Australia’s marine environment is part of the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Southern Ocean. It covers a diversity of seascapes and unique biodiversity values associated with tropical and Antarctic waters, from the shoreline to the abyss. The outer boundary of Australia’s marine jurisdiction adjoins international waters, as well as the boundaries of several other countries and territories, predominantly in subtropical and tropical waters, including Indonesia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and the French territory of New Caledonia (Figure MAR1).
For the purposes of managing the marine environment, in broad terms, Australia’s marine territory can be divided into 3 jurisdictions (Figure MAR1), which reflect the role of the state, Northern Territory and Australian governments, and the terms of international agreements and conventions:
- coastal waters extending 3 nautical miles from the adjusted low-water line and managed by the state and Northern Territory governments
- the territorial sea, extending to 12 nautical miles, and the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), extending 200 nautical miles from the adjusted low-water line; the waters outside coastal waters are managed by the Australian Government
- the extended continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, proclaimed by Australia in 2012 following the recommendations of the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf; the seabed and the nonliving resources of the shelf, but not the water column and its resources, are under the jurisdiction of the Australian Government.
The outer limit of Australia’s full marine jurisdiction is now largely in place. The exceptions are 2 small areas associated with the Joey Rise on the Exmouth Plateau and Williams Ridge on the Kerguelen Plateau, which are subject to a potential new or revised submission, and a small area of potential continental-shelf delimitation with France to the north-east of Norfolk Island. Further, a permanent maritime boundary delimitation between Australia and Timor-Leste has been set aside for up to 50 years under the 2006 Treaty between Australia and the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (Symonds et al. 2009).
Boundaries and jurisdictions within the area managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority are slightly different from those described above, and are described in the Great Barrier Reef outlook report (GBRMPA 2014a).
In this report, we focus on the marine environment within Australia’s EEZ adjacent to the continental land mass and associated islands north of the Subtropical Front (Orsi et al. 1995, Rintoul 2000). Australia’s subantarctic and Antarctic marine environments are discussed in the Antarctic environment report. The direct interfaces between the land and the ocean, estuarine and enclosed embayments and habitats, and communities and species groups predominantly associated with these regions are discussed in the Coasts report.