Australian Marine Parks

The Australian Government is committed in partnership with the states and Northern Territory to developing a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRMSPA) by 2012.

The identification of new Commonwealth marine reserves within each of Australia’s five large-scale marine regions completes the Commonwealth Waters component of the NRSMPA.

The national network of Commonwealth marine reserves represents the provincial-scale bioregions recognised in Commonwealth waters, as identified by the Integrated Marine and Coastal Regionalisation of Australia Version 4.0 (IMCRA v.4.0).

These provincial bioregions are the result of scientific analysis that has classified Australia’s marine environment into 41 broadly similar ecological regions.

The Goals and Principles seek to draw on available science while recognising from the outset that our knowledge of the biodiversity in some areas is not well developed.

A significant proportion of each marine region is far offshore, very deep, and has not been the subject of detailed study or data gathering.

In these circumstances, existing detailed and peer-reviewed data will be supplemented with information drawn from known linkages between biodiversity and the physical environment - that is, where detailed species and habitat data is lacking, surrogates for diversity (such as water depth, substrate and geomorphology) will be used.

Key inputs into the process include:

  • existing scientific information underlying IMCRA v.4.0 (e.g. bathymetry, geomorphic features, distribution of endemic biota)
  • additional regional information on habitats, species distribution and ecology gathered during the marine bioregional planning process
  • data on the location and distribution of human activities in a marine region
  • views of ocean users and stakeholders in each marine region
  • consideration of the contribution that existing spatial management measures can make to the NRMSPA
  • consideration of potential management effectiveness (e.g. feasibility of compliance).

The Goals and Principles provide guidance in considering potential impacts on people when the location of new Commonwealth marine reserves is being identified.

In particular, the Principles require that the selection and design of marine reserve networks is done in a way that minimises potential socio economic impacts on marine users and coastal communities.

The goals

Four goals to maximise conservation outcomes are guiding the identification of areas suitable for inclusion in the NRMSPA.

These goals apply nationally, and they guide identification of representative marine reserves in all the marine regions (except the South-east Marine Region, where the process has been completed).

Additionally, a number of supporting principles are assisting in determining the location, selection (when more than one option to meet the goals is available), design and zoning of suitable areas.

Goal 1 - Each provincial bioregion occurring in the marine region should be represented at least once in the marine reserve network. Priority will be given to provincial bioregions not already represented in the National Representative System.

Goal 2 - The marine reserve network should cover all depth ranges occurring in the region or other gradients in light penetration in waters over the continental shelf.

Goal 3 - The marine reserve network should seek to include examples of benthic/demersal biological features (for example, habitats, communities, sub-regional ecosystems, particularly those with high biodiversity value, species richness and endemism) known to occur in the marine region at a broad sub provincial (greater than hundreds of kilometres) scale.

Goal 4 - The marine reserve network should include all types of seafloor features. There are 21 seafloor types across the entire Exclusive Economic Zone. Some provincial bioregions will be characterised by the presence of a certain subset of features, such as continental slope or seamounts.

Guiding principles


In developing options that meet the four Goals, the following location principles will be applied:

  1. Marine reserves will be located taking into account the occurrence and location of existing spatial management arrangements (for example, existing protected areas and sectoral measures) that contribute to the goals.
  2. The goals should be met with the least number of separate marine reserves (that is, a smaller number of larger marine reserves rather than many small marine reserves) to maximise conservation outcomes.


Where different options that meet the Goals exist, the following selection principles should be considered in selecting areas suitable for inclusion in the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas.

  1. The capacity of a marine reserve to mitigate identified threats to conservation values.
  2. The occurrence of spatially defined habitats for and/or aggregations of threatened and/or migratory species.
  3. The occurrence of ecologically important pelagic features which have a consistent and definable spatial distribution.
  4. The occurrence of known small-scale (tens of kilometres) ecosystems associated with the benthic/demersal environment.
  5. Relevant available information about small-scale distribution of sediment types and sizes and other geo-oceanographic variables.
  6. Occurrence of listed heritage sites (where inclusion in the marine reserve network would improve administration of protection regimes).
  7. Socio-economic costs should be minimised.


Once the broad location of marine reserves has been determined, the following design principles should be applied to further refine the size and shape of individual marine reserves:

  1. Individual areas should, as far as practicable, include continuous depth transects (for example, from the shelf to the abyss).
  2. Whole seafloor features (such as geomorphic features) should be included.
  3. Features should be replicated wherever possible within the system of marine reserves (that is, included more than once).
  4. Size and shape should be orientated to account for inclusion of connectivity corridors and biological dispersal patterns within and across marine reserves.
  5. Boundary lines should be simple, as much as possible following straight latitudinal/longitudinal lines.
  6. Boundary lines should be easily identifiable, where possible coinciding with existing regulatory boundaries.
  7. The size and shape of each area should be set to minimise socio-economic costs.

For each area identified as a candidate marine reserve, specific conservation objectives will be set.

Area-specific conservation objectives will reflect the four goals. For example, they may relate to the integrity of bioregional characteristics (Goal 1) or of specific large-scale biological features (Goal 3) that the area aims to represent.

They may also relate to other relevant principles, such as the integrity of habitat important for a threatened species (Principle 4).

To accommodate climate change as far as practicable, design principles and zoning that promote resilience and adaptation will be incorporated.

In particular, accommodating latitudinal or longitudinal movement in ecosystem or species distributions and changes in oceanographic features and currents, anticipated in response to climate change.


Because zoning of marine reserves (that is, the allocation of appropriate management regimes to different areas) has the potential to affect the socio-economic costs associated with the establishment of any marine reserve, the Australian Government recognises the importance of addressing zoning considerations as early as possible in the process.

The following zoning principles will be applied in developing the regional systems of marine reserves:

  1. Zoning will be based on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)/the World Conservation Union (IUCN) categories of protection (see Box 1).
  2. The regional marine reserve network will aim to include some highly protected areas (IUCN Categories I and II) in each provincial bioregion.
  3. Zoning will be based on the consideration of the threat that specific activities pose to the conservation objectives of each marine reserve.
  4. Zoning of marine reserves will seek to ensure that the conservation objectives of the area are protected, taking into account a precautionary approach to threats as well as the relative costs and benefits (economic, social and environmental) of different zoning arrangements.

Categories assigned under the EPBC Act for marine reserves

Under the EPBC Act marine reserves must be assigned to an IUCN category. The IUCN categories relevant to Commonwealth marine reserves are:

  • strict nature reserve (IUCN Ia): managed primarily for scientific research or environmental monitoring
  • National Park (IUCN II): protected and managed to preserve its natural condition
  • habitat/species management area (IUCN IV): managed primarily, including (if necessary) through active intervention, to ensure the maintenance of habitats or to meet the requirements of specific species;
  • managed resource protected area (IUCN VI): managed to ensure long-term protection and maintenance of biological diversity with a sustainable flow of natural products and services to meet community needs.