Environment protection systems

2016

Australia has more than 100 laws and policy instruments addressing aspects of management of the marine environment, and many incorporate principles such as sustainable development (Haward & Vince 2008). Managing the marine environment involves Australian Government, and state and territory jurisdictions, with separate but overlapping legislation, policies and environmental programs.

Australia’s Oceans Policy, initiated in 1998, lacked agreement between the Australian Government and states and territories, and the first regional marine plan considered under this umbrella proved difficult to develop. The policy was reviewed in 2002 and effectively disbanded in 2005 (Haward & Vince 2008, Vince et al. 2015). However, it did lay the foundation for the regional marine plans, which were subsequently carried out under the EPBC Act.

Australian Government

The key piece of legislation that upholds protection of Australia’s biodiversity and environment is the EPBC Act. The EPBC Act provides a national scheme under which matters of national environmental significance are directed to the Australian Government; the states and territories are responsible for environmental matters of state and local significance.

There are 9 matters of national environmental significance, 6 of which are relevant to the marine environment:

  • World Heritage properties
  • National Heritage places
  • listed threatened species and ecological communities
  • migratory species protected under international agreements
  • Commonwealth marine areas
  • the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Approval under the EPBC Act is required if an activity is likely to have a significant impact on any of these. Key criteria are identified in determining what a significant impact is in relation to each of the matters of national environmental significance, and a precautionary approach is taken when determining whether a significant impact is ‘likely’ (DoE 2013). Activities carried out under the EPBC Act include:

  • protection of listed threatened species and communities
  • protection of species under international agreements to which Australia is party
  • assessment of activities that are likely to have a significant impact on the environment, such as fisheries, energy production and defence activities
  • marine bioregional planning and, in association, implementation and management of Australian marine areas
  • management of World Heritage places.

A wide range of species and species groups are protected under the EPBC Act (Table MAR4). In some cases, this is because their populations are identified as being threatened and requiring protection, whereas, in others, it is because they are listed under international agreements to which Australia is a signatory. For example, under the EPBC Act, all marine mammals in Australian waters are listed as either cetaceans or marine species, and several species identified as being migratory (e.g. seabirds, sharks, rays, marine turtles) are also listed. Since 2011, no species has been removed from the list; 2 sea snakes, 2 seabirds, 2 sharks, 1 sawfish and 1 fish have been listed; and 2 fish species have been reclassified as critically endangered. The east coast and west coast Australian populations of humpback whales remain listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act, although they have increased substantially from pre-whaling levels, with the eastern population considered to be close to carrying capacity (Noad et al. 2011) and no longer at risk of extinction. Their reclassification under the EPBC Act to reflect the increase in populations would highlight a conservation success (Bejder et al. 2016).

Table MAR4 Number of marine threatened species listed under the categories of the EPBC Act in the marine environment jurisdictions covered by this report

Species group

Extinct

Critically endangered

Endangered

Vulnerable

Conservation dependent

Whale, dolphin, porpoise

0

0

2

3

0

Seal, fur seal, sea lion

0

0

0

3

0

Marine turtle

0

0

3

3

0

Sea snake

0

2

0

0

0

Seabird

0

2

10

24

0

Shark, skate, ray

0

2

2

6

3

Fish

0

2

0

2

4

Seastar

0

0

0

1

0

Seaweed

1

0

0

0

0

EPBC Act = Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Note: Species do not include shorebirds (refer to the Coasts report), or subantarctic or Antarctic species (refer to the Antarctic report).

Source: EPBC Act List of Threatened Flora and Fauna

In response to the listing of species, conservation advice is developed that provides guidance on immediate recovery and threat abatement activities that can be undertaken to ensure the conservation of a newly listed species or ecological community. For some species and ecological communities, recovery plans may also be developed, although they do not provide a mechanism for subsequent implementation. Adopted recovery plans generally span 5 years, but this may be shorter or longer, depending on the requirements of the species or ecological community. At the end of the period of the plan, progress against the plan’s objectives is reviewed. Further recovery plans may be put in place following the review. Recovery or management plans are in place for 42 species, and a further 8 have been identified as requiring plans to be prepared. A recovery plan for giant kelp forests of south-eastern Australia is yet to be prepared.

The EPBC Act identifies a number of key threatening processes to the environment and coordinates responses to these through threat abatement plans. In the marine environment, 3 key threatening processes have been identified:

  • incidental catch of marine turtles by trawling operations
  • incidental catch of seabirds by longline operations
  • entanglement or ingestion of marine debris by marine vertebrates.

Threat abatement plans have been developed for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine life (DEWHA 2009a) and the incidental catch (or bycatch) of seabirds during oceanic longline fishing operations (DoE 2014). The threat abatement plan for the entanglement or ingestion of marine debris by marine vertebrates was recently reviewed (DoE 2015b). The review concluded that, despite progress, particularly in clean-up efforts, it was not possible to state that criteria for success had been met during the life of the plan, and the plan should be revised. In addition, the Australian Senate referred an inquiry into the threat of plastic pollution in Australia and Australian waters to the Environment and Communication References Committee in 2015, and the report detailing the Committee’s findings was released in 2016 (ECRC 2016; see also Marine debris).

The EPBC Act provides for the proclamation and management of marine reserves, with reserves managed in accordance with principles prescribed for the International Union for Conservation of Natures internationally recognised set of protected area management categories. An NRSMPA has been developed for Australian marine waters—it was first identified by the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment 1992, and agreed to by the Australian and state and territory governments in 1998. The marine bioregional planning process provides the support framework for implementing the NRSMPA in the Commonwealth marine area, with the aims that the NRSMPA be comprehensive, adequate and representative, and, among other criteria, minimise socio-economic costs arising from displacing activities and resource access (National Principle 9; DEWHA 2009b).

The first network of 14 Commonwealth marine reserves (CMRs) was proclaimed in the South-east Marine Region in 2007, before the start of the marine bioregional planning program. Draft marine bioregional plans and marine reserve network proposals were produced for each of the remaining marine regions in 2011–12. The proposed network was reported to include areas accounting for 1 per cent (by value) of Australia’s annual commercial catch, and would have closed 4 per cent of Commonwealth waters within 100 kilometres offshore to recreational fishing. The plans were contentious among stakeholders and the public; after 245 public meetings, involving about 2000 people, an additional 566,377 written submissions were received, most focusing on the draft marine reserves network proposals. A further approximately 80,000 submissions were received focusing on the final network proposals. In November 2012, 40 CMRs were proclaimed in the South-west, North-west, North, Temperate East and Coral Sea marine regions, completing the NRSMPA in the Commonwealth marine area. Following continuing disquiet from some stakeholders, the CMRs were reproclaimed in December 2013, and the management plans for all regions except the South-east were set aside. The 10-year South-east Management Plan came into effect in 2013, with management under the Director of National Parks in accordance with the EPBC Act. A review of the new CMRs and how they are to be managed started in August 2014, with further extensive stakeholder consultation. Two reports (a review by a scientific panel and a review by a bioregional advisory panel) were released in August 2016.

Reviews of the CMRs identified that there was a general lack of coordination across the network, and inconsistencies in zoning and allowable uses, particularly with the remainder of the NRSMPA. These inconsistencies could result in complexities in management across the network, making varying compliance and enforcement across the network difficult for users to understand (Buxton & Cochrane 2015). It was also identified that a robust adaptive management approach based on well-targeted long-term monitoring and evaluation would be required if management of the CMRs was to be effective and efficient. There would need to be significant investment in new infrastructure and capability beyond that currently provided, to provide adequate coverage of the CMRs in support of adaptive management of the CMRs and Australia’s marine estate in general (Beeton et al. 2015). Continuing support for IMOS and the Australian Ocean Data Network was identified as a vital part of the monitoring process. Overall lack of clarity around the conservation objectives of the CMRs was highlighted as needing to be addressed, to identify and address potential risks and impacts of activities, and to assist in the development of performance indicators that could be measured (Buxton & Cochrane 2015). Greater consultation of stakeholders in the development, management, monitoring and reporting of the CMRs through the implementation of robust, sustainable and effective mechanisms for engagement was also highlighted as a requirement. In particular, involvement of Indigenous communities in the planning and management of the CMRs, particularly where land and sea Country rights and responsibilities extend into the CMRs, was needed (Buxton & Cochrane 2015). The recommendations made by the reviews are currently being taken into consideration in the preparation of draft management plans for the CMRs.

