South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network
The South-east network development process was designed to build a Commonwealth Marine Reserve network using the various seafloor features (e.g. canyons and seamounts) that were representative of the South-east marine region. The objective was to ensure that the network contained representative examples of the major seafloor features of the region. This approach was adopted because we have a relatively poor knowledge of the plants and animals of the deepwater parts of the South-east, but we do know that the biology and ecology of the deep ocean varies with geomorphology (seafloor features). In the absence of full scientific certainty about the animals and plants of these regions, these geomorphic features were the best 'surrogates' available.
The process of developing the South-east network of Commonwealth Marine Reserves began in 2003 with a comprehensive scientific inventory to identify all the relevant mapping and research. A scientific panel developed broad scale mapping of the region and then identified Broad Areas of Interest from within which the Reserves were to be identified. Next the Australian Government and scientists developed a set of specifications (guidelines) for determining what should be included in the Reserves. Stakeholders had input on the guidelines. These specifications included guidance on the location, size, number of and what features like canyons or seamounts should be included and how boundaries should be designed to make compliance and management effective.
The Australian Government identified the Reserves in the South-east network using these specifications and the best available scientific knowledge, while at the same time seeking to minimise the impacts on industry. The Government released a proposed system of Reserves in December 2005 based on these specifications and asked all the interested stakeholder groups to give feedback and alternative suggestions that would meet the specifications. The Department of Environment and Water Resources met with key stakeholder groups to discuss the proposals and received a number of submissions from industry, conservation groups, scientists and members of the community.
The final reserve network is the outcome of those consultations. The result is a network that is both larger and more representative of the region than was the original proposal and has far less impact on industry.
Southern Australia's diversity of marine life is remarkable by global standards. It's home to a great variety of invertebrates, fish and some of our best known marine animals, including whales dolphins and seals. Southern Australia is notable for the large numbers of endemic organisms - species found nowhere else in the world.
Around 85 per cent of the known fish fauna (600 species), and 62 per cent of the known seafloor flora are believed to be endemic. This places a particular responsibility on Australia to ensure that conservation measures are sufficient to maintain viable populations of these species and allow for evolutionary processes to continue.
The network of Reserves protects places which are home to unique and diverse marine life, some of which is new to science and largely unexplored. By conserving areas within this region we are protecting precious ocean life and habitats.
From three nautical miles out the marine realm includes shallow shelf, slope and deep water ecosystems that provide important habitats for a variety of bird and sea life. The network covers all these depth ranges because the plants and animals that inhabit our seas vary markedly according to the depth of the ocean.
Migratory whales make their way through these waters on their journey to and from Antarctica along Australia's east coast twice a year. Beneath the waves, iconic species such as great white sharks, southern bluefin tuna and blue whales roam.
In the deep sea there is a diverse range of fishes and other creatures, such as crabs, coral, sea urchins and sponges that have bizarre and fascinating adaptations to survive in their deep, dark homes.
Indigenous people settled in the South-east Marine region many thousands of years ago, often utilising the rich ocean resources of the South-east. Over that time sea levels rose and fell, at times exposing Bass Strait and creating a land bridge to Tasmania. Approximately 13,000 year ago rising sea levels drowned the land bridge making Tasmania an island and isolating people, plants and animals.
Matthew Flinders and George Bass sailed their ship, the Norfolk, through Bass Strait and around Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania) in 1798 and were the first to establish that Van Dieman's Land was an island. This would be their last voyage together due to the mysterious disappearance of Bass during a voyage to South America.
The advent of European fisheries in the Region, which began soon after the exploration of Bass Strait, led to a much higher demand on marine resources. The first commercial ventures focused on harvesting the abundant whales and seals of the Region. In 1810 sealers landed on Macquarie Island and within 18 months 120 000 seal skins had been returned to Sydney. The sealing industry rapidly expanded throughout Bass Strait however began to decline in 1825.
The Davidson Whaling Station near Eden, New South Wales, is considered by some to be the first industrial complex in Australia. It began operation in 1828. Whales were hunted primarily for whale oil, an important fuel at the time. Other whaling stations were set up in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. Over-exploitation resulted in whaling decline, although it continued well into the twentieth century.
The waters of the region were the first impression of a new home for many people who immigrated to south eastern Australia during the first one hundred years of settlement. Wild weather conditions often welcomed newcomers on their final leg of the long journey from Britain. Many ships were wrecked and lives lost when boats were pounded into the rugged coastline by the sometimes treacherous sea conditions.
After the Second World War rapid advances in technology allowed for consistent deepwater commercial fishing. Today there are over 30 fisheries operating in the South-east Marine Region, fishing for some of the world's most prized seafood, such as abalone and rock lobster. The Region provides much of the table fish for the large population centres of south-eastern Australia.
The Region has been significant for Australia's international and coastal shipping since the early days of settlement. Today 40% of Australia's coastal trade is either from the Region or has traveled to, or through, the Region. Cargo shipping accounts for over 9000 ship movements a year. In the 1950s commercial oil and gas exploration began, and identified four major basins in the Region: the Gippsland, Sorrell, Otway and Bass basins. Extraction is currently being undertaken in the Gippsland, Otway and Bass Basins. More recently industries such as tourism, telecommunications and aquaculture have rapidly expanded. Biotechnology and renewable energy sources are also emerging as potentially significant industries.
Indigenous communities of the South-east Marine Region continue to have a strong cultural and spiritual connection to the ocean, and to use ocean resources for food, traditional purposes and income.