At 13.86 million square kilometres, Australia’s marine environment is the third largest marine jurisdiction in the world (Symonds et al. 2009). It is home to a diverse array of marine species, including marine mammals and reptiles; more than 4000 species of fish; and tens of thousands of species of invertebrates, plants and microorganisms. Many of Australia’s marine species occur nowhere else in the world; others use Australian waters as part of extensive migrations or movements. Our oceans also contribute to the lifestyle of many Australians, 85 per cent of whom live within 100 kilometres of the ocean (NMSC 2015). The oceans are also an essential part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s cultures, customs and traditions.
Australia’s vast ocean territory is a valuable asset. It makes a substantial contribution to the national economy, and this contribution is expected to increase as part of the emerging ‘blue’ economy.1 Our ocean species support commercial fisheries and aquaculture that were worth $2.5 billion in 2013–14 (Savage & Hobsbawn 2015). The economic value of resources extracted from our oceans is expected to more than double from $32 billion in 2012–13 to $67 billion by 2029–30 (APPEA 2015). By 2025, Australia’s marine industries are expected to contribute around $100 billion each year to our economy (OPSAG 2013, NMSC 2015). Australian species and our natural marine treasures—such as the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Lord Howe Island in New South Wales, the Great Australian Bight in South Australia and Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia—stand as icons of Australia’s national identity and support important revenue from marine tourism. Importantly, our oceans and coasts provide a further $25 billion worth of essential ecosystem services, such as carbon dioxide absorption, nutrient cycling and coastal protection (Eadie & Hoisington 2011, NMSC 2015). Benefiting from the value of our oceans requires effective management, including conservation, and the sustainable use of the environment and living resources.