In November 2012, the Australian Government fulfilled its commitment to develop a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA) by proclaiming 40 new Commonwealth marine reserves in the South-west, North-West, North and Temperate East Reserves Networks, and for the Coral Sea Marine Reserve. This move added more than 2.3 million square kilometres to Australia’s existing marine estates, bringing the total area of ocean being managed for protection and conservation to 3.1 million square kilometres.

The Commonwealth Director of National Parks (DNP) has prepared five draft management plans1, one for each of five new reserve networks.2 The plans are open for public comment until 14 February 2013.

The management plans will take effect in July 20143 for a period of 10 years. Until such time, there will be no change for individuals and businesses who operate in the new reserves, or to the arrangements for pre-existing reserves. Once the plans commence however, there will be implications for those engaging in activities such as mining, port development, commercial and recreational fishing, and marine tourism.

Commonwealth marine reserves

Australia hosts the third largest area of marine reserves in the world. These are managed under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), which gives the Governor-General power to proclaim an area of sea as a Commonwealth marine reserve. The EPBC Act prohibits certain activities from being carried out in marine reserves except in accordance with the relevant management plan. These activities are:

  • killing, injuring, taking, trading, keeping or moving a member of a native species
  • damaging heritage
  • carrying on an excavation
  • erecting a building or other structure
  • carrying out works
  • taking an action for commercial purposes, or
  • mining operations.


The draft management plans contain maps setting out the boundaries of the reserve itself, and the zones within it.4 The plans will prohibit some activities in areas where they were previously permitted. Potential implications are summarized below.

  1. Mining and oil and gas activities

Mining activities, which includes petroleum exploration and development, will be prohibited within a number of areas, including:

  • Marine National Park zones;
  • Habitat Protection zones;
  • the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve; and
  • parts of the South-west Marine Reserves Network.

Mining activities will be allowed in Multiple Use and Special Purpose zones, provided a permit or approval is provided by the DNP.

  1. Port development and shipping

The general transit of vessels will be permitted in all areas of the marine reserves network, though restrictions on ballast water exchange may apply in sensitive areas.

Activities associated with port operations5 will be permitted in Multiple Use Zones, but not in Marine National Park and Habitat Protections Zones. Permitted activities may be subject to assessment and approval under the EPBC Act.

  1. Commercial and Recreational Fishing

Under the new management plans, commercial and recreational fishing will be allowed in all zones except the highly protected Marine National Park zone. Class approvals must be obtained for commercial fishing in the designated zones, and there will be some restrictions on the use of certain types of fishing gear.

The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities has acknowledged that some commercial fishing businesses will be impacted by the new reserves. To help commercial operators adapt, the Government will implement the Fisheries Adjustment Assistance Package which includes compensation, grants and the purchase of entitlements and quotas where the scale of fishing has been diminished. Delivery of the package will begin this year, after further consultation with the commercial fishing industry.

  1. Marine Tourism

All marine tourism activities that do not involve extracting or harvesting resources will be permitted in the new marine reserves. Such activities include diving, snorkelling and whale watching. These are likely to be managed through permits or approvals.

Activities that do involve extracting or harvesting resources will be prohibited in Marine National Park Zones. There may be similar restrictions in Habitat Protection Zones.

Making a submission

If you would like to comment on the draft management plans, submissions must be lodged with the DNP by 14 February 2013.