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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

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2 May 2008

UN confirms Australia’s rights over extra 2.5 million km² of seabed

Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson has welcomed the findings of the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in New York, confirming Australia’s jurisdiction over an additional 2.5 million square kilometres of seabed.

The Commission’s findings confirm the location of the outer limit of Australia’s continental shelf in nine distinct marine regions and Australia’s entitlement to large areas of shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. 

The decision means Australia now has jurisdiction over an extra 2.5 million square kilometres of continental shelf. It gives Australia the rights to what exists on and under the seabed, including:

The Australian continental block

A computer-generated image of the Australian continental block. Image courtesy of Geoscience Australia.

"This is a major boost to Australia’s offshore resource potential and also to our ability to preserve the marine environment on the seabed," Mr Ferguson said. 

"It demonstrates that Australia’s effective engagement in law of the sea matters delivers results. In many respects Australia has also led the way for other countries looking to confirm their continental shelf boundaries through the Commission. The Government will move quickly to proclaim the outer limits of the Australian continental shelf into law on the basis of the recommendations of the Commission."

 

Australia and New Zealand affirm close relationship on whale conservation

Sperm whale

A sperm whale in Pilot Bay off the west coast of Tasmania. Image courtesy Rick Eaves.

New Zealand and Australia will continue to work together to lead the global debate on the conservation of whales.

“By working together, we believe Australia and New Zealand can maximise their efforts for international whale conservation” Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett said.

The two Ministers met in Melbourne in April where they were attending meetings of all Australian ministers of conservation and environment. Their discussions focussed particularly on concerns over the continuation of so-called ‘scientific’ whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, and proposals to improve the functioning of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

“We are not only anti-whaling, we are pro-conservation. It is time to move beyond the old debate about whaling quotas and to recognise that in the 21st century we need to discuss goals for whale conservation,” Mr Garrett said.

The ministers agreed that it was important to continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the problems of whaling in the Southern Ocean and continue discussions on reforms commenced in London.

They also agreed that the proposals to reform the processes of IWC, which Australia put forward earlier this year, need to be supported by the wider IWC community so that they can achieve their full effect of bringing the organisation into line with modern standards and expectations.

New Zealand Conservation Minister Steve Chadwick said the IWC needed to become a properly functioning, modern organisation that recognised public sentiment on the issue of whaling..

Officials from both countries have been asked to work together in the lead up to the next meeting of the IWC in June this year. The Ministers agreed they would continue their dialogue and work closely together at the meeting.

New vessel to protect remote north-west waters

The Ashmore Guardian

The Ashmore Guardian. Image courtesy Australian Customs Service.

The fight against environmental degradation, illegal fishing and people smuggling in Australia's remote north-west will be boosted with the new Australian Customs vessel Ashmore Guardian set to become a permanent presence in the area.

Minister for Home Affairs Bob Debus and Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett said that the Ashmore Guardian signals a new era in surveillance and enforcement.

Mr Debus said the 35 metre long, 339 tonne vessel was a specially modified commercial fleet support ship capable of carrying up to 10 Customs officers and other officials.

"It will give Customs the ability to conduct operations on a near continuous basis at the Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island Marine Reserves," Mr Debus said.

Mr Garrett said the presence of the Ashmore Guardian would be a great boost for monitoring and management of activities in the Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island Marine Reserves.

"These reserves are internationally significant coral ecosystems that are threatened by illegal fishing," Mr Garrett said.

"Turtles, dugongs, sharks and seabirds use these reserves for feeding and breeding and the presence of the Ashmore Guardian in the area will be an excellent deterrent against illegal fishing.

"We know that illegal fishing for turtle, shark fins, sea cucumbers, trochus and giant clam shells has occurred in the area. The Ashmore Guardian will be a constant reminder of the Australian Government's determination to protect this remarkable environment."

The Ashmore Guardian will enhance surveillance and enforcement activities undertaken by Customs and Australian Defence Force aircraft and patrol boats which are coordinated by the Border Protection Command to protect Australia's offshore maritime areas.

The two marine reserves, covering an area of 750 km², are about 320 km off the Australian coast but only 150 km south of the Indonesian Island of Roti.
Traditional Indonesian fishermen are allowed to fish in the area under a Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Indonesia, however, traditional fishing in Ashmore Reserve is restricted to a small area and is for personal use only.

Return of Japanese whaling fleet to port

Minke whale

A minke whale. Image courtesy Matt Curnock.

The Australian Government is disappointed that 551 minke whales were killed during the 2007/08 summer, and both pleased and relieved that Japan did not proceed with the hunt of humpback or fin whales.

It remains Australia’s firm view that there is no scientific justification for Japan’s whale hunt in the Southern Ocean.
The Government's objective continues to be the cessation of whaling by Japan in the Southern Ocean.

The Government will continue to work to bring an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean, including through bilateral discussions with Japan and at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in June this year.

As part of the Government’s initiatives against whaling, the Oceanic Viking monitored the whaling fleet for several weeks in January and February.

The Oceanic Viking operated in a safe and non-confrontational manner while performing its monitoring and evidence gathering mission. It was in regular communication with the whaling fleet throughout.

Over the course of the whaling season, the Australian Government called repeatedly for all vessels in the Southern Ocean to exercise restraint and condemned all violent or illegal activities that could endanger safety or lives at sea.

Despite these calls, several incidents occurred that could have led to injuries or fatalities.

The Australian Federal Police is continuing its enquiries into incidents involving the Sea Shepherd during this period. The Australian Government welcomes the continuing close cooperation between Japanese and Australian law enforcement authorities on these matters.

New report on marine biodiversity decline

Great Barrier Reef

Underwater scene, Great Barrier Reef. Image courtesy Glen Cowans.

A new report that sets out a proposed cross-jurisdictional response to marine biodiversity decline has been released and is available for downloading on the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts website.

A National Approach to Addressing Marine Biodiversity Decline is a report to the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council representing relevant Ministers of the Australian Government and those of all states and territories. It was endorsed by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council on 18 April 2008.

The report identified the five most significant, broad-scale threats to marine biodiversity, where existing responses should be enhanced and where national-scale attention is required for new actions. The five threats are: climate change, resource use, land-based impacts, marine biosecurity and marine pollution.

The report was prepared by the Marine Biodiversity Decline Working Group reporting to the Marine and Coastal Committee. The Working Group was chaired by the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. It can be downloaded at: http://environment.gov.au/coasts/publications/marine-diversity-decline/

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