The diversity of anthropogenic pressures on marine habitats and communities by different industries and sectors is a challenge for managers. Some pressures are increasing, others have declined following implementation of management frameworks, and new pressures and new sectors are developing. Managing the marine environment increasingly requires an understanding of how these different pressures interact and how management frameworks will interact across the different sectors, and sufficient monitoring to fill gaps in knowledge and provide an early warning of unexpected or infrequent disruptive events.
Many improvements to management frameworks across Australian Government, and state and territory jurisdictions, including the implementation of new national regulators, have had beneficial outcomes for the marine environment. However, efforts continue to be poorly coordinated across jurisdictions within sectors, although improvements have occurred in some sectors, such as fisheries and management of commercial vessels. Several strategies focused on conservation, biodiversity protection and sustainable development of Australia’s environment have been released, providing frameworks for the coordination of management of the marine environment. Overall, however, coordination between sectors sharing common resources remains lacking, resulting in inadequate accounting for all pressures on a resource, and inconsistent collection and recording of data, which inhibits regional and national oversight. The lack of recognition of the cumulative effects of multiple pressures on marine resources and coordinated approaches to assessing and managing those pressures has the potential to result in gradual declines, despite appropriate management at the level of the individual pressure, sector or jurisdiction.
Mapping cumulative impacts requires spatially explicit information on habitats, communities and species groups; human uses and the pressures generated by human uses; and any feedbacks within the system—information that is frequently unavailable. As a result, assessments of cumulative impacts on the marine environment in Australia to date have been sparse. Modelling frameworks are now starting to provide the means to predict the impact of multiple environmental and anthropogenic pressures. Uptake of integrated approaches to the management of marine natural resources has been slow, and, although approaches such as ecosystem-based management may have been adopted at a policy level, practical implementation has been limited.
Outcomes of environmental protection for marine species and communities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 are mixed. Since the state of the environment 2011 report, no species have been removed from the list, and further species have been added to the list. Some species have been reclassified because of increasing threats, and ineffective management and mitigation of pressures and associated identified threats. There is a clear gap between identification of pressures and issues associated with threats in recovery plans, and implementation of activities that might mitigate pressures and assist the recovery of species or communities that are the focus of plans.
Although the likely effects of climate variability and climate change are understood and some planning is under way, activities resulting from this planning are considered to lack effectiveness in addressing pressures, resulting in an anticipated lack of impact on outputs and outcomes. Continued development of management frameworks for commercial fishing, oil and gas extraction, and commercial vessels have improved their effectiveness, although some components of each and the spatial overlap between jurisdictions still need to be addressed. A risk-based management plan for international and domestic translocations of introduced species implemented under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity came into effect in 2012. The acute impacts of anthropogenic noise are considered to be generally effectively managed; however, understanding of the impacts and management of increasing chronic impacts are lacking. Management frameworks considered to be currently only partially effective include those focused on recreational fishing and traditional resource use, although management of both is improving. The understanding of pressures associated with marine debris is improving from a low base, but planning, actions and outcomes are currently considered to lack effectiveness. Management of emerging industries such as marine mining remains partially effective, with little development of frameworks that might address future pressures.
The National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas is developing steadily, with 40 Commonwealth marine reserves added to those already proclaimed in the South-east Marine Region. Management plans for the marine reserves in the South-east Marine Region have been implemented, and those developed for the remaining reserves have recently been reviewed and are currently under consideration by the Australian Government. Marine parks and reserves now cover approximately 40 per cent of the Commonwealth marine area, and approximately 5–50 per cent of the area of state and territory waters.
Social licence to operate (SLO) is becoming more prominent across sectors. There has been a shift towards government regulation of company–community interactions, and incorporation of SLOs into environmental licensing systems. Many fisheries are now adopting third-party certification schemes through independent bodies such as the Marine Stewardship Council.
Prioritising the use of research and management resources continues to be an issue, because investment of funds and effort is finite. Targeting resources to areas where clear, cost-effective management actions have been identified, preferably as part of an adaptive management cycle, provides one approach to maximise investment returns.