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Department of the Environment and Heritage Annual Report 2003-04

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
ISSN 1441 9335

Review of performance: Outcome 1 - Environment (continued)

Protecting and managing coasts and oceans

The Department contributes to the ecologically sustainable management of Australia's coasts and oceans.

In 2003-04, the Department worked to protect the coasts and oceans by:

This section reports on activities funded using the Department's appropriation for its 'coasts and oceans' output. For more information about the Department's coastal and marine management activities see also:

The Land, Water and Coasts Division and Approvals and Wildlife Division contributed to this output.

Coastal zone

Objective

To establish a national approach to managing the coastal zone effectively - including through protecting water quality and coastal wetlands, which are important to migratory waterbirds, and controlling marine pests.

Activities
National approach to coastal management

The Department is working with state and territory agencies under the Framework for the National Cooperative Approach to Integrated Coastal Management to improve water quality, conserve biodiversity and ensure the use of coastal resources is ecologically sustainable. During 2003-04 the Department finalised the framework, which canvasses coastal issues that will benefit from a national approach:

In October 2003 the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council endorsed the framework. The Department is developing an implementation plan, in consultation with state agencies and other stakeholders.

In addition, under the Natural Heritage Trust, integrated natural resource management plans are being developed across Australia. Improving and protecting the coastal and marine environment is an objective of the plans in coastal regions.

Coastal water quality

The Australian Government's Coastal Catchments Initiative seeks to reduce pollutant discharges into coastal water at 'water quality hotspots'. Under this initiative the Natural Heritage Trust provided $3.9 million in 2003-04 to develop plans and projects to improve coastal water quality. Initial project work was at Adelaide's Port Waterways, the Peel Inlet and Harvey Estuary System, the Derwent Estuary and Douglas Shire waterways.

A particular priority has been to protect the coast adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. The Department worked with managers and stakeholders, including Queensland government agencies, to develop and implement the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan. The plan aims to halt and reverse the decline in the quality of water entering the reef, within ten years.

The Department also administered two specific projects to improve coastal water quality by installing wastewater treatment plants and reticulated sewerage systems at Boat Harbour and Sisters Beach in north west Tasmania.

Coastal wetlands and migratory waterbirds

The Department managed the Great Barrier Reef Coastal Wetlands Protection Programme, which aims to protect and restore coastal wetlands in catchments adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, consistent with the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan. The Department began developing a decision support system, and obtained information about targeting future investment through a review of wetland conservation programmes and incentives.

As an outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Australia and Japan worked to strengthen international cooperation on migratory waterbird conservation in the Asia-Pacific region, and Australia continued to work with the Republic of Korea to finalise a formal bilateral agreement on migratory birds.

Migratory birds are protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The list of migratory birds protected by the Act was derived from the Bonn Convention, which protects migratory species, and from agreements with China and Japan. The Department continued to work with the governments of China and Japan to define which species are considered migratory.

Work continued on a Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds. This plan will set out actions needed to support the survival of species listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The Department is producing the plan in consultation with Wetlands International (a non-government organisation) and other stakeholders.

More information about wetlands appears in the section on 'Inland waters'.

Controlling marine pests

Through the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council, the Department continued work with state and territory governments on national efforts to protect the coastal zone by controlling marine pest plants and animals.

The Department worked with the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry to develop an intergovernmental agreement designed to establish permanent arrangements for a National System for the Prevention and Management of Introduced Marine Pest Incursions (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment). Key elements of the national system are control plans for agreed marine pests of concern and a coastal ballast water management regime. The Ministerial Council is due to consider the agreement in 2004-05.

Result

Work to implement the national approach to management of the coastal zone began. Other work to protect coastal water quality in priority areas and to control introduced marine pests continued. Australia continued to lead the world in protecting and conserving migratory waterbirds and their habitats.

The Department administered Australian Government expenditure totalling $35.880 million on environmental work under the Natural Heritage Trust's Coastcare programme.

Offshore environment

Objective

To ensure uses of offshore resources are ecologically sustainable - including through protecting marine wildlife, and establishing and managing a system of marine protected areas.

Activities
Fisheries assessments

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 requires the Australian Government to assess fisheries management to ensure that it is ecologically sustainable.

During 2003-04, 19 assessments were completed and a further 64 fisheries were under active assessment. The assessments considered impacts on target species (fish sought by the fisheries), by-catch (other organisms caught as a result of fishing), protected species and the ecosystem as a whole. The Department made recommendations to ensure that the management of these fisheries continues to improve.

Marine wildlife conservation

In August 2003 the Minister listed 'injury and fatality to vertebrate marine life caused by ingestion of, or entanglement in, harmful marine debris' as a key threatening process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act1999. A threat abatement plan will be developed to reduce the risks of ingestion and entanglement. The Department contracted a consultant and held national stakeholder workshops in Adelaide and Brisbane to develop the threat abatement plan (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment).

The Department managed projects to determine the ranges of species that are listed under the Act including the Southern Right Whale, Blue Whale and Humpback Whale (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment).

The Department made progress in the development of recovery plans, which are required under the Act to aid in the recovery of populations of threatened marine species, including whales, fur seals and elephant seals. Implementation of Great White Shark and Grey Nurse Shark recovery plans advanced significantly during the year. As well, a National Turtle Recovery Group was set up to address issues such as sustainable Indigenous harvesting and interactions with fisheries.

For more information, see the report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in this annual report.

Marine protected areas

The Department continued to develop the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas by:

These activities were a Natural Heritage Trust national investment, as was continued active management of 13 marine protected areas, 11 of which had management plans in place.

Two court cases relating to illegal commercial fishing in the Great Australian Bight Marine Park (Commonwealth Waters) were concluded successfully. These were the first civil actions by the Minister under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Management of these areas is a statutory responsibility of the Director of National Parks. For more information, see the annual reports of the Director of National Parks at www.deh.gov.au/about/annual-report , or visit the web site at www.deh.gov.au/coasts/mpa.

Displaced fishing effort

The Department worked with other government agencies to develop a policy to manage fishing effort that is displaced when marine protected areas are declared or re-zoned. The Australian Government released the policy in January 2004.

The re-zoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park came into effect on 1 July 2004. It increased the area of the Marine Park closed to fishing, including commercial fishing, from 4.5 per cent to 33 per cent. The Department developed a structural adjustment package to address the impacts on fishers and related businesses affected by the re-zoning.

Result

The Department completed 19 fisheries assessments, bringing the total number of assessments completed to 38. The total number of fisheries requiring assessment was estimated to be 118 as at 30 June 2004. The assessment process is helping to shift the focus of fisheries management away from preserving target species towards maintaining entire ecosystems.

Research and threat abatement planning continued, contributing to the conservation of marine wildlife.

Work on establishing and managing marine protected areas continued. Since 1996, the Australian Government has added 25 million hectares to the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Marine protected area estate managed by Department (1982-2004)

Figure 5: Marine protected area estate managed by Department (1982-2004)(a)

(a) Does not include the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Report on performance information

Tables 9 and 10 report performance results against the indicators in the 2003-04 portfolio budget statements.

Table 9: Conservation and sustainable use of coasts, oceans, estuaries and coastal wetlands (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Accuracy, timeliness and comprehensiveness of advice provided to the Minister on the conservation and sustainable use of coasts and oceans.' Timeframes were met and policy advice met the Minister's requirements
'Extent to which significant marine and estuarine ecosystems are protected and restored.' The National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas, including Commonwealth reserves, state and territory marine protected areas and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, protects approximately seven per cent of Australian marine waters from the coastline to the limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone, excluding the Antarctic Territories. Commonwealth marine protected areas (excluding the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park) protect approximately 4.2 per cent of these waters. In October 2003 the Prime Minister and the Queensland Premier signed the Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.
'Extent to [which] the habitat of threatened marine species, ecological communities and migratory birds is protected and restored.' In addition to marine protected areas, recovery planning continues to enhance protection and restoration of relevant habitat, in particular:
  • the implementation of recovery plans for a number of threatened marine species (Grey Nurse Shark, Great White Shark and marine turtle species); and
  • the development of recovery plans for whales (Blue Whale, Humpback Whale, Sei Whale, Fin Whale and Southern Right Whale), seals (Sub-Antarctic Fur Seal and Elephant Seal), sharks (Whale Shark) and seabirds.
Protection for migratory bird habitats continues to increase, through the identification of sites of international and national importance and the development of arrangements for their effective management.
'Extent to which fisheries assessed under the [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999] move towards ecologically sustainable fisheries management practices.' All assessed fisheries are required to be managed in an ecologically sustainable way. Australia's fisheries assessment process is demonstrating world leadership by shifting fisheries management away from its historical focus on preserving target species towards maintaining entire ecosystems, in line with the aims of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
'Extent to which the introduction and spread of introduced marine pests are prevented or controlled.' Substantial progress was made in implementing the National System for the Prevention and Management of Introduced Marine Pest Incursions, which supports the prevention, emergency management, and ongoing management and control of marine invasive pests.
'Extent to which [the Department] supports effective global and regional protection for biodiversity.' Through the Department, Australia continued its significant cooperative relationship with Japan and China on migratory bird conservation under the Japan-Australia and China-Australia migratory bird agreements. These agreements remain an important foundation of the regional work being undertaken to conserve migratory shorebirds. The Department continued work in the region to conserve marine turtles by actively promoting and supporting the implementation of the Indian Ocean South East Asian marine turtle memorandum of understanding.
'Extent to which [the Department] supports international efforts for the conservation and sustainable development of the oceans.' These functions were transferred in a departmental restructure on 1 July 2003.(a)
'Extent to which the protection of coastal wetlands and migratory waterbirds is enhanced in Australia.' Protection of wetlands and migratory birds continued to increase through the identification of sites of international and national importance and development of arrangements for their effective management.
'Extent to which the objectives of the Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy are achieved.' Substantial progress was made, particularly in the conservation of migratory shorebirds and habitat in the East Asian-Australian Flyway. Work continued with the Government of Japan and Wetlands International to improve regional conservation outcomes for these species.
'The number of Commonwealth marine protected areas and conservation zones, and the proportion of those for which management plans are in place or being developed.' Thirteen marine reserves and one conservation zone (excluding the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park) have been declared in Commonwealth waters. During 2003-04 11 of these had management plans in place. Two marine reserves (at Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs in the Tasman Sea, and at Heard Island and the McDonald Islands in the Southern Ocean) had draft management plans near completion.
'Number of coastal water quality protection plans prepared and/or implemented.' Four water quality improvement plans were prepared targeting water quality hotspots at:
  • the Port River in Adelaide;
  • the Peel-Harvey estuary in Western Australia;
  • the Derwent estuary in Tasmania; and
  • the Douglas Shire at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
These are due for finalisation in 2004-05.
'The proportion of listed species, communities and threatening processes for which plans and/or projects have been developed.' Thirty-four marine and migratory species are listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Recovery plans are in place for 27 per cent of the listed threatened species, draft recovery plans have been developed for 41 per cent, and recovery plans are currently in preparation for the remaining 32 per cent.(b) There is only one listed key threatening process for which a threat abatement plan was recommended during 2003-04 ('injury and fatality to vertebrate marine life caused by ingestion of, or entanglement in, harmful marine debris'). Preparation of this threat abatement plan has commenced.
'Numbers of fisheries management plans and arrangements assessed under the [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999].' Assessments were completed for 19 fisheries. Sixty-four other fisheries are under active assessment. As at 30 June 2004:
  • the total number of fisheries requiring assessment was estimated to be 118 (this total can change depending on export markets, the development of new fisheries, and the amalgamation of existing fisheries); and
  • 38 fisheries assessments had been completed.
'Number of control plans developed for established introduced marine pests.' One control plan was previously developed for northern Pacific seastar (Asterias amurensis). Draft business cases developed for 11 other species, with a view to developing additional control plans.
'Number of [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999] referral, assessment and permit actions completed.' A total of 286 marine-related referrals were considered with 54 referred actions requiring assessment and some 30 relevant permits were issued (see the Director of National Parks annual report at www.deh.gov.au/about/annual-report/ for numbers of permits issued by the Director).
'Number of sea dumping permits completed.' Eighteen permits were granted under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 in 2003-04: eight for disposal of dredged material, one for the placement of an artificial reef, one for the disposal of a seized vessel, and eight for human burials at sea. Seven variations to permits were also issued. This compares with ten permits (six for dredged material, two for disposal of vessels and two for human burials at sea) and five variations in 2002-03.

(a) For information about international oceans governance issues see the National Oceans Office annual report. For information about international whale and seabird issues see the section on Outcome 2 in this annual report.
(b) These statistics exclude listed threatened marine and migratory species that are the responsibility of the Department's Australian Antarctic Division under Outcome 2.

Table 10: Development of sewerage schemes for Boat Harbour and Sisters Beach, Tasmania (administered appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Extent to which project will achieve Government objectives.' Achieved, with wastewater treatment facilities completed at Boat Harbour Beach, and under construction at Sisters Beach.
'Number of milestones achieved compared with those specified in the contract.' All milestones achieved.
Table 11: Pricing information for Tables 9 to 10(a)
Appropriation Estimated price Revised price Actual expenses
Coasts and oceans - Output 1.3 (departmental) $11.715 million $3.631 million $1.473 million(b)
Development of sewerage schemes for Boat Harbour and Sisters Beach, Tasmania (administered) $1.000 million $1.000 million $1.000 million

(a) See also the summary resource tables at the end of this 'Review of performance'.
(b) The difference between the estimated and actual figures arose because the former Marine and Water Division was restructured. Some of its marine-related functions were redistributed to other divisions and attributed to other outputs, especially the 'environmental assessments and approvals' output (see Table 14) and the 'parks and reserves' output (see Table 37).

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