Australia as an island nation is dependent on the marine environment for a number of uses including commercial and recreational fishing, shipping, tourism, mining and waste disposal. This increases the pressure exerted on our estuarine and marine natural resources. Australia has a valuable export market in fisheries, yet some are under threat from overfishing. Aquaculture development (see Forestry and fishing) supplements wildstock fisheries, but can introduce its own environmental concerns including increased nutrient loads to coastal waters, increases in chemical and antibiotic use to control disease and possible introductions of exotic marine species.
Australia's economic dependence on shipping increases the likelihood of introduced marine species via ballast water discharges, and the potential of shipping accidents to damage coastal habitats from oil spills. Other pollution sources are introduced by nutrient run-off, stormwater and sewage disposal, and off-shore oil production.
A key response to pressures on the marine environment is the designation of marine protected areas and formulation of threat abatement programs to define and address threatening processes affecting our marine species.
A number of Australia's coastal regions have been listed as protected to reduce the potential impact of human activity. As at June 1997, 38.9 million hectares (3.5%) of Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone were listed as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) (table 14.28). On an international scale, Australia has 24% of MPAs listed in the world (SoE 1996). Of the MPAs listed in Australia, almost 90% lie north of the Tropic of Capricorn, the majority occurring in the Great Barrier Reef (Cresswell and Thomas 1997). Of the 16 Marine Parks listed, 34,480,000 hectares are designated as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Nearly all MPAs in Australia (92.7%) are designated for multiple use, with only a small number dedicated to sanctuaries and preservation (SoE 1996). In 2000 around 60 million hectares were listed as marine protected, but they are yet to be validated by the World Conservation Union which classifies the type of protection offered to a marine area.
Australia's marine region has been classified according to the Interim Marine and Coastal Regionalisation for Australia (IMCRA), developed to define the major coastal regions around Australia. There are 60 regions, the largest of them in tropical waters. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, listed as a Marine Protected Area, has 75-100% coverage over eight different marine regions. In other marine regions, less than 0.01% of their area comprises Marine Protected Areas. The IMCRA marine regions do not necessarily conform to State boundaries (IMCRA Technical Group 1997). Classifying the main coastal regions of Australia will help to identify key environments lacking in conservation protection.
14.28 MARINE PROTECTED AREAS, Australia - 1997
|Aquatic Life Reserve|
|Fish Habitat Area|
|Marine National Nature Reserve|
|Marine Nature Reserve|
C'wealth, NT, Qld, WA
C'wealth, NSW, Vic.
|(a) The total figure for Marine Parks includes the Queensland Department of Environment's seven Marine Parks, with a total area of 4,716,993 ha. They are excluded from the total protected areas figure as they occur within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.|
Source: Cresswell and Thomas 1997.