Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Australian State of the Environment Committee, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06751 5
At the Commonwealth level, new legislation enacted since 1996 includes the EPBC Act and the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982. The effects of these Acts are discussed in the Fisheries subsection (see Fisheries).
The necessary cooperation for managing fish stocks which extend across Australia's marine zones is achieved through a council of Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers.
Australia's response to the need for national coordination and consistency of policy following UNCLOS and other international commitments (Ward et al. 1997) was to develop Australia's Oceans Policy, released in 1998. The Policy recognises that ocean ecosystem health and integrity is fundamental to ecologically sustainable development, essentially a triple bottom line approach that recognises the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the oceans. The principles in Australia's Oceans Policy are being integrated into legislative and other Commonwealth management initiatives.
The Policy recognises ocean ecosystems as core national assets which, if managed well, can meet a wide range of economic and other aspirations. Some of the important environmental issues given priority and now under way are:
- development of the National Representative System of marine protected areas,
- development of regional marine plans,
- improved management of fisheries and aquaculture, including bycatch reduction,
- consistent management of ships' ballast water and marine pest incursions,
- phase-out of tributyl tin antifouling paints,
- national standards for marine and estuarine water quality and improved treatment of sewage and stormwater,
- promotion of environmentally sustainable tourism, and
- involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in decisions about marine resources.
One of the key responses for sustainable management of Australia's oceans under the Policy is the development of regional marine plans that will address marine conservation and management issues on the basis of ecosystem rather than jurisdictional boundaries. In 1998 the CSIRO identified a series of regional domains called Large Marine Ecosystems covering the entire EEZ. Regional marine planning will develop and implement management regimes appropriate for biogeographical regions that incorporate one or more of these domains. The National Oceans Office is developing these plans.
The first regional marine plan is for the South-East Region, which closely matches the south-east Large Marine Ecosystem and covers 2.5 million km2 of ocean from southern New South Wales, around Tasmania and Victoria to Kangaroo Island in South Australia. The National Oceans Office released a scoping paper for the South-East Regional Marine Plan in January 2001. Although the Plan concentrates on activities that the Commonwealth manages in the Region, the respective State governments have been invited to take part. Development of the Plan will require finer scale regionalisations of the ecosystems in the South-East Region.
Wescott (2000) has commended Australia for acting rapidly in the development of an ocean policy following the UNCLOS ratification. There are, however, a number of challenges still to be met in the implementation of Australia's Oceans Policy. In particular, there is a need to develop and implement systems that are effective in integrating (as opposed to coordinating) across sectors to meet agreed environmental objectives, and define strategies and targets for sectors to implement.
Another significant Commonwealth initiative since 1996 addresses major coastal and marine management problems identified in the Resource Assessment Commission's Coastal Zone Inquiry Final Report (RAC 1993) and the State of the Marine Environment Report (Zann 1995).
The Coasts and Clean Seas Initiative, funded from the Natural Heritage Trust, was established to combat pollution problems and threats to water quality and marine life in the coastal zone. Eight complementary programs are being supported under the Initiative; a number of these have been referred to in this report. Programs are funded at a community, regional, State/Territory or national level. The Commonwealth funding is $125 million over five years. A mid-term assessment of the effectiveness the Natural Heritage Trust program found that it was having a
'catalytic effect on investment in Australia's natural heritage in coastal and marine areas, with, for example, the $4.8 million approved from the Trust for Coastcare projects in 1997-98 and 1998-99 generating projects with a total value of $28.4 million.' (Natural Heritage Trust 1999).