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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

6. Marine conservation and marine protected areas

Many human activities also span land and sea, for example, recreation, fishing, transport, resource developments and defence(30-47). Catchment uses may affect streams, rivers, estuaries and therefore distant coastal waters(1),(42),(91). Actions and events on land may therefore have far-reaching consequences for the marine environment. Coastal zone management is complex as it involves not only two different but interconnected environments, but many different administrative jurisdictions(58),(62).

Marine environmental conservation in Australia involves a large number of international, regional, Commonwealth, State and Territory, and Local Government agreements, arrangements and agencies and involves a large number of different management strategies.(58-62),(67),(76-82)

International arrangements and responsibilities

The oceans link countries. No country can manage its marine environment and resources in isolation from other countries in its region, or from activities on the high seas. International shipping operates under international law, with the rights of innocent passage strongly defended by maritime nations. There are numerous international treaties, conventions and agreements that are relevant to the coastal zone. Many of these deal with general global issues such as climate change, biological diversity, and world heritage.(60)

The United Nations Law of the Sea Convention allows nations to claim six zones including territorial seas, (which extend 12 nautical miles from the coastal baseline), and a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ)(53). Australia's EEZ came into force on the 16 November 1994(1).

Figure 115

Figure 115: Australia's 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone is over 11 million square kilometres in area and is one of the largest in the world. The area of claimable sea floor is 14.8 million square kilometres.

International borders

Although Australia (leaving aside the Australian Antarctic Territory) has no land borders, it has maritime borders with five other nations: France (Iles Kerguelen in the subantarctic, and New Caledonia); Indonesia; Papua New Guinea (Torres Strait); Solomon Islands (north-east); and New Zealand. Certain maritime boundaries with Indonesia are yet to be negotiated and no maritime boundaries have yet been negotiated with New Zealand(58). The most complex of these is in Torres Strait which has several overlapping boundaries, differing for fishing, the sea bed, and the protected zone(58),(74).

Government responsibilities

Australia has a three-tiered system of government, consisting of Commonwealth, State/Territory, and Local Government. Management of the coastal and marine environments involves each sector. The legislative basis for planning and management of the land area of the coastal zone is primarily provided by the States. State and Local Governments are generally responsible for day-to-day decision-making in the coastal zone(58-62),(67). The Northern Territory Government retains responsibility for both the legislative basis and day-to-day decision-making concerning environmental management. A fourth level of management, that of Aboriginal land holders, is unique to the Northern Territory(82).

States generally have primary jurisdiction over marine areas to three nautical miles from baselines (except in the Great Barrier Reef(69)), and the Commonwealth from there to the 200 nautical mile line(1),(58).

Offshore Constitutional Settlement

The Offshore Constitutional Settlement established jurisdictions between the Commonwealth and States over marine areas. There are 'agreed arrangements' on the management of oil and gas, and other seabed minerals, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, other marine parks, historic shipwrecks, shipping, marine pollution and fishing.(58)

Many government inquiries have identified the fragmented and often duplicatory responsibilities in the coastal zone as severe impediments to effective planning and management.(1),(58),(62)

Figure 116

Figure 116: Many Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies are involved in coastal management around Australia. The large number of agencies involved was identified by the 1993 Coastal Zone Inquiry as a difficulty in developing integrated coastal zone management in Australia. Agencies responsible in Tasmania are shown here.