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

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia: The Marine Environment - Technical Annex: 1

Compiled by Leon P. Zann
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville Queensland

Ocean Rescue 2000 Program
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, Canberra, 1995

ISBN 0 642 17399 0

Table of Contents


These papers are independent scientific contributions and have been subject to an open peer review process. The views contained are not necessarily those of the Department of Environment, Sport and Territories, the State or Northern Territory Governments, or the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.


Australia is an island continent and the sea is very important to Australians. A quarter of our population lives within 3 kilometres of the coast, some 86% live in coastal catchments, and two-thirds reside in our coastal towns and cities.

Australia's sea area is much larger than our land area. Our 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is over 11 million square kilometres in area, and is one of the largest in the world. Our mainland coastline, including Tasmania, is almost 70 000 kilometres long. Our seas span 33o of latitude (58o including the Antarctic Territory), and encompass all five ocean climate zones.

The ocean was - and remains - important for the sustenance and spirit of many of this country's indigenous communities. In today's Australia it provides tourism, fisheries, transport, and most of our petroleum needs. Ours is a parched continent and the sea is also important for our recreation and way of life.

We have long viewed the ocean as boundless in size, capable of absorbing all of our wastes, and feeding a hungry planet. In these closing years of the twentieth century it has become evident that it is not.

In 1990 the Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution (GESAMP), reporting to the United Nations on the health of the world's oceans, concluded that 'chemical contamination and litter can be observed from the poles to the tropics and from beaches to abyssal depths', and if allowed to go unchecked, this would lead to 'global deterioration in the quality and productivity of the marine environment.... We fear, especially in view of the continuing growth of human populations, that the marine environment could deteriorate significantly in the next decade unless strong, coordinated national and international action is taken' (GESAMP 1990).

Ocean Rescue 2000 program

Because of growing concerns in Australia on the state of Australia's marine environment, the Commonwealth Department of Environment, Sport and Territories established the Ocean Rescue 2000 program in 1991 to promote the conservation and sustainable use of the marine and coastal environment. Ocean Rescue 2000 builds on existing marine conservation and management programs and is part of the national strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development.

The principal objective of the program is to develop and implement a marine conservation plan to guide the use and management of Australia's marine resources. Other objectives include ensuring adequate baseline and monitoring information on the marine environment, activities and management, and ensuring its accessibility to decision-makers and managers; fostering an educated, informed and involved community; and developing and implementing a national representative system of marine protected areas.

The program consists of the following elements:

The State of the Marine Environment Report

The State of the Marine Environment Report (SOMER) is the first comprehensive, scientific description of Australia's marine environment. It was undertaken primarily to provide baseline information for the proposed Australian Marine Conservation Plan. It has also provided information for the Commonwealth government's new national State of the Environment reporting program which will report in 1995.

The Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories commissioned the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to prepare SOMER. The Authority has over 15 years experience in research and management of the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest multi-use marine protected area, and its expertise is being increasingly sought for marine environmental management, both nationally and internationally.

SOMER describes in detail the major marine ecosystems and their states; the major uses of the marine environment and their effects; the general issues and threats affecting the marine environment; the condition or health of the marine environment; and marine environmental management and conservation. While SOMER examines habitats and communities from the shore to the ocean depths, its major focus is the coastal waters around the continent.

The SOMER Process

The production of SOMER was a major challenge. Australia's marine environment is vast and covers a great range of climates, ecosystems, habitats and human influences. More significantly, it is very incompletely known. Long-term scientific information on the marine environment, which is essential to accurately assess its environmental condition, is very scattered, or lacking altogether in many areas.

The topics to be covered in SOMER were initially identified by a workshop of experts from marine science, resource management and industry. The GBRMPA appointed a senior marine scientist to coordinate the project and produce the reports. An expert Advisory Committee was also appointed to assist and advise the coordinator in the identification of expert authors and to review the technical papers and reports produced. These commissioned technical reviews were also subject to a process of open scientific peer review. The 83 technical papers thus produced provided the source material for the main report.

This is the first of two volumes of selected technical papers, totalling 31 contributions. They are published as The State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia Technical ReportsVolume 1: Ecosystems (this volume) and Volume 2 Pollution, State and Territory Issues.

The major findings of SOMER, written in a non-technical style for general readership, are published as Our Sea. Our Future. A brochure summarising the major findings has also been produced for wide dissemination.

SOMER process


SOMER is the result of the efforts of 134 scientists and technical experts, 14 members of the Advisory Committee, and around 160 external reviewers. Layout for this volume: D.C. Sutton

SOMER Advisory Committee:

Dr Don Kinsey (Committee Chair), former Executive Officer of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, Qld; Associate Professor Paul Adam, School of Biological Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW; Dr Joe Baker, Senior AIMS Fellow, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Qld; Dr Eric Bird, Geostudies, Black Rock, Vic; Professor Ben Boer, Law Faculty, University of Sydney, NSW; Dr Des Connell, Director, Government Chemical Laboratory, Brisbane, Qld; Dr Pam Eiser, Australian Committee IUCN, Sydney, NSW; Dr Laurie Hammond, CEO Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, Wellington NZ (retired); Dr Tor Hundloe, Industry Commission, Canberra, ACT; Professor Arthur McComb, Environmental Science, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA (retired); Professor Jason Middleton, Chairman, Centre for Marine Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW; Dr Russell Reichelt, Director, Fisheries Resources Branch, Bureau of Resource Sciences, Canberra, ACT; Dr Graham Ross, Series Manager, Fauna of Australia, ABRS, Canberra, ACT; Professor Graeme Kelleher (Ex-officio), Chairman, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Canberra, ACT .