Australian Marine Parks

Now that there are marine parks, what has changed?

The establishment of marine parks at Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands is significant nationally, regionally and globally - 744,000 square kilometres of Indian Ocean around these islands is now protected for future generations and Australia’s network of marine protected areas now covers all marine regions in the country.

Some activities and projects to manage and protect the marine park will commence immediately, while others will take time to implement. For example:

  • $5.4 million has been allocated over four years to help manage the marine parks.
    • A $2.2 million marine park grants program is being released to coincide with the proclamation of the parks. 
    • Other marine park funding will be rolled out over time to support a range of projects, including for scientific research and monitoring and improved marine tourism opportunities. There will also be opportunities for local people to be involved in and benefit from projects.
  • In the green zones of the marine parks, extractive activities such as mining and fishing are now prohibited.
  • Management plans for the marine parks will be developed in consultation with local communities and other stakeholders. Management plans will help to establish management priorities and actions for the first decade of the marine parks.
  • Prior to management plans coming into force, we will work with local communities to discuss how activities in inshore waters should be managed (e.g. for proposals in the marine parks that involve construction works).

Who will enforce the rules of the marine park?

Communication and awareness raising will be a focus of the new marine parks for the inshore areas accessed by local communities. Ensuring people understand why the marine parks have been established and are aware of any rules that they may need follow, will help ensure there is minimal need for any direct enforcement action. The inshore yellow zoning also means that most activities that currently occur can continue unaffected—transitional management.

For the offshore waters of the marine parks, Parks Australia will work with agencies like Australian Border Force to help detect and prevent any fishing or other illegal activities.

How do the marine parks affect local fishing?

Marine parks aim to protect seafloor habitats like reefs, seagrass and seamounts. They don’t aim to manage fish stocks. Fishing is allowed in the inshore yellow zones of the Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands marine parks as long as it is consistent with local fishing rules are administered by the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. This zoning reflects the importance of fishing as a recreational, subsistence and commercial activity for island communities.

Do marine parks replace fishing rules?

No. As is the case for other Australian marine areas, marine parks in the IOT do not replace fishing rules or mean there is no need to introduce fishing rules. Australian marine parks use zoning and other management actions to protect marine habitats. Recreational fisheries in the IOT are managed by the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, and may apply bag or size limits, or other rules to ensure the stocks of target species remain sustainable.

What is happening with fishing rules in the IOTs?

Since the Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Fisheries announced a way forward on IOT fisheries management in April 2021, local community representatives have been working to develop proposals for fishing rules and management at Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands.  New Fish Resources Management ordinances came into effect for Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands in March 2022. The Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Communications and Regional Development is responsible for administering the ordinances.

Can fishing and marine parks be managed by locals instead of government?

The Australian Government has ultimate responsibility under legislation for the management of fishing and marine parks in the IOTs. Close involvement of local people in management of both fishing and marine parks will be important and discussions about how best to do this will be ongoing.

What will be the requirements for tourism operators to use the marine parks?

Tourism is an important industry in many marine parks and will be especially important in the new IOT marine parks. Different marine parks around Australia manage commercial tourism in different ways. For most Australian Marine Parks, tourism operators obtain a fee‑free licence to operate in the parks. At Christmas Island, some operators already have a permit from Christmas Island National Park to operate in the marine zone close to the island.

Tourism operators at Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands face many unique challenges due to the remote environment they operate in. Parks Australia will work and consult closely with IOT tourism operators to develop streamlined, fit for purpose management arrangements for tourism activities in the new marine parks. In the meantime, commercial tourism operations can continue in the marine parks in line with the transitional management arrangements.

Why is spearfishing not allowed in the marine zone of Christmas Island National Park? Can we change the spearfishing rules in the marine zone of Christmas Island National Park?

The ‘no spearfishing’ rule has been in place for many years under consecutive Christmas Island National Park management plans and is not changed by the new marine parks. A new management plan is due for the national park in 2024. The community will have the opportunity to provide input, including suggestions for changes to spearfishing rules (e.g. to keep or change the current rules).

The yellow zones of IOT marine parks allow spearfishing.

More information