Department of the Environment

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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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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.

Our Sea, Our Future
Major findings of the State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia

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

Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, Canberra (1995)
ISBN 0 642 17391 5

3. Major use of the marine environment and their impacts

Australia's marine environment is economically very important. The value of Australia's marine resources, according to CSIRO estimates, is around $17 billion per year. Offshore oil and gas are valued at around $5.5 billion per year(37). The tourist industry, largely based on the coast and sea, contributes over 5% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 5.8% of the workforce(28). Commercial fisheries production is worth around $1.3 billion each year(30) and recreational fishers spend over $2 billion each year on their activities(33). Marine transport is essential for our island continent and Australia ranks fifth in the world in terms of frequency and volume of shipping(36).


The coast and sea are important natural tourist and recreational resources in Australia. Most of Australia's population live in the coastal zone and most international visitors stay on the coast. Visitors to the seashore swim, surf, fish, dive, and cruise or sail in boats.(28)

Value and importance

Domestic use of the coastal environment has increased rapidly in the last thirty years. The non-metropolitan coastal population of Australia has doubled since 1970 and has the fastest rate of growth in the nation. The resulting increasing recreational pressure on the coastal strip was the major focus of concern of the Resource Assessment Commission's Coastal Zone Inquiry in 1993.(28),(91)

Australia's natural environment is a major drawcard for overseas visitors. The international tourist industry, most of which is based on the coast, is economically significant to Australia, contributing over 5% of the GDP. In 1991 there were more than 2.3 million overseas visitors. Around half participated in some sport or outdoor activity: 700,000 surfed or swam, 300,000 snorkelled or scuba dived and over 100,000 went fishing or sailing. During 1991 Australians made 49 million trips as domestic tourists, and spent 215 million visitor nights away from home, mostly in coastal areas.(28)

The beach is a centre for outdoor activities in Australia, particularly during hot summer months. At mid-summer weekends, individual Sydney beaches attract crowds of up to 50,000, and in Melbourne, Port Phillip Bay beaches attract up to 300,000 bathers. The Gold Coast, Australia's premier holiday mecca, attracts over nine million visitors each year.(28)

Table 7: Australia's top 15 domestic tourist destinations

Marine ecotourism

Marine ecotourism is a fast growing industry in Australia. Interpretive talks and guided activities are now routinely provided for visitors to the Great Barrier Reef, and many specialised rainforest and reef educational packages are available. Whale watching is a growth industry from the Whitsunday Islands (Qld) to Albany (WA).

The dolphins of Monkey Mia (WA) have achieved national and international fame. The whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef (WA) and even great white sharks at Port Lincoln (SA) are the focus of dive tourism industries. As the quality of the marine environment deteriorates elsewhere in the world, Australia's significant areas of undisturbed coasts, seas and reefs will assume even greater importance for international ecotourism.(28)

Environmental impacts of tourism and recreation

Although tourism and recreation are generally considered to be 'clean' industries, they have had significant negative impacts on many parts of Australia's coastal strip. Tourist facilities, accommodation, transport and other service infrastructure are typically placed on or close to the particular attraction, such as a picturesque and secluded beach, inlet or island. These facilities frequently affect the natural and cultural environment and reduce the scenic values which provided the initial attraction.(29)

Negative environmental effects of tourist and recreational facilities may include beach and dune erosion, loss of habitat, declines in wildlife and fisheries, and loss of water quality. Adverse socio-economic impacts may include destruction of cultural heritage sites, loss of amenity values, altered quality of life for established communities, increased cost of living, increased crime and traffic, and building congestion. The dilemmas facing coastal tourism are the erosion of the natural and cultural values of sites (which necessitates continuous demand for new areas) and its uncontrolled and unpredictable growth.(29)