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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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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: State and Territory Issues - Technical Annex 3

Edited by Leon P. Zann and David Sutton
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville Queensland
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, Canberra (1996)
ISBN 0 642 23012 9


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

Australia's coastline, including that of Tasmania, is almost 70 000 kilometres in length. Australia's seas are vast in size and have a rich and unique marine biota. Australia's newly proclaimed 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is over 11 million square kilometres in area, and is one of the largest in the world. It spans 33 of latitude (58 including the Antarctic Territory), and encompasses all five ocean climate zones.

The sea has great economic value to Australia. Coastal and marine tourism, fisheries, marine transport, and offshore petroleum are estimated to be worth around $17 billion per year.

Our view of the sea has changed greatly over the past 40 years. In the 1950s the sea was regarded as the last frontier. In the 1960s it was seen as the solution to the increasing resource depletion on land. In the 1970s there were early concerns about the vulnerability of coastal waters. During the 1980s these deepened as some fisheries and marine ecosystems began to decline.

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'.

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 the Australian Marine Conservation Plan which is 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 it's 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:

National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas;
Australian Marine Conservation Plan;
State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia (SOMER);
National Marine Education Program;
National Marine Information System; and
Marine and Coastal Community Network.

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 1996.

The Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories commissioned the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to prepare SOMER. The Authority has 20 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. SOMER explains habitats and communities from the shore to the ocean depths.

The SOMER Process

The production of SOMER was a great 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, essential to accurately assess its condition, is very scattered, or lacking altogether in many areas.

The topics 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 assisted and advised the coordinator in the identification of expert authors and reviewed 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 reports, the State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia: Technical Summary and the non-technical overview Our Sea, Our Future.

Much of the information collected for SOMER is unpublished. Because of the scientific value of this information, a range of papers in being published. This volume contains seven technical papers reviewing the state of the marine environments of the six Australian States and the Northern Territory. While each paper was subject to peer review by the relevant government departments, it should be noted that they do not necessarily reflect the views of the State and Territory governments.

Leon P. Zann
SOMER Coordinator

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. Production of this volume: D. C. Sutton and Jim Campbell.

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), former Chairman, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Canberra, ACT.

*GESAMP: (IMO/FAO/UNESCO/EMO/WHO/IAEA/UN/UNEP) 1990, The state of the marine environment, UN Regional Seas Reports and Studies No. 115, UNEPM