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  • Marine parks: an investment in the future of Australia's oceans

    Marine Parks - an investment in the future of Australia's oceans. Image by Troy Mayne, Oceanic Imagery

Marine Parks

Australia’s Oceans are Special and Worthy of Protection

Australia has an ocean territory twice the size of our land. Our oceans are the third-largest and most diverse on the planet. We have three major oceans, five climate zones, numerous underwater seascapes and a complex system of currents all of which make our oceans unique and marvelled by the world.

Just off our shores we have the largest single reef − the Great Barrier Reef − and the largest seagrass meadow (Shark Bay, Western Australia) on the planet. We also have the third-largest area of mangroves and more than half of the world’s mangrove and seagrass species.

Our oceans provide refuge for a diversity of species including six of the seven known species of marine turtles, 45 of the world’s 78 whale and dolphin species, and 4,000 fish species - 20 per cent of the global total.

Our environment, economy, society and culture are deeply dependent on healthy oceans. Australians are islanders, coastal people. We love the beach, are proud of our coral reefs, and love to get out on the water, boating, swimming, surfing, diving and fishing. It’s a part of our lifestyle.

Our oceans provide us with food, oxygen and a place to work and play.
However our oceans like many around the world have suffered from our use and a lack of protection. Threats such as unsustainable coastal development, overfishing, offshore petroleum extraction and production, introduced marine pests and climate change are taking their toll. Our oceans need protected areas just like on land, place that provide a safe haven where ocean wildlife can recover - without them our efforts to minimise other threats will be undermined.

Creating Marine Parks

Marine parks (also referred to as marine protected areas and marine reserves) are special places, underwater parks that are managed primarily for the conservation of their ecosystems, habitats and the marine life they support. While some people assume that marine parks are closed to fishing and other uses, this is not the case. In Australia, marine parks are multi-use areas and allow a wide range of activities according to different management zones. This may include activities such as recreational and charter fishing; marine tourism such as diving, snorkelling, whale watching; commercial fishing; ports development and shipping; and oil and gas exploration.

Marine parks are an important tool in the toolbox of ocean conservation to help reduce stress on marine ecosystems. As well as establishing networks of marine parks we need to ensure our ocean use is better planned, managed and ecologically sustainable, we need to reduce land-based pollution and take action to address climate change.

Sanctuary zones

Within marine parks there are often highly protected areas called sanctuary zones, green zones, marine national parks or no-take zones. These areas are similar to national parks on land - areas where wildlife and their habitats are fully protected from extractive industries such as fishing and oil and gas exploration.

Anyone can enter marine sanctuaries and enjoy activities like boating, swimming, snorkelling and diving. They are places where sea life is protected and people can see nature at its best.

Sanctuary zones are vital for the protection of the ocean's rich diversity of life. They allow fish to spawn and grow, provide unspoilt natural sites where people can visit and offer areas for education and research. Sanctuary zones offer a way to protect our unique, vulnerable marine life such as turtles, sharks and dugongs and the habitats on which they depend.

Sanctuary zones have been scientifically proven to encourage growth and recovery of stocks of fish and marine life - benefits that can then flow over into areas which are fished.

For example, 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.

The equation is simple - if you leave fish to breed and replenish, over time there will be greater numbers of bigger fish.

We all stand to benefit from better protected oceans. Sanctuary zones act as an insurance policy, and help us to provide a lasting legacy for future generations. They're good for people and good for the sea!

The Sea and Me

The Sea & Me is a home grown film about the extraordinary seas surrounding Australia and the inspiring people who look after them. The Sea & Me has documented stories of Australians whose work and dedication is improving our understanding of the abundant seas around us. Just like many of us, these are people who also consider themselves caretakers of our unique marine life. Watch it now!

Marine parks in Australia

Since 1998 Australia’s commonwealth, state and Northern Territory governments have been working together to establish a National Representative System of Protected Areas (NRSMPA). In 2002 at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, Australia made a commitment to establish a national system of marine parks by 2012.

In Australia there are Commonwealth and State and Territory marine parks and all governments have been working to honour this commitment – some making more progress than others.

Commonwealth marine parks

In 2012 the Federal Government established a network of marine parks throughout Commonwealth waters. The network is vital for the protection of our sea life and the culmination of fifteen years of advocacy, science and consultation. Prior to the 2013 federal election the Coalition announced it would 'suspend and review' the marine reserves if elected. In December 2013, Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced that management plans for our marine reserves would be "redrafted". 

State and Territory Marine Parks

State or Territory marine parks can be created over state or territory waters which start at the coast and generally extend to 3 nautical miles (5.5km) from shore and include bays estuaries and the waters around islands. These marine parks are created and managed under various state and territory laws.