1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/09/2010   
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It is estimated that 3.2 million tonnes of oil spill into the world's oceans each year from shipping and land-based sources (DEWHA 2003). Oil spills affect marine wildlife by coating their bodies with a thick layer of oil that sticks to fur and feathers, damaging the insulation or waterproofing properties of their fur or feathers. Oil in the environment can also cause problems by poisoning wildlife higher up the food chain, creating health problems and damaging marine mammals immune systems. The oil may also damage estuaries, coral reefs, seagrass and mangrove habitats which are the breeding areas of many fish and crustaceans.

Australia has had a national strategy for responding to maritime oil spills since 1973. This strategy was extended in 1998 to deal with maritime chemical spills in Australian waters, and then became known as the National Plan. It is aimed at providing a prompt and effective response to marine pollution incidents. The plan is designed to protect the community and the environment of Australia's marine and foreshore zones from the adverse effects of oil and other noxious or hazardous substances.

The number of reported oil spills in Australian waters has been decreasing over the past 10 years, falling from 353 in 1998-99 to 140 in 2008-09. Of the 140 reported oil spills in 2008-09, 78 required some type of action under the National Plan. The environmental impact of oil spills depends largely on the size of the spill, the type of oil, the location of the accident and the prevailing weather conditions at the time.

The volumes of oil spilled in Australian waters is unknown and there are oil spills that go unrecorded.


  • Oceans and estuaries glossary
  • Oceans and estuaries references

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