Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Draft north and north-west marine plans released

Media release
23 August 2011

The Gillard Government today released draft marine bioregional plans and proposed marine reserves networks to protect Australia's north and north-west marine environment.

Environment Minister Tony Burke outlined details of draft north and north-west bioregional plans and proposed Marine Reserves Networks that will be open for three months community feedback before the plans and proposals are finalised under national environmental law.

The proposed network for the north covers global refuges for turtles, dugongs and sawfish and the pristine north-west is vital to the survival of many marine species which are facing population decline.

The coasts of northern Australia are the only areas in the world where flatback turtles are known to breed, Crab Island being the largest flatback turtle rookery in the world. The last healthy populations of sawfish species found anywhere in the world live also live in northern Australian waters and the Gulf of Carpentaria is among the most important dugong habitats in Australia.

The north-west area is home to humpback whales, dugongs, whale sharks, marine turtles, sawfish and several dolphin species as well as deep canyons and underwater cliffs.

The world's largest breeding and feeding ground for whale sharks is off the coast of the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef and each year more than 10,000 humpback whales migrate to mate and give birth in the waters off the Kimberley.

Under the proposed marine reserve network there would be three zones including:

  • Marine National Park zones which would provide the highest level of protection and would be managed to protect areas where marine life live and the important conservation values of the area; limited activities would be permitted;
  • Multiple Use zones which would protect and maintain the conservation values of the area while allowing sustainable economic use, including all recreational fishing. Some types of commercial fishing would be allowed. As is currently the case, certain production and exploration would be permitted subject to national environment law approval; and
  • Special Purpose zones which would allow some activities not allowed in other zones. For example, Special Purpose zones in the proposed north and north-west marine reserve network would allow the use of some fishing gear types that would not be permitted in Multiple Use zones.

The proposed networks of marine reserves are in Commonwealth waters which start 5.5 kilometres off the coast. The proposed reserves in the north-west region cover an area of approximately 377 296km2 and those in the north cover 121 723km2.

The north region extends from as far west as the Northern Territory-Western Australian border to the Gulf of Carpentaria, Arafura Sea and the Timor Sea and the north-west region extends from Kalbarri, south of Shark Bay in Western Australia to the Western Australian - Northern Territory border.

Mr Burke said there was a unique opportunity for the Government and community to work together to take steps now to protect the regions' marine environment for future generations.

"For generations Australians have understood the need to preserve precious areas on land as national parks. Our oceans contain fragile marine life which deserve protection too," Mr Burke said.

"If these areas of biodiversity had been on land we would have protected them years ago. It is time for the protection of our oceans to start catching up.

"Often when we talk about climate change it's about how it affects our land. But climate change is also impacting on our marine environment - ocean acidification and rising water temperatures are putting pressure on our marine life.

"We know that Australians need our oceans to be healthy if they are going to keep providing us with fish to eat, a place to fish, sustainable tourism opportunities and a place for families to enjoy.

"Through our initial consultation in the development of these draft plans where possible we have avoided having an impact on local jobs or people who love to fish.

"The Gillard Government is working with communities to establish a marine reserves network to drive a sustainable future for our marine environment and ensure our oceans stay healthy and productive."

Mr Burke said the Government had worked with environment groups, the fishing industry, recreational fishing groups and other marine users in the development of draft bioregional plans and a proposed marine reserves networks for the north and north-west.

"Now there will be a further opportunity for communities to have their say in this important process and I encourage people to get involved," Mr Burke said.

"We extended the 60 day consultation period to 90 days to ensure people have every opportunity to provide feedback. The feedback and input the Government receives will assist in finalising the proposal for a new marine reserves network and bioregional plan for the north and north-west."

The Gillard Government has committed to the development of marine bioregional plans and new marine reserves in four identified regions across Australia.

Officers from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water Population and Communities will be visiting coastal centres throughout the North and North-west regions in the coming weeks to hold information sessions and meet with representatives of various industries and stakeholder groups.

The first public information session will be in Broome on Thursday 25 August and consultation closes on 28 November 2011.

A draft bioregional plan and proposals for marine reserve networks for the east are being developed. This will be followed by a three month period of community consultation.

Draft bioregional plans and proposals for marine reserve networks for the south-west have gone through a three month consultation which concluded on August 8. Feedback from the community will be incorporated into a final marine reserves network for that region.

Once the draft proposals for the four identified regions are finalised they will be subject to a further public consultation prior to being proclaimed under national environmental law.

For more information on the draft marine bioregional plans and the proposed Commonwealth marine reserves in the North-west and North regions, including details of public information sessions scheduled across the regions, go to