Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Beeton RJS (Bob), Buckley Kristal I, Jones Gary J, Morgan Denise, Reichelt Russell E, Trewin Dennis
(2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee), 2006
As an island continent, Australia is responsible for 14.7 million square kilometres of ocean and about 36 000 kilometres of mainland coastline. It extends from tropical systems in the north to Antarctic systems in the south. The resulting diversity of ocean and coastal systems means that Australia is probably the world’s most important jurisdiction for marine biodiversity.
Australia’s oceans comprise those marine areas for which Australia has responsibility. The ‘coasts’ encompass a much smaller area and include only the beaches, estuaries, nearshore islands, reefs and the waters around them. They are at risk of serious degradation because of the pressures on them, including fishing, population growth and urbanisation, pollution, mining, tourism, species invasion from ballast waters, and climate change. There is also an alarming lack of knowledge because there is no systematic national monitoring of many important aspects of Australia’s coastal and ocean systems.
There are no surprises or new issues since 2001. There is still a pressing need to respond to previously identified pressures in order to prevent the continuing slow and cumulative decline in environmental quality. The decline in the status of Commonwealth-managed fisheries is one example. Furthermore, the current forecasts of climate change suggest that changing ocean circulation patterns and sea level changes are likely to have significant effects, for example, on cold water aquaculture. Planning for adaptation to climate variability should be a priority.