable development of Australia's ocean industries, including fisheries, shipping, petroleum, gas and seabed resources. It will also enable the integration of other ocean related uses and services such as defence and climate and weather prediction. The draft goal and objectives for an Oceans Policy are most likely to be achieved through a multiple use and co-operative approach which complements the current sectoral management regimes. The Oceans Policy will encompass existing sectoral policies and programs, identify areas requiring further attention and provide for possible new initiatives to ensure integrated planning and management of the use of Australia's oceans. The legislative, jurisdictional and institutional arrangements underlying the ocean's planning, management and use will be addressed by the Oceans Policy. A major proportion of the use of the marine environment and resources of the Exclusive Economic Zone occurs through activities carried out from the territory of, and to a varying extent regulated by, the States and Territories. Because of this the Policy will be developed on the basis that a cooperative approach to such arrangements should be adopted.

Consistent with regulatory reform but subject to ecological sustainability, the Policy will aim to provide for transparent decision making without unnecessary impediments or time consuming processes that impose additional costs to users and managers of the oceans. In its final form, it will outline implementation arrangements, including the monitoring and evaluation of the Policy objectives across the various marine-related sectors.

4. Some issues

An indication of some of the broad sectoral and cross-sectoral issues relevant to an Oceans Policy follow. They are included to illustrate the type of issues that will need to be addressed in developing the Policy, but it is stressed they are neither definitive nor exhaustive.

Planning and management

Australia lacks a comprehensive framework with clear, agreed and shared objectives that can resolve conflicts and competing interests and identify management and planning gaps.

Better coordination of sectoral policies and decision-making processes across Commonwealth and State/Territory levels of government is required to provide increased certainty for both industry investment and long-term environmental protection.

The establishment of an Oceans Policy will need to incorporate Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) principles and, in particular, the multiple use management of living and non-living resources.

The Oceans Policy will address a range of issues which may include:

Conservation and management of Australia's marine biodiversity

Australia is the world's largest island. Its marine environment includes extensive coral reefs in the tropical north, rocky shores in the temperate south, sandy beaches, estuaries and bays, seagrass beds, mangrove forests, giant kelp beds, the open ocean, seamounts and submarine canyons and the habitats of the continental shelf and slope. It has some of the most diverse, unique and spectacular marine life in the world.

Governments, the community and all users have a shared responsibility to ensure the long term viability of the biological diversity, marine system function and resource use of the oceans.

It is an environment that is coming under increasing pressure while still trying to recover from the unsustainable practices of the past. Declining water quality, pollution, habitat loss and the introduction of exotic pests are examples of inappropriate human activity and poor management.

Current pressures include those associated with wastes and run off from the land, oil pollution and increasing beach and litter pollution. While marine and coastal habitats are in danger of degradation, increasing numbers of people are using the sea and coastal environments for food, income and recreation.

Similarly, some of Australia's fish stocks have experienced declines over past years. Serious overfishing of southern bluefin tuna, southern sharks, gemfish and other species has occurred. Both fishers and fisheries managers, with the support of better science, are increasingly aware of the unintended environmental and economic impact of some practices. These include for example, the incidental catch of other species, overfishing of target species, the impact of fishing litter and debris, distortion to predator/prey interactions and damage to habitats such as corals, sponges, and seagrass.

There is growing recognition of the importance and need to protect marine biodiversity for both conservation and economic reasons. One method for achieving biodiversity conservation is through marine protected areas (MPAs) within a multiple and sequential use framework.

MPAs may be declared under Commonwealth, State or Territory legislation. The planning and management of MPAs is usually the role of more than one government agency. Many different agencies and many different user groups share responsibilities for most areas. The level of protection can vary between MPAs. Some MPAs, such as the larger multiple use marine parks, may allow a wide range of activities, including fishing. Other MPAs may exclude some activities if necessary to protect the conservation values of an area. MPAs can function to enhance fisheries and tourism industries, protect endangered or threatened species and habitats and provide opportunities for research, recreation and education.

The Oceans Policy will address a range of issues which may include:

Marine pollution

The declining state of our marine water quality and in particular the impacts from land based sources of marine pollution is seriously affecting the viability of our marine environments in some areas, particularly in coastal areas under pressure from urban development. Marine organisms may be affected by a range of discharges and emissions including nutrients and sediments, heavy metals, organochlorines and litter. Most of these, in the order of 80%, enter the sea from the land, from point sources such as pipes and drains, as well as from diffuse sources from catchments and from the atmosphere and sea based sources.

The bulk of Australia's population lives in coastal areas, and there is a continuing trend towards urban expansion in these regions. The health and well-being of coastal communities depend upon the health and well-being of coastal ecosystems.

Some of the most significant threats to the health and productivity of the marine environment are the result of human activities on land. Such problems include the discharge of urban, industrial and agricultural wastes and the effects of nutrient and sediment run off created by inappropriate land development. Each year around 10,000 tonnes of phosphorus and 100,000 tonnes of nitrogen are discharged through sewage, much of which finds its way into the marine environment.

Improved management of waste discharges (including effluent, urban and agricultural run-off and trade waste water) into the marine environment is a major challenges facing Australian governments and is essential for maintaining and improving marine and estuarine water quality, coastal habitats, public health, recreation and visual amenity.

The introduction of exotic organisms into the marine environment via ships' ballast water and hull fouling is an area of increasing concern to governments, industry and the community. For example, blooms of introduced toxic marine algae and outbreaks of the exotic northern Pacific seastar in Tasmania and Victoria threaten marine life and are causing damage to the fishing industry.

The Oceans Policy will address a range of issues which may include:

Ocean industries, employment and economic opportunities

A strong focus of the Oceans Policy will be the identification and promotion of the economic opportunities of ecologically sustainable marine based industries. Greater certainty for industry regarding long-term access to resources should promote increased investment and employment and economic returns to Australia. Expansion into value-added marine based industries, together with improvements in Australia's expertise in marine related products, services and technologies and the ability and opportunities to export that expertise are areas of significant economic opportunity.

Currently in Australia there is a lack of detailed knowledge about the significance of oceans industries to the economy and employment, both now and in the future, and an absence of a coordinated framework for their sustainable development. This will be a key issue to address in developing the Oceans Policy.

The economic importance of ocean industries to the Australian economy is discussed elsewhere in the Consultation Paper (see "Economic Importance" under Section 2).

The Oceans Policy will address a range of issues which may include:

Our scientific understanding

Improved scientific knowledge, understanding and an associated monitoring and information system will underpin both the sustainable use and protection of the ocean environment and provide the capability to recognise, predict and manage change as it occurs. This will be addressed through the development of a Marine Science and Technology Plan which will be integrated with the Oceans Policy. A scoping paper for the Marine Science and Technology Plan is being developed and is expected to be ready for public release in April 1997.

Through the Marine Science and Technology Plan, the Oceans Policy will address a range of issues which may include:

Indigenous issues

The coastline and sea have played a role in shaping coastal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Cultural and economic activities in our seas remain important for many indigenous peoples.

There are a number of processes in train to identify and agree upon indigenous interests in the ocean. It will be important for the Oceans Policy to accommodate the outcome of these processes.

The Oceans Policy will address a range of issues which may include:

Surveillance and enforcement

Management of our oceans requires an integrated system of surveillance and enforcement that promotes Australia's interests. Coordination and cooperation among Commonwealth and State agencies is essential for effective surveillance and enforcement. There is also a need to exercise Australia's jurisdiction over, access to and protection of ocean resources and trade and to continue to implement effective pollution prevention and control, sea safety and border control regimes. Much of this will be achieved in cooperation with our regional neighbours.

The Oceans Policy will address a range of issues which may include:

Shipping and sea safety

It is essential to optimise the use of sea transport in Australia's trade while ensuring that appropriate standards of safety and environment protection are maintained.

As an island nation dependent upon shipping for its international trade, Australia has a vital interest in ensuring safe and reliable shipping in the region for its economic viability.

Australia takes an active role in pursuing protection of the marine environment through improvements in the standards of ship and crew safety. We have introduced and participated in a range of domestic and international measures aimed primarily at reducing the risk of shipping mishaps. We also acknowledge that we have an ongoing responsibility to maintain our ability to respond to incidents leading to the pollution of the marine environment.

The Oceans Policy will address a range of issues which may include:

International considerations

Australia's oceans and their resources are affected by conditions and activities on the high seas and in other nations' EEZs. Australian activities can have a similar impact. It is important to promote Australian interests in relevant international bodies, participate in related initiatives and co-operate with neighbouring states on issues such as fisheries, freedom of navigation, conservation, pollution prevention and control, scientific research, data collection and monitoring, meteorology, data exchange, oceanography, shipping, sea safety and search and rescue at sea. Australia also needs to conclude maritime boundary agreements with its neighbours to strengthen economic and physical security.

The Oceans Policy will address a range of issues which may include:

Community participation, public awareness and understanding

The Commonwealth Government cannot create a healthy, productive and sustainable marine environment by itself. The future of our oceans ultimately depends on the decisions made by individuals and organisations as they go about pursuing their disparate goals. Our vision for the future is one where the wider community appreciates and accepts both the economic and environmental values of the marine environment.

Equally, achieving many of the goals of the Oceans Policy will rely on ensuring that communities and individuals are guiding and actively participating in the decision making process, particularly at the local level.

As a result, the Oceans Policy will address a range of issues which may include:

References and additional reading material

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics [ABARE], (1996). Australian Fisheries Statistics 1996. Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Canberra, vi and 48p.

Australian Environment On-Line:

Australian Marine Industries and Sciences Council [AMISC], (1996). Draft Marine Industry Development Strategy. Department of Industry, Science and Tourism, Canberra.

Commonwealth of Australia, (1994). Australia's Biodiversity: An Overview of Selected Significant Components. Edited by J. Mummery and N. Hardy. Biodiversity Series, Paper No.2, Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, Canberra, 87p.

Ocean Outlook: A Blueprint for the Oceans, (1994). A Report from the Congress 16-17 November 1994 and a Scientific Program Proposed by the Steering Committee, Canberra, 18p.

Prime Minister's Science and Engineering Council [PMSEC], (1995). Australia's Ocean Age: Science and Technology for Managing our Oceans Territory. Office of the Chief Scientist, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, vi and 48p.

United Nations, (1983). The Law of the Sea. Official Text of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea with Annexes and Index. United Nations, New York, xxxvii and 224p.

Zann, L.P., (1995). Our Sea, Our Future: Major Findings of the State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia. Published by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, 112p.

For further information on the Oceans Policy Marine Science and Technology Plan please contact:

Mr Philip Burgess
Marine Strategy Section
Portfolio Marine Group
Environment Australia
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601

Telephone: 02-62741418
Fax: 02-62741006

Dr Ralph Jensen
Chairman of the Working Group for the Marine Science and Technology Plan
Science and Technology Policy Branch
Department of Industry, Science and Tourism
GPO Box 9839
Canberra ACT 2601

Telephone: 02-62136403
Fax: 02-62136394