Australian Marine Parks

Extracted from the Coral Sea Marine Park Management Plan 2018.

Values of the Coral Sea Marine Park

Values are broadly defined as:

  • Natural values—habitats, species and ecological communities within marine parks, and the processes that support their connectivity, productivity and function.
  • Cultural values—living and cultural heritage recognising Indigenous beliefs, practices and obligations for country, places of cultural significance and cultural heritage sites.
  • Heritage values—non-Indigenous heritage that has aesthetic, historic, scientific or social significance.
  • Socio-economic values—the benefit of marine parks for people, businesses and the economy.

In managing marine parks, the Director will need to make decisions about what activities can occur in the marine parks and what actions to take to manage them.

This will involve the Director making decisions that carefully balance the need to protect natural, cultural, heritage and socio-economic values of marine parks with enabling use and managing pressures.

In making these decisions, the Director will carefully consider the impacts and risks to natural, cultural, heritage or socio-economic values for the relevant marine park/s.

The values of the Coral Sea Marine Park are set out in Schedule 2.

The Director will also consider any positive impacts associated with allowing an activity, such as socio-economic or cultural benefits, and ensure that activities are undertaken in a manner that minimises negative impacts.

For some areas, such as the Coringa–Herald and Lihou reefs, there is a relatively strong understanding of values.

Where there is less information, environmental features are used as indicators for the types of species and habitats likely to occur.

These include bioregions, water depth, seafloor features and key ecological features (Schedule 3).

As understanding of marine park values improves over the life of this plan, the Director will make new information about values available on the Parks Australia website.

Other important sources of information on values (also on the Department’s website) include:

  • Species profile and threats database for protected species
  • Directory of important wetlands in Australia
  • Australian heritage database for natural, historic and Indigenous heritage places
  • Australian national shipwreck database for known shipwrecks
  • National Conservation Values Atlas
  • East marine bioregional plan: bioregional profile (2009).

Coral Sea Marine Park values

This Schedule describes the values represented in the Coral Sea Marine Park.

Values will be used to inform the Director’s decisions when authorising activities in marine parks.

Activities will be assessed in relation to their impacts and risk to values, to ensure activities are undertaken in a manner that minimises impacts to as low as reasonably practicable.

As understanding of marine park values improves over time, updated information will be available on the Parks Australia website.

Other sources of information on marine park values can be found on the Department’s website, in particular:

  • for protected species (species profile and threats database), wetlands (Australian wetlands directory)
  • for heritage places (Australian heritage database)
  • for shipwrecks (Australian national shipwrecks database)
  • the East marine bioregional plan: bioregional profile (2009).

The Coral Sea Marine Park is located east of the Great Barrier Reef adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, extending from Cape York Peninsula, to approximately 40 km north of Bundaberg in Queensland.

The Marine Park starts between 60 km and 1100 km from the coast of Australia and extends to the limit of Australia’s exclusive economic zone.

The Marine Park covers an area of 989,836 km², with waters down to 6000 m deep.

The Marine Park was proclaimed under the EPBC Act on 14 December 2013 and renamed Coral Sea Marine Park on 9 October 2017.

It includes the areas of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone originally proclaimed under the EPBC Act on 14 May 2009 and the Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reef National Nature Reserves originally proclaimed under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 on 16 August 1982.

The Marine Park is assigned IUCN category IV and includes four zones assigned under this plan:

  • National Park Zone (II)
  • Habitat Protection Zone (IV)
  • Habitat Protection Zone (Reefs) (IV)
  • Special Purpose Zone (Trawl) (VI).

Statement of significance

The Coral Sea Marine Park was designed to protect representative examples of the region’s ecosystems and biodiversity in accordance with the Goals and principles for the establishment of the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas in Commonwealth waters (ANZECC, 1998).

The Marine Park is significant because it contains habitats, species and ecological communities associated with the Cape Province, Northeast Transition, Northeast Province, Central Eastern Transition, Kenn Province and Kenn Transition bioregions.

It includes three key ecological features:

  • reefs, cays and herbivorous fish of the Marion Plateau
  • reefs, cays and herbivorous fish of the Queensland Plateau
  • the Tasmantid Seamount Chain.

The Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reefs and Cays Ramsar site is located in the Marine Park.

The site was listed under the Ramsar Convention in 2002 and is a wetland of international importance under the EPBC Act.

An Ecological Character Description that sets out the Ramsar listing criteria met by the site, the key threats and knowledge gaps, is available on the Department’s website.

The site comprises near-pristine oceanic islet and reef habitats that are representative of the Coral Sea.

The undisturbed sandy habitats at several islets are nesting sites for globally endangered green and hawksbill turtles, while foreshores, forest and shrubland support important breeding populations of seabirds including terns, boobies, and tropicbirds.

Coral reef habitat supports distinct communities of marine flora and fauna, including a relatively rich diversity of crustacean and hydroid fauna, and significant feeding habitat for migratory seabirds.

Black marlin aggregate to spawn in the north-west of the Marine Park.

Marine algal communities are a particularly important feature, frequently covering a greater area than the corals.

The Marine Park includes habitats connecting to and complementing the adjacent Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Natural values

The Marine Park includes examples of ecosystems representative of:

  • Cape Province—a deep-water valley and ridge feature in the north of the Marine Park, with water depths of between 1000 and 4000 m.
  • Northeast Transition—a deep-water feature consisting of troughs, plateau, reefs and carbonate mud in the north of the Marine Park, in waters deeper than 1000 m.
  • Northeast Province—a large area of reefs, trenches, troughs, terraces and aprons in the central part of the Marine Park. It contains cays, atolls, islets and associated reef communities.
  • Central Eastern Transition—an area in the south of the Marine Park featuring slope, canyon, and terrace, in waters between 3000 and 4000 m deep.
  • Kenn Province—an area in the south-west of the Marine Park featuring seamounts and plateaux, in waters between 1000 and 3000 m deep.
  • Kenn Transition—an area in the south-west of the Marine Park featuring seamounts.

Key ecological features of the Marine Park are:

  • Reefs, cays and herbivorous fish of the Queensland Plateau—this is the largest marginal plateau in Australia. Ancient reefs have formed broad limestone platforms that extend over about half of the plateau forming 21 reefs and cays, the largest of which are Tregrosse and Lihou Reefs. Other significant reefs include Coringa–Herald, Moore, Flinders, Holmes, Shark and Osprey Reefs. Osprey Reef differs from the other platform reefs of the plateau in that it is an isolated pinnacle more similar to the seamount reefs found further south.
  • Reefs, cays and herbivorous fish of the Marion Plateau—this area contains three major reef systems: Marion Reef, Saumarez Reef and Frederick Reefs. Marion and Saumarez reefs are built on carbonate platforms that make up half the surface area of the plateau. Both reefs are ancient, dating back to the Pliocene drowning of the platforms. Frederick Reefs rise up to sea level from the Cato Basin at 3000 m depth off the eastern edge of the plateau.
  • The Tasmantid Seamount Chain—these seamounts provide shallow reef and deep-water habitats that differ from the more southerly seamounts in that they are older and they break the sea surface forming Kenn, Cato, Wreck and Mellish Reefs.

Ecosystems and species composition within the Marine Park are influenced by the east–west-flowing South Equatorial Current, the north-flowing Hiri Current and the south-flowing East Australian Current.

These currents create a barrier reducing the mixing of species between the north and south of the Marine Park, forming distinct ecological communities.

There are about 34 reefs and 56 cays and islets in the Marine Park, with a total reef area of approximately 15 024 km².

Most of the islets and cays are composed of sand, rocks and coral rubble.

Some have grassland, herbfield, shrubland and forest habitats.

Two islets of the Coringa–Herald group support communities of Pisonia grandis, a species of flowering tree in the bougainvillea family, which is relatively uncommon in Australia and globally.

The only known spawning aggregation of black marlin in the Pacific Ocean occurs near Osprey Reef.

The Marine Park supports a range of species including species listed as threatened, migratory, marine or cetacean under the EPBC Act.

Biologically important areas within the Marine Park include:

  • breeding and or foraging habitat for seabirds
  • internesting habitat for marine turtles
  • a migratory pathway for humpback whales.

The Marine Park also supports species listed under international agreements such as the:

  • Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals 1979 (CMS or Bonn Convention)
  • Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Japan for the Protection of Migratory Birds in Danger of Extinction and their Environment 1974 (JAMBA)
  • Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the People’s Republic of China for the Protection of Migratory Birds and their Environment 1986 (CAMBA)
  • Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Republic of Korea on the Protection of Migratory Birds 2007 (ROKAMBA).

Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reefs and Cays Ramsar site

The Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reefs and Cays Ramsar site includes representative examples of coral reef in near-pristine condition.

The Ramsar site also includes the forested reef cays, making it an outstanding breeding site for several key waterbird species. It has breeding sites for the nationally threatened green turtle and hawksbill turtle.

Species diversity includes at least:

  • 390 species of coral reef fish
  • 29 waterbird species
  • 128 crustaceans
  • 140 hard corals
  • 745 marine molluscs
  • various starfish, brittle stars, feather stars, and sea urchins.

Cultural values

Sea country is valued for Indigenous cultural identity, health and wellbeing.

Across Australia, Indigenous people have been sustainably using and managing their sea country for tens of thousands of years.

Torres Strait Islanders and coastal Aboriginal people of the east coast of Cape York have sea country responsibilities for parts of the Marine Park.

The Meriam People’s sea country extends over the Ashmore Reef region of the Coral Sea Marine Park.

Under traditional (Malo’s) law, Ashmore Reef is a significant cultural area for the Meriam People and they must be consulted by people wanting to access Ashmore Reef.

The Mer Gedkem Le Prescribed Body Corporate represents the native title holders of Meriam land and sea country.

The Mer Gedkem Le Prescribed Body Corporate is the point of contact for Ashmore Reef.

The Torres Strait Regional Authority and the Cape York Land Council are the Native Title Representative Bodies for the Torres Strait and Cape York regions, with native title responsibilities for the Ashmore Reef area.

Heritage values

Protected places (world, national and Commonwealth heritage, historic shipwrecks).

The EPBC Act protects matters of national environmental significance that are classified as protected places, including world heritage properties and national heritage places.

Places on the Commonwealth Heritage List or shipwrecks listed under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 are also protected places.

No international, Commonwealth or national heritage listings apply to the Marine Park at commencement of this plan, however, the Marine Park is adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Historic shipwrecks

The Marine Park contains over 45 known shipwrecks listed under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

The oldest known shipwrecks are the Cato (wrecked in 1803), HMS Porpoise, (wrecked in 1803), and Echo (wrecked in 1820).

There are also three United States of America navy ships sunk in 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea the:

  • USS Lexington (aircraft carrier)
  • USS Neosho (aviation fuel supplier)
  • USS Sims (destroyer).

There are likely to be hundreds of historic shipwrecks in the Marine Park, the precise locations of which remain unknown.

Social and economic values

Tourism, commercial fishing, and recreation, including fishing, are important activities in the Marine Park.

These activities contribute to the wellbeing of regional communities and the prosperity of the nation.