Commonwealth marine reserves - Overview

Australia has the world’s largest network of marine reserves - protecting over 3.1 million square kilometres of our marine environment.

What are Commonwealth marine reserves?

Commonwealth marine reserves are areas established under Australian environment law to help us conserve the spectacular marine life in our oceans. They allow ecologically sustainable use of our marine resources and provide special places for people to enjoy and appreciate the fantastic diversity of our marine habitats.

Marine reserves are sometimes known as marine protected areas or marine parks.

Parks Australia manages our Commonwealth marine reserves. The reserves and the zones within them are one of the tools we use to protect our oceans. Others include working with local communities and industries to continually improve how our oceans are managed.

Commonwealth marine reserves are situated in Commonwealth waters. These waters generally extend from  three nautical miles off the coast to the outer limit of Australia’s  Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nautical miles).   Marine reserves closer in-shore are the responsibility of the states or the Northern Territory.

Why do we need marine reserves?

Marine reserves help protect and maintain our unique biodiversity including endangered or threatened species – such as whales and marine turtles and their habitats.
Marine reserves provide for sustainable use, to keep our oceans healthy.

They are important places for families to enjoy boating and diving and in some areas, recreational fishing.

While not designed as a fisheries management tool, marine reserves can enhance fisheries by ensuring places such as breeding grounds are protected.

They also provide opportunities for research and a focal point for education about marine ecosystems.

The creation and effective management of marine reserves is widely regarded, both nationally and internationally, as one of the most effective ways to maintain the long-term health and productivity of our oceans.

Our marine ecosystems

Commonwealth marine reserves represent examples of all the different marine ecosystems and habitats found in the oceans around Australia. They protect important habitats like coral reefs, undersea canyons and seamounts, and the diversity of marine life they support.

To find out more about Australia’s individual marine reserves go to our map and select the area you’re interested in.

For more on the science and planning behind Commonwealth marine reserves go to our science and planning pages.

For more on the legal framework behind Commonwealth marine reserves go to our legal framework pages.

How are marine reserves managed?

Once a Commonwealth marine reserve is proclaimed, Parks Australia has to develop a management plan for the reserve. Management plans can also be developed that cover more than one reserve.

Management plans have a maximum life of 10 years and set out how the reserves are to be managed including what activities are allowed and which zones of the reserve they are allowed in.

In March 2013 management plans were approved for the South-west, North-west, North and Temperate East reserve networks and the Coral Sea marine reserve. These management plans have now been set aside and new plans will be developed as part of the Australian Government’s wider Commonwealth Marine Reserves Review. This means there are no changes ‘on the water’ for users of the new marine reserves until new management plans come into effect.

For the 25 reserves, including the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network, which predated last year’s extension of the Commonwealth marine reserve network, there are also no changes - users can continue to operate under their previous approval or permit. No additional administrative requirements apply.

For more on the management of Commonwealth marine reserves visit our management page.