As detailed in Section 1.3, the Antarctic Treaty System is the primary international governance framework for the Antarctic region. Australia's engagement within the international forums of the Antarctic Treaty System supports Australia's objectives for protection and management of the Antarctic region, including the AAT, as do a number of pieces of legislation within Australia. Other legislation and organisations are specifically responsible for managing the marine environment.

International engagement

Internationally, Australia has taken a leading role in promoting environmental protection within the Antarctic Treaty System since its inception. Australia actively participates and leads discussions in key Antarctic international forums that include the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, the Committee for Environmental Protection, CCAMLR, the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs, and the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.

Australian legislation

The obligations contained within Australia's international agreements are incorporated into Australian domestic law. The legal regime for the AAT is established in the Australian Antarctic Territory Act 1954. The Antarctic Treaty Act 1960 gives effect to the Antarctic Treaty. Other Australian legislation implements parts of the Antarctic Treaty System into Australian law, including the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980, which gives effect to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid Protocol) and sets out environmental protection obligations for all activities in the Antarctic Treaty area. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) applies to activities undertaken on Australian land (such as the AAT), including those that may have significant impact on matters of national environmental significance. The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources is implemented in domestic law through the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Conservation Act 1981.

The legal regime for Heard Island and McDonald Islands is established in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Act 1953. Under that Act, the Environment Protection and Management Ordinance 1987 provides for the protection of the environment and controls access to the territory. The territory is also a proclaimed Commonwealth Reserve under the EPBC Act and all activities in the territory must be in accordance with the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan.

The Macquarie Island Commonwealth Marine Reserve is adjacent to the Macquarie Island Nature Reserve, which is managed by the Tasmanian Government. The marine reserve is subject to the EPBC Act with activities in the reserve governed by the Macquarie Island Commonwealth Marine Reserve Management Plan. This plan is currently under review and interim management arrangements under the EPBC Act apply until a new management plan is in place.

Marine environment

(This section relates to international agreements of relevance to the Antarctic marine environment other than the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the Antarctic Treaty/Madrid Protocol, which are the primary instruments).

The International Whaling Commission was established in December 1946 when the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was signed by 15 nations, including Australia. The commission operates independently from the Antarctic Treaty System. Currently, there are 89 member nations, and annual meetings are held in the various member countries. A committee of about 200 whale biologists offers scientific advice to the commission.

Seals living in Antarctic waters are protected and managed under agreements separate from the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources . The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals is part of the Antarctic Treaty and was entered into force generally in 1978 and for Australia in 1987. This convention applies to all earless seals, as well as all southern fur seals (Arctocephalus spp.) Currently, there is no commercial sealing.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a United Nations agency that provides international standards for the operation and regulation of shipping and has been active since 1948. The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) is the main technical committee of the IMO that deals with the prevention and control of pollution from ships. In Australia, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority engages in the work of the MEPC. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) is the most important tool of the MEPC in their regulation and prevention of pollution of the oceans. In recent years, a number of vessels operating in the Antarctic Peninsula region reported incidents that highlighted the risk of pollution by heavy fuel oils. Heavy fuel oils are hazardous to the environment because they break down more slowly than other fuels. In 2005, the parties to the Antarctic Treaty initiated discussions with the IMO to limit the use of heavy fuel oils in ships sailing to Antarctica. An amendment to MARPOL 73/78 Annex I that bans the use of heavy fuels in the Antarctic area entered into force on 1 August 2011.

Wienecke B (2011). Antarctic environment: Governance. In: Australia state of the environment 2011, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65b2b307c0