Marine Parks (Marine Protected Areas)

Marine Protected Areas, often called marine parks in Australia, are areas of the ocean set aside to protect and restore marine biodiversity.
Marine sanctuaries are highly protected areas within marine parks – free from activities like mining and fishing – that are fundamental for ensuring the future of our oceans.
Our oceans are overused and underprotected. Add your voice today to call for more marine sanctuaries.

Healthy marine life is central to our Australian lifestyle, our livelihoods, our coastal economies and our global reputation.

But our oceans are under threat – climate change, poorly managed fisheries, coastal development, and pollution threaten the health of our oceans. 

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are key tools for ocean conservation, helping to reduce stress on marine ecosystems. Human activities are carefully regulated within MPAs, with different activities allowed in different zones. Multi-use zones, for example, allow certain types of commercial fishing. Zones designed to protect the seabed habitat might allow only recreational fishing. 

Marine sanctuary zones, also known as marine national parks or green zones, are the highly protected zones where no fishing, mining, dumping, or oil and gas extraction is allowed, but we can visit and enjoy seeing the wildlife – they are the golden egg of marine conservation!

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Scientists say that we need to protect at least 30% of our global oceans within well-connected networks of highly protected marine sanctuaries, by 2030. 

Right now, sanctuary areas cover 17% of Australia’s waters, but there are major gaps in the network and many vital habitats remain unprotected – we need to do better.

We need to grow our networks of marine sanctuaries – in both Commonwealth and coastal state waters – to ensure all types of ocean ecosystems are protected. And we need to champion marine protection in areas beyond national borders – the high seas.

As well as establishing networks of marine parks we need to ensure that we tread lightly on our oceans. We need to reduce land-based pollution, make sure our fisheries are sustainable, and take action to address climate pollution.

Our ocean wildlife is under immense pressure and there are not enough sanctuaries to keep the balance. Join us to call for more!

How Marine Sanctuaries Protect Our Oceans

Marine sanctuaries are like national parks on land, where we can enjoy our oceans while boating, swimming, snorkelling and diving, but wildlife and their habitats are fully protected from extractive industries, such as fisheries and oil and gas. They are places where sea life is safe and people can see nature thriving.

It’s simple – if you leave fishes, lobsters and crabs to breed and replenish, over time there are many more and they are bigger than those outside sanctuaries. Just two years after the sanctuary zones were expanded on the Great Barrier Reef in 2004, scientists found that coral trout had increased by 60% in the protected areas. Coral trout, red morwong, mud crabs, rock lobsters, and barramundi are some of the popular seafood species benefiting from the highly protected sanctuaries within marine parks all around Australia. Fisheries benefit too, as these thriving populations spread out beyond the sanctuaries to replenish other areas. Sanctuaries are an insurance policy for the future of seafood.

Read more in our Report

Marine sanctuaries protect our unique, vulnerable marine life such as turtles, sharks and dugongs and the habitats on which they depend. They provide protection for important resting, feeding, breeding and nursery areas for a range of marine life – including migratory species such as whales, sharks and manta rays. Sanctuaries allow fishes to breed, spawn and grow without disturbance. These are vital havens where marine life can recover, thrive and build resilience, buffering the impacts of persistent and ongoing threats such as climate change. They also provide important natural areas for education and research.

What we’ve achieved

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park 

  • AMCS spearheaded the public campaign to protect our Great Barrier Reef in a marine park in 1974, and gain greater recognition as a World Heritage Area in 1982.
  • Working with our conservation partners, AMCS secured the public support that led to full protection of 33.4% of the Reef in sanctuaries (green zones) in 2004.
  • Check out Fight For Our Reef to learn more about our work to protect the GBR

Conservation Wins for Ningaloo Reef

  • Along with our Patron Tim Winton, AMCS and our allies protected Ningaloo Reef, WA (Australia’s largest fringing coral reef) from a major marina development. 
  • With overwhelming support from the public, we secured 34% of the Ningaloo Marine Park in sanctuaries (green zones), and World Heritage listing in 2011. Follow Project Ningaloo to see how we’re addressing current threats to Ningaloo Reef

National Network of Marine Parks

  • For over 45 years, AMCS together with our supporters have campaigned for what is now one of the largest networks in the world. 
  • In 2022, we celebrated the addition of two globally significant marine parks around Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean. Working with our partners in the Save Our Marine Life Alliance, we made sure these marine parks were co-designed with local island communities. They include highly protected sanctuaries areas covering around 739,000 square kilometres – bigger than the Great Barrier Reef!                            

State Marine Parks

  • In 1998, all Australian governments (Commonwealth, State and Territory) agreed to establish a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas. Since this time, AMCS has worked tirelessly with its partners, supporters and scientists to secure MPAs in some of our most iconic areas, like Moreton Bay, Great Sandy, Byron Bay, Lord Howe Island, and the Kimberleys.
  • In 2022, we celebrated three new marine parks on WA’s Kimberley coast. The Bardi Jawi Gaarra, Mayala and Maiyalam Marine Parks are Australia’s first marine parks to be co-designed with Traditional Owners. This is a big win for both culture and conservation. The new marine parks cover 600,000 hectares of Kimberley coastal waters and the 1000 islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago.

AMCS is a key member of Save Our Marine Life – an unprecedented alliance of 27 leading conservation groups working to protect Australia’s marine life and way of life.

The Save Our Marine Life Campaign