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Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments


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

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Australia's report to the UNCSD - 1996

Implementation of Agenda 21
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 6422 4868 0

Case Study - Oceans

Marine protected areas in Australia

Marine protected areas (MPAs) may be declared under Commonwealth, State or Territory legislation. The planning and management of MPAs is usually the role of more than one government agency. Many different agencies and many different user groups share responsibilities for most areas.

The level of protection can vary between MPAs. Some MPAs, such as the larger multiple-use marine parks, may allow a wide range of activities, including fishing. Protecting the marine environment is still the main objective in these areas, so only activities that do not adversely affect the values of the MPA are permitted. Other MPAs may exclude virtually all human activities.

An MPA can be as large as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (344 000 square kilometres), or as small as Shiprock Aquatic Reserve (less than 0.1 square kilometres). The size of an MPA depends on its purpose. Marine protected areas set aside to protect a particular feature may only need to be small, but those that aim to protect whole ecosystems need to be much larger.

Multiple-use marine protected areas

Probably the best known of Australia's multiple use MPAs is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It extends over almost 2000 kilometres, making it the largest MPA in the world. The park supports more than 1500 species of fish, 350 species of hard coral, over 4000 species of molluscs and more than 240 species of birds. A variety of uses are allowed, with different activities being permitted in different areas depending on the zone. Some areas allow most activities, including fishing, while others allow some tourism activities, but not fishing. Some areas are completely protected from all forms of human activity.

Ningaloo Marine Park is also a large, multiple-use MPA, jointly managed by the Western Australian and Commonwealth Governments. Ningaloo Marine Park includes the longest fringing reef in Australia extending 260 kilometres along the north-west coastline of Western Australia. It supports a large variety of corals, and significant populations of turtles, dugongs, humpback whales and shorebirds. Whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, form aggregations offshore during coral spawning. Ningaloo Marine Park is divided into three zones. The sanctuary zone is a 'look but don't take' area to protect special parts of the coral reef, seagrass beds and mangrove communities. In the general use zone, most types of activity are permitted, including commercial and recreational fishing. The recreational zone allows most recreational uses but prohibits commercial fishing.

Enhancing fisheries and tourism industries

Marine protected areas can protect important fish breeding and nursery areas, such as seagrass beds, mangrove communities and reefs. Here, eggs, larvae and young fish can develop unhindered. For example, the extensive seagrass meadows of Swan Bay Marine Reserve in Victoria provide feeding and nursery habitats for important commercial fish species.

As well as helping to ensure that stocks of commercial fish are maintained, MPAs have other economic values. The natural features found in MPAs make them popular areas for recreational and tourism activities such as snorkelling and scuba diving. For example, the increasing number of tourists, particularly divers, visiting Bicheno in Tasmania since the establishment of the nearby Governor Island Marine Nature Reserve has benefited the local economy.

Protecting endangered or threatened species and habitats

While most endangered or threatened species have direct protection (that is, it is prohibited to harvest or collect them), it is also important to protect their habitats. For example, Seal Bay Aquatic Reserve in South Australia was established to provide sanctuary for the rare Australian sea lion. This reserve is one of the largest breeding areas for this species in the world.

Another example of an MPA aimed primarily at protection of species and their habitat is Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve in the Timor Sea west of Darwin, less than 200 kilometres from Indonesia. Its reefs have the greatest abundance and variety of sea snakes in the world. Its three sand cay islands support very high concentrations of seabirds, seventeen species of which breed in the area. Over-harvesting of fish, molluscs, b che-de-mer and turtles by Indonesian fishermen at Ashmore Reef in the past were a major concern. A Memorandum of Understanding between the Governments of Indonesia and Australia allows the Indonesians who traditionally used the area to continue to do so, but only in permitted areas. The breeding success of seabirds and turtles has increased since the MPA was established.

Providing opportunities for research

By providing natural areas that are protected from most human impacts, many MPAs have an important role in scientific research. West Island Aquatic Reserve in South Australia was established to protect locally exploited abalone, so that scientists could undertake long-term ecological and population studies on the recovery of the species. MPAs can also be used to study the effects of human activities on the marine environment, by comparing a marine protected area that has little impact from humans with a nearby unprotected area.