Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Giant Kelp Marine Forests to be protected

Media release
18 August 2012

The giant kelp marine forests of south east Australia will be protected by the Gillard Labor Government in a first for the protection of Australia's marine environment.

Minister for Environment Tony Burke, listed the giant kelp marine forests as an endangered ecological community under national environment law.

"These are the jungles we cannot see and are among our great natural treasures,'' he said.

"They can stand more than 20 metres tall from the seabed to the surface and the abundance of kelp can be as thick as a jungle, providing a haven for marine life.

"After careful consideration of the advice from the Government's independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee, I have decided to list the giant kelp marine forests of south east Australia.

"This is the first time that a marine ecological community has been listed for protection in Australia under national environment law."

The giant kelp marine forests of south east Australia are mainly found from Eddystone Point in the north east of Tasmania along the eastern coastline and around to the southern coast as far as Port Davey.  They can also occur on the northern and western coast of Tasmania and in the coastal waters off Victoria and south east South Australia when conditions are favourable.

"Giant kelp forests are being progressively lost due to a warming of the sea surface temperature caused by climate change, invasive species and changing land use and coastal activities that contribute to increased sedimentation and runoff and biodiversity loss,'' Mr Burke said.

"The giant kelp forests provide valuable ecosystem services for the local environment, such as creating habitat for commercially significant marine species like the black lip abalone and southern rock lobster, filtering sediment before it gets into the wider ocean, and protecting our coastline from storm damage.

"Giant kelp marine forests are also important carbon sinks. It has been estimated that they may be able to hold over 80,000 tonnes of carbon per square kilometre, more than double that of some terrestrial forests.

"They are also home to other threatened marine species including the red handfish and Ziebell's handfish."

Any actions likely to have a significant impact on the giant kelp marine forests ecological community are now required to be referred for assessment under national environment law.

"By protecting this vital ecological community, the Government is ensuring the long-term conservation of one of Australia's most threatened marine ecological communities,'' Mr Burke said.

"A listing under national environment law will provide giant kelp forests with consistent and effective protection across its national distribution over three state water jurisdictions."