Drivers influencing the marine environment


Drivers influencing the Australian environment are covered in detail in the Drivers report, and readers are encouraged to refer to that report. We briefly summarise the drivers influencing the marine environment here.

Global human population growth—resulting in increased energy and transport requirements, increased demands for food, increased creation of waste, and increased numbers of people wanting to use the ocean for recreational pursuits—continues to be the major driver of marine environmental change (Vitousek et al. 1997, Ruddiman 2013). Although Australia has a relatively low population density, 85 per cent of the population lives within 100 kilometres of the ocean in rapidly growing and increasingly urbanised environments. As well, Australians are living longer. Australia relies heavily on the contribution that its export commodities make to the overall economy, resulting in global market demand having a large influence on resource extraction and use (OECD 2014). Parallel to an increasing and longer-living human population, there is a drive by governments and society to improve overall living standards, develop new economic initiatives and opportunities, increase productivity, and expand the net exports and trade on which Australia already relies heavily for its economic security (e.g. the Developing Northern Australia White Paper).

In total, marine-based industries (e.g. commercial and recreational fishing, energy production, tourism) contributed $47.2 billion to the Australian economy in 2012. They are projected to contribute approximately $100 billion each year by 2025 (NMSC 2015). Resource extraction and production industries contribute to energy security; shipping industries contribute to economic security; wild fisheries contribute to food security; and recreational use of our marine environment contributes to social wellbeing.

Although there are clear benefits to society from these activities, each has the potential to place pressures on the marine environment if not managed for ongoing sustainable use. Further, they have the potential to increase pressures on an environment already undergoing physical and biological modifications associated with climate change, which is altering the physical, chemical and biological properties of the ocean. In association with these changes, species distributions are being altered, including distributions of introduced species. These pressures have flow-on impacts on the many ecosystem services the marine environment provides, including filtering and detoxification, biological production and regulation, atmospheric and climate regulation, nutrient cycling and fertility, and protection of coastal regions (UNEP 2006, Worm et al. 2006, OECD 2012); these ecosystem services are currently estimated to be worth $25 billion to the nation (NMSC 2015).

Although the development of renewable energy industries may reduce our reliance on oil and gas from the oceans, and thereby pressures associated with this form of resource extraction, projections of Australia’s population and economic outlook suggest that, in general, pressures on the marine environment associated with increasing demands for resources and generation of waste will continue to increase (CSIRO 2015, NMSC 2015). Increased coordination between policy-makers, industry and society, supported by targeted scientific research, will be required to sustainably manage pressures placed on the marine environment if it is to maintain or increase societal benefits while maintaining the vital ecosystem services it provides.

Evans K, Bax NJ, Smith DC (2016). Marine environment: Drivers influencing the marine environment. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b657ea7c296