Marine Bioregional Planning in the EEZ

Marine bioregional plans have been developed by the Australian Government under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) to improve the way Australia’s oceans are managed so they remain healthy and productive. Marine bioregional plans have been prepared under section 176 of the EPBC Act, which requires the Commonwealth Environment Minister to have regard to a bioregional plan in making any decision under the EPBC Act for which the plan has relevance.

Marine bioregional plans were developed by the Department of the Environment and cover the Commonwealth Marine Area (i.e., beyond the outer edge of state/territory waters to the seaward boundary of Australia’s EEZ) in each marine region.

Marine bioregional plans improve understanding of Australia’s oceans by presenting a consolidated picture of the biophysical characteristics and diversity of marine life. They describe the marine environment and conservation values of each marine region, set out broad biodiversity objectives, identify regional priorities and outline strategies and actions to address these priorities.

Through marine bioregional plans, the Environment Minister and Australian government have access to comprehensive information about each marine region. By bringing together scientific knowledge and information from many sources marine bioregional plans:

  • Assist the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment to make strategic, consistent and informed decisions under the EPBC Act in relation to Commonwealth waters;
  • Assist administration of the EPBC Act to promote the ecologically sustainable use of the marine environment and its resources; and
  • Provide a framework for strategic intervention and investment by government to meet policy objectives and statutory responsibilities.

This information also assists people planning to undertake activities within a marine region to determine how to mitigate the potential environmental impacts of their proposals and/or whether their proposals should be referred in accordance with the EPBC Act.

Marine bioregional plans were completed for the South-west, North-west, North and Temperate East marine regions in 2012. There is currently no marine bioregional plan for the South-east marine region. However a bioregional profile for this marine region was completed in 2015. Unlike marine bioregional plans, the South-east Marine Region profile has not been made under §176 of the EPBC Act, but provides a useful source of information about the South-east Marine Region that could inform decisions made under the EPBC Act.

At the end of 2012 Australia declared the largest network of marine parks in the world covering 3.2 million km2 from the cool temperate waters of the South-West to the tropical waters of the Coral Sea. However, the future of the 44 marine parks has been uncertain since 2013, when the incoming government suspended the management plans that had been introduced by the former government. A new set of proposed plans were suggested in September 2016 by an expert review commissioned by the Environment Minister. In July 2017, still another new set of draft management plans was released that downgraded no-take zones where fishing and mining had been banned. Thirty-seven of the 44 marine parks could contain destructive commercial fishing activities like trawling, gillnetting and longlining; and 30 out of the 44 marine parks could be open to mining. The new plans would also reduce by half the high-level protection from Australia’s marine parks network. A total of 355,000 km2 will be removed from the network—roughly the size of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The final decision on the new management plans will be made by the Australian Parliament in 2018.

Updates will be posted on this website as MSP activities in Australia develop.

Last updated: August 2018