The iconic nature of Australia’s marine environment and the need to protect the environment is recognised internationally; the Great Barrier Reef, the Lord Howe Island Group, the Ningaloo Coast and Shark Bay have all been listed as World Heritage Areas under the World Heritage Convention. As a party to the convention, Australia has committed to implementing management plans, and a system that ensures the effective protection of each site for present and future generations, with the Australian Government having primary responsibility for these. Management of World Heritage Areas varies—some are managed by the Australian Government and some by relevant state agencies. The Great Barrier Reef is managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which is tasked with managing the marine park under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975.

A joint monitoring mission by the World Heritage Centre and the IUCN visited the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) in 2012 amid concerns of increasing impacts from ongoing environmental pressures. In 2015, and following announcement of the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan (Australian Government & Queensland Government 2015), the World Heritage Committee determined that it would not list the GBRWHA as ‘in danger’. It requested a state of conservation report in 2019 and an update on progress with implementation of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan to be submitted in December 2016.

Beyond the EPBC Act, the Australian Government has a complex set of policies and legislation in place to regulate and manage use of the marine environment (Table MAR5). Key Acts include:

  • the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 and the Fisheries Management Act 1991 for the regulation and management of commercial fisheries by AFMA
  • the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006, under which offshore petroleum activities are managed by NOPSEMA
  • the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Act 1990, the Navigation Act 2012 and the Shipping Registration Act 1981 for the regulation and management of marine vessels by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), and the Australian Government Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
  • the Biosecurity Act 2015 for the regulation and management of biosecurity risks associated with goods, people and conveyances entering Australia, including introduced species
  • the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983, the Protection of the Sea (Harmful Anti-fouling Systems) Act 2006 and the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 for the regulation and management of marine pollution, marine debris and wastes; AMSA is responsible for the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 and the Protection of the Sea (Harmful Anti-fouling Systems) Act 2006, and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy is responsible for the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981
  • the Offshore Minerals Act 1994 for the regulation and management of marine mining by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
  • the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 for the regulation and management of electricity generation from renewable energy sources by the Clean Energy Regulator.

    Table MAR6 Legislation for protecting the marine environment and regulating key pressures across Australian jurisdictions

Legislated pressure or item

Australian Government

NSW

NT

Qld

SA

Tas

Vic

WA

Threatened species

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Climate change (greenhouse gas emissions reduction)

No

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Fishing

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Traditional use of resourcesa

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

Yes

Oil and gas exploration and production

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Marine mining and industry

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Marine renewable energy generationb

Yes

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

No

Vessel activity

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Pollutants, debris and wastes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

NSW = New South Wales; NT = Northern Territory; Qld = Queensland; SA = South Australia; Tas = Tasmania; Vic = Victoria; WA = Western Australia

a In the Northern Territory, the Indigenous Fisheries Development Strategy 201214 aims to review and update the definition of ‘customary fishing’ in the Northern Territory Fisheries Act 1988, so customary fishing rights are enshrined in the Act. In NSW, the Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Interim Access is in place until an amendment of the Fisheries Management Act 1994 is enacted. In Victoria, amendments to fisheries legislation and regulations are being developed to remove inconsistency with the Native Title Act 1993 under the Victorian Aboriginal Fishing Strategy.

b Most jurisdictions do not have legislation specific to renewable energy; however, electricity generation from renewable sources is incorporated into legislation regulating electricity generation.

State and territory governments

The states and the Northern Territory have a complex set of policies and legislation in place to protect, regulate and manage activities in the marine environment (Table MAR6). All have equivalent agencies and responsibilities covering the marine environment in state and territory waters, although they vary in the way that they are structured and operate.

Systems for listing threatened species operate in all states and the Northern Territory (Table MAR7), and some jurisdictions (e.g. New South Wales) have mechanisms for listing key threatening processes. Processes for listing particular species are specific to each state and territory. Species that are listed under state or territory legislation may differ from those species listed under the EPBC Act, and species may be listed under different categories in different jurisdictions. For example, under the EPBC Act, leatherback turtles are listed as endangered, whereas, under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2014 (NT), the species is listed as critically endangered. In addition, classifications across jurisdictions can also differ because of differing classification frameworks. For example, species can be classified as extinct, endangered, vulnerable or rare under the Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 (Tas), whereas, under the Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulation Act 2006 (Qld), they can be classified as extinct in the wild, endangered, vulnerable or near threatened. Some states (e.g. New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia) also list ecological communities.

Table MAR7 Number of threatened species (various categories) identified under state and territory legislation in the marine environment jurisdictions covered by this report

Species group

NSW

NT

Qld

SA

Tas

Vic

WA

Whale, dolphin, porpoise

4

0

3

21

4

3

6

Seal, fur seal, sea lion

2

0

0

2

1

1

1

Marine turtle

3

5

6

3

4

1

6

Sea snake

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

Seabird

22

0

12

20

18

19

20

Shark, skate, ray

0

5

2

0

2

1

3

Fish

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

Starfish, sea cucumber

0

0

0

0

0

8

0

Seaweed

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

Other

0

0

0

0

0

3

0

Systems of marine reserves have been implemented across all states and the Northern Territory (Table MAR8), some of which contribute to the NRSMPA. New marine reserves declared since January 2011 and reported in the 2014 Collaborative Australian Protected Area Database include reserves in the Northern Territory (675 square kilometres), Queensland (256 square kilometres), Tasmania (31 square kilometres) and Western Australia (10,055 square kilometres).

Since 2011, several states have introduced strategies, management plans and initiatives relating to marine conservation areas, including:

IUCN category

Australian Government

NT

Qld

NSW

Vic

Tas

SA

WA

Total

IA

2,122

0

411

0

21

1

3,127

3,126

8,808

IB

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

II

1,075,760

0

16,607

666

533

328

3,100

8,754

1,105,748

III

0

0

0

0

109

0

7

631

745

IV

579,548

0

8,996

1,688

0

13

15,199

4,181

609,625

V

4,326

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

4,373

VI

1,287,733

2,909

17,697

1,134

681

179

8,318

11,543

1,330,194

Total

2,949,489

2,909

43,711

3,488

1,344

568

29,751

28,235

3,059,493

% of total jurisdictional area

40.59

4.05

35.83

39.63

13.16

2.54

49.56

24.40

39.85

IUCN = International Union for Conservation of Nature; NSW = New South Wales; NT = Northern Territory; Qld = Queensland; SA = South Australia; Tas = Tasmania; Vic = Victoria; WA = Western Australia

Note: The table does not include the reserves or that area of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) surrounding Macquarie Island (reserves: 162,756 km2, EEZ: 471,837 km2), and Heard Island and McDonald Islands (reserve: 70,953 km2, EEZ: 410,722 km2); see the Antarctic report for marine parks and reserves in the subantarctic and Antarctic regions. The table does not include marine Indigenous Protected Areas, as they are currently not listed in the Collaborative Australian Protected Area Database. The area of the Australian Government marine parks and reserves includes the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, of which approximately 77,329 km2 is within Queensland state waters. It also includes those parts of the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas for which management plans are yet to be implemented. The area of the Queensland marine parks and reserves includes a portion that are in Commonwealth waters, the majority associated with the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park (approximately 13,600 km2). Marine areas were derived from the Maritime Boundaries Program, Geoscience Australia. Areas have been rounded to the nearest kilometre.

Source: Collaborative Australian Protected Area Database

The variety of marine planning by Australian jurisdictions leads to a complex spatial management structure. For example, some areas can be subject to specific fishery zoning and spatial biodiversity management plans, while also focusing on management of oil leases, oil wells, vessel activity, commercial fishing and other marine uses (e.g. Figure MAR35). These are all managed independently of each other and, in some cases, are managed separately and independently across jurisdictions. There are, however, some consultative mechanisms either currently in place or being developed across jurisdictions to facilitate consultation and assist with decision-making (e.g. the Australian Fisheries Management Forum and the North East Water Space Management Group, which bring together government agencies from Australian, and state and territory jurisdictions).

Several states (e.g. Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia) prepare reports on the status of the environment as a requirement of environmental legislation. Similarly to this national SoE report, they provide regular updates on the current state and key pressures influencing the environment to assist with decision-making in each jurisdiction (see EPA WA 2007, TPC 2009, DEHP 2011, NSW EPA 2012, CESV 2013, EPA SA 2013).

Evans K, Bax NJ, Smith DC (2016). Marine environment: Environment protection systems. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/marine-environment/topic/2016/environment-protection-systems, DOI 10.4226/94/58b657ea7c296