Freshwater Protected Area Resourcbook

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3.2 Marine protected areas


The development of marine reserves has lagged behind terrestrial reserve development by about a century, partly due to the incorrect perception that the sea was so vast it seemed improbable that humans could cause significant long-term degradation. In addition, damage which was occurring was invisible to most of the community (who, of course, make up most of the voters) with the result that marine conservation issues remained low-profile with both politicians and conservation lobby groups.
At first glance, the differences between the terrestrial and marine realms are enormous, both physically and biologically. The complex system of currents, waves and tides that operates in the ocean, combined with the dispersive larval phase common in the life history of many marine organisms, have led to marine environments being considered more open, operating at larger spatial scales, and having a greater degree of connectedness than terrestrial systems. By comparison with terrestrial habitats, therefore, habitats in marine environments are seen as less strictly or critically defined, boundaries between them are rarely precise or restricted, geographic ranges of organisms are often very large, and local endemism is rare (Kenchington 1990; Fairweather & McNeill 1993; Jones & Kaly 1995). Because of such differences, the application of well-tested, land-based theories of reserve selection and design have been considered by some to be inappropriate for marine systems (eg. Kenchington 1990) [ Pressey and McNeil 1996:1].
The reliance on terrestrial models in the design and management of marine protected areas (MPAs) has changed through time. Historically, the design, planning and management of MPAs mirrored the development of terrestrial protected areas, beginning with the concept of MPAs as strict reserves surrounded by a sea which was unprotected, uncoordinated in its management, and generally under-managed (Bridgewater & Ivanovici 1993). [ Pressey and McNeil 1996:1]

3.2.1 Marine reserves: the Great Barrier Reef


Up until the start of the 1990s, Australia had only one major marine reserve. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, declared in 1975, is still the world’s largest marine protected area, covering some 345,000 km2. The marine park was established to provide for the ongoing protection, wise use, understanding and enjoyment of the reef. The marine park provides for all reasonable uses and contains within its boundaries a number of significant industries, in particular tourism, recreation and commercial fishing.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (funded by the Commonwealth Government) is located in Townsville, Queensland, and is the principal adviser to the Commonwealth Government on the care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Day-to-day management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is carried out by Queensland State government agencies subject to the Authority’s mandate.
In 1994 the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority published a Strategic Plan for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The Plan contained a commitment to protect representative biological communities throughout the Area. From the mid-1990’s GBRMPA worked to implement this commitment by identifying, mapping and classifying 70 biological communities in the Marine Park with the intent of rezoning the Park to establish a comprehensive, adequate and representative network of no-take zones. In 2002, GBRMPA launched the first public consultation phase of the Program. A Draft Zoning Plan was released a year later, and in December 2003, the Federal Environment Minister tabled a final zoning plan was tabled in Parliament which highly protects 33% of the Marine Park or about 115,000 sq. km.
Apart from zoning, the Authority undertakes a variety of other activities including:

        • developing and implementing management plans;

        • environmental impact assessment and permitting of use;

        • research, monitoring and interpreting data; and

        • providing information, educational services and marine environmental management advice.



3.2.2 Development of strategic marine reserve planning


Marine waters, as well as adjacent coastal lands, are subject to degradation through un-coordinated incremental development. This includes harvesting operations which can have both direct impacts (through overharvesting of target species and bycatch) and indirect effects (through damage to habitat by nets and dredges). Direct and indirect effects from land-based coastal developments can also cause major degradation of estuarine and marine environments through pollution and direct destruction of marine habitats, such as mangroves, saltmarsh and seagrass. Developments within broader catchments which result in increasing silt loads in rivers, or changes in aquifer outflow rates to marine environments can also cause significant long-term damage. The cumulative effects of many types of incremental development have remained unchecked without strategic planning frameworks which take the needs of coastal waters into account. The mechanisms of the tragedy of the commons (Hardin 1968) and the tyranny of small decisions (Odum 1982) both apply64.
In 1991 the Commonwealth Government initiated its Ocean Rescue 2000 Program. A central aim of this program was to introduce strategic planning concepts to the marine environment. The InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment (1992) contained a commitment to develop this strategic approach, with the establishment of representative marine protected areas a key component of this commitment. This commitment has been actioned through the National Reserve System for Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA) Program, funded substantially through the Natural Heritage Trust.
During the 1990s, and driven by the model developed for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the design of MPAs has favoured large areas managed for multiple use including adequate areas of strict protection. The multiple-use model allocates activities through zoning and is considered more effective than small, isolated, highly protected areas for several reasons: (1) ecologically, it recognises the temporal and spatial scales at which marine ecosystems operate; (2) practically, it is easier to manage and potentially buffers and dilutes impacts of activities in areas adjacent to strictly protected areas; and (3) socially, it helps to resolve and manage conflicts in the use of natural resources. Although this model has gained support throughout the world, the selection of MPAs has remained until recently largely intuitive. There has been little investigation of issues such as alternative approaches to locating MPAs, the number and total area needed to reach an explicit conservation objective, the influence of size and shape of MPAs, or the appropriate allocation of zones (Bridgewater & Ivanovici 1993; McNeill 1994). [ Pressey and McNeil 1996:1]
The development of a systematic strategy for the selection of MPAs, similar to terrestrial approaches, has been relatively recent and has often followed concepts developed for terrestrial systems. For example, as for terrestrial systems, the concept of creating a system of representative reserves gained support as a broad basis for the conservation of marine habitats and species (Gubbay 1988; Ray & McCormick-Ray 1992; Brunckhorst 1994). In Australia, creating a system of representative MPAs based on a biogeographic classification is one of the goals of the Ocean Rescue 2000 Program. However, development of the Interim Marine and Coastal Regionalisation for Australia (Thackway & McRae 1995) has followed, rather than paralleled, its terrestrial counterpart. [ Pressey and McNeil 1996:1]

3.2.3 The Oceans Policy


The Commonwealth Government published Australia’s Oceans Policy in 1998 to provide for the protection, ecologically sustainable use, and management of marine areas under Commonwealth control. The National Oceans Office is the lead Commonwealth agency for implementing the Oceans Policy. Echoing the earlier thrust of the 1991 Oceans Rescue 2000 Program, strategic planning is central to the 1998 policy. At the core of the policy is a move to integrated and ecosystem-based planning and management which will be binding on all Commonwealth agencies and will be delivered through the development of Regional Marine Plans based on large marine ecosystems. While the policy does not bind State jurisdictions, the Commonwealth seeks to encourage the development of strategic planning over State waters through cooperative agreements and funding arrangements. Development of the National Reserve System of Marine Protected Areas is a key component of these arrangements.
States have been slow to pick up the lead provided by the Commonwealth. This may partly reflect the fact that there is no direct financial incentive for States to sign on to regional marine plans or the key elements of the Oceans Policy.
According to Bernadette O'Neil (pers. comm. B O'Neil, National Oceans Office, 2/9/03):
"there are a number of Australian Government funding programs that encourage the move to integrated ecosystem based planning and management. South-east States have recently increased their engagement in the planning process. The Oceans Office is currently exploring with the south-east States the types of issues that might be best dealt with by a cooperative approach.
At a national level there is agreement from all States, the NT and the Australian Government to cooperate in developing a national approach to integrated oceans management. This is being undertaken under the direction of the Natural Resources Management Ministerial Council, through a working group chaired by the Oceans Office."

3.2.4 National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas


The development of the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPAs) was endorsed by all Australian Governments under the InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment 1992. There are commitments by all Australian Governments to its establishment in key strategies such as the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (1992) and the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity (1996) [Australia's Oceans Policy 1998:Appendix 4].
According to Australia's Oceans Policy 1998 (Appendix 4): “the NRSMPA brings together biodiversity conservation and human activities, incorporating multiple-use and ecologically sustainable development principles, into an established and deliverable mechanism supported by all Governments”.
Goals of the NRSMPA:

The primary goal of the NRSMPA is to establish and manage a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of MPAs to contribute to the long-term ecological viability of marine and estuarine systems, to maintain ecological processes and systems, and to protect Australia’s biological diversity at all levels.


The following secondary goals are designed to be compatible with the primary goal:

  • to promote the development of MPAs within the framework of integrated ecosystem management;

  • to provide a formal management framework for a broad spectrum of human activities, including recreation, tourism, shipping and the use or extraction of resources, the impacts of which are compatible with the primary goal;

  • to provide scientific reference sites;

  • to provide for the special needs of rare, threatened or depleted species and threatened ecological communities;

  • to provide for the conservation of special groups of organisms, eg species with complex habitat requirements or mobile or migratory species, or species vulnerable to disturbance which may depend on reservation for their conservation;

  • to protect areas of high conservation value including those containing high species diversity, natural refugia for flora and fauna and centres of endemism; and

  • to provide for the recreational, aesthetic and cultural needs of indigenous and non-indigenous people.

Reference: [Guