At a glance
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.
Habitats are the natural capital that support the communities and species that provide ecosystem services and maintain ecosystem functioning. Many initiatives across jurisdictions have prioritised the protection and improvement of healthy marine habitats (e.g. the national strategy for research, development and extension for fisheries and aquaculture [FRDC 2010]; the Australian Fisheries Management Forum’s national statement of intent on fisheries and aquaculture).
The diversity of anthropogenic pressures on marine habitats and communities by different industry and public sectors is a challenge for managers. Some pressures are increasing, others have declined following the implementation of active management frameworks, and new pressures and new industry sectors are developing. Managing the marine environment increasingly requires an understanding of how different pressures interact and how management frameworks might interact across different sectors, and sufficient monitoring to fill gaps in knowledge and provide an early warning of unexpected or infrequent disruptive events.
Varying approaches to the management of the marine environment are implemented around the world. Approaches range from simple controls on what can enter the marine environment and what can be taken from it, to active interventions such as restoration and restocking (Spalding et al. 2013).
Monitoring, evaluation, reporting and management frameworks designed to adapt to new information and changing circumstances are widely recognised as the foundations for effective management (Walters & Hilborn 1978). Widespread engagement of stakeholders helps to ensure that planning is transparent, frameworks are credible and stakeholders have some custodianship in achieving management objectives (Ehler 2014). A clear governance structure, based on sound policy with agreed and measurable management objectives, will support decision-making and provide identifiable indicators against which the implementation of the management system and its impact on target and nontarget resources can be evaluated (Dichmont et al. 2016).
One of the key gaps identified in previous SoE reports, similar reports produced at the state level and numerous other reports reporting on management of the marine environment has been coordination of management systems across jurisdictions. Marine management is required to address global and local pressures, and pressures that originate at a distance from their place of impact, including on land. Management measures should therefore be implemented across multiple scales and multiple jurisdictions, from local, and state or territory, to national and international. Poor coordination across sectors and jurisdictions sharing a common resource can result in redundancy of efforts. More importantly, a jurisdictional inability or failure to account for all pressures on a resource can result in its gradual decline, despite appropriate management at the level of the individual sector or jurisdiction.
Cross-jurisdictional management of Australia’s marine environment remains under the control of the Offshore Constitutional Settlement, adopted in 1979. Under the settlement, each sector’s issues are dealt with separately within agreed arrangements, which include a legislative package, an offshore petroleum package, an offshore fisheries package, a Great Barrier Reef package and new ancillary arrangements (Haward & Vince 2008). Although jurisdictional issues have been addressed within each of these sectors, coordination between sectors remains lacking.
Some progress has been made in implementing systems for reporting and assessing several activities by sectors across jurisdictions. In the fisheries sector, national assessment and reporting of key Australian fish stocks is occurring through a collaboration across all government fisheries agencies. Additionally, a national strategy for research, development and extension for fisheries and aquaculture (FRDC 2010) is in place under the broader National Primary Industries Research, Development and Extension Framework, which is a collaboration between Australian Government and state and territory agencies, and key research providers (see Commercial fishing). The formation of NOPSEMA now provides for national regulation of safety, well integrity, and environmental management of oil and gas operations in Australian waters, and in coastal waters where powers have been conferred by the state or territory (see Marine oil and gas exploration and production). The revised National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies (AMSA 2015) provides a single, national, comprehensive and integrated response arrangement for management of maritime emergencies (see Marine vessel activity).
Several strategies focusing on conservation, biodiversity protection and sustainable development of Australia’s environment have been released, including Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030 (NRMMC 2010), the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Science strategy and information needs 2014–2019 (GBRMPA 2014b) and the National Marine Science Plan 2015–2025 (NMSC 2015). The National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA) has been established, and the management plan for the first Commonwealth marine reserve network in the South-east Marine Region has been implemented (see Environment protection systems).
At the same time, however, several formal frameworks that facilitated national coordination between the Australian Government, and the states and Northern Territory on marine science strategy and investment have been devolved. These include the National Oceans Advisory Group, the Marine and Coastal Committee of the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council and the supporting National Marine Protected Area Working Group.
A comprehensive assessment of the management arrangements for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and their effectiveness is provided in the Great Barrier Reef outlook report 2014 (GBRMPA 2014a) and reviewed in Hockings et al. (2014), and will not be presented here.