Australia's international marine conservation engagement

Australia is a world leader in the management, conservation and sustainable use of the marine environment. Australia maintains an active presence and participation in international marine fora to promote Australia's interests by ensuring effective and complementary approaches to marine conservation, on a regional and global level.

Engagement in regional fora

Australia actively participates in a number of environmental fora and agreements with neighbouring countries in the Asia-Pacific region. These include:

The Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI)

The CTI is a recently formed partnership between Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. The CTI is focussed on improving marine conservation and management and through this, sustainable livelihoods, food security and economic development. Australia is a strong supporter of the CTI and has official partner status. The department leads Australian Government engagement which includes provision of financial, technical and administrative support for the establishment of the permanent Regional Secretariat and support for national scale activities in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste.

Enhancing Pacific Ocean Governance (EPOG)

Australia acknowledges the strong commitment to ocean conservation and management embodied in the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape (the Framework) as agreed by Pacific Leaders in 2010. The Australian Government is supporting this Framework under the $5.4 million Enhancing Pacific Ocean Governance project, an investment funded under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Government Partnership for Development Programme. The overarching goal of the Enhancing Pacific Ocean Governance (EPOG) project is to empower Pacific Island countries and territories to effectively manage marine and coastal resources for sustainable economic development and food security, while maintaining productive ecosystems and biodiversity.

The EPOG project will support regional organisations and Pacific countries to move towards a more holistic, cross-sectoral approach to ocean governance. There are four interlinked components to support actions identified in the Framework, including supporting marine planning, improved oceans data management, maritime boundary delimitation and regional oceans leadership and coordination.

EPOG is a collaboration between Australian public sector organisations (Department of the Environment, Geoscience Australia, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Attorney General’s Department and Sydney University/GRID Arendal) and key Pacific regional and national agencies (Pacific Island Forum Secretariat, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme and the Forum Fisheries Agency) and is working in coordination with other major donor investments in Pacific oceans governance (including investments by France and Germany, and proposed/planned investments by the World Bank and Global Environment Facility).

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The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)

Through the APEC Marine Resource Conservation Working Group (MRCWG), Australia supports the development and implementation of projects that lead to improved sustainability of the marine and coastal environment.

The Arafura and Timor Seas Expert Forum (ATSEF)

ATSEF was established to support the sustainable management and use of the resources of the Arafura and Timor Seas through collaboration between government and non-government stakeholders in Australia, Indonesia and Timor Leste. ATSEF operates under a non-binding memorandum of understanding between the three counties. ATSEF also supports the $3 million Global Environment Facility Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action (ATSEA) program. The department leads Australian Government engagement with ATSEF and ATSEA and also currently acts as National Coordinator for ATSEF Australia.

Australia - France/New Caledonia Coral Sea Transboundary Collaboration

Through collaboration with France-New Caledonia and France under the Coral Sea declaration Australia is working with the research community and other stakeholders to generate a shared understanding of transboundary environmental interests in the Coral Seas as an input to transboundary management. To this end Australia and France-New Caledonia hosted a workshop in March 2013 to provide a scientific foundation for working towards the establishment of complementary management arrangements in relation to trans-boundary interests between Australia and New Caledonian waters in the Coral Sea.

Areas beyond national jurisdiction

‘Areas beyond national jurisdiction’ include the high seas water column and seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea –“UNCLOS”.

Marine areas cover around two thirds of the planet’s surface – and waters beyond national jurisdiction cover 64 per cent of the surface of oceans and seas. Marine areas and biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction are also the least known and least protected areas on Earth.

The use of areas beyond national jurisdiction has grown exponentially over the past decades, presenting risks to biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. Established activities have intensified, while the longer-term impacts of new and emerging activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction are difficult to predict with any certainty.

At present, there is no global, comprehensive international agreement on how biodiversity and marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction should be managed, conserved or exploited.

At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in June 2012, UN Member States agreed to make a decision by the end of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on whether to start negotiations on “an international instrument under UNCLOS” to address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.

The United Nations Working Group

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the international legal framework for the utilisation of the resources of the world's oceans. Australia is a State Party to UNCLOS and its associated implementing agreements and engages in a number of UN fora to strengthen multilateral frameworks for the conservation of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The final meeting, held 20-23 January 2015, of the UN’s Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction recommended that UNGA decide to commence negotiations to develop a legally-binding instrument under UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction. The Working Group also recommended that the negotiations shall address marine genetic resources, including questions on the sharing of benefits, measures such as area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments and capacity building and the transfer of marine technology. It also recommended that the prospective treaty should not undermine existing relevant legal instruments and frameworks and relevant global and sectoral bodies. 

Subject to the endorsement by UNGA (due before the end of September 2015), a Preparatory Committee will commence discussions in 2016 with a mandate to make substantive recommendations to UNGA, by the end of 2017, on the elements of a draft text of an international legally-binding instrument. On the basis of these recommendations from the Preparatory Committee, UNGA will take a decision on the timing of an intergovernmental conference which will have a mandate to finalise and adopt the treaty text. 

Australia’s engagement

As a major coastal nation, Australia has an interest in ensuring the sustainable conservation and use of oceans, including the management of the high seas areas above and adjacent to its continental shelf.

It is in Australia’s national interest to promote effective management of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Australia has a significant maritime jurisdiction which is bordered by the high seas in parts of the Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans.

In 2014 Australia submitted its views on the scope, parameters and feasibility of an international instrument to the UN Working Group. Australia will engage in the United Nations Preparatory Committee which is due to commence discussions in 2016 (details of this committee will be agreed by UNGA in 2015). 

Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs)

The Department of Agriculture leads Australia's engagement on international fisheries issues, including RFMOs. The department works with the Department of Agriculture, with a particular focus on species conservation issues.

Protecting marine species

In addition to domestic measures to protect threatened marine species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Australia engages with the international community to protect threatened marine wildlife.

Regulating international trade in marine species

Australia is one of more than 150 countries that are a party to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Each member country controls the import and export of an agreed list of species that are endangered, or at risk of becoming endangered, due to inadequate controls over trade in them or their products.

Agreements for protecting migratory species

Through the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), Australia is signatory to a number of multilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding that promote the conservation of migratory marine species and seabirds.

International action to protect whales

The key forum for progressing Australia's agenda on whale conservation is the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

See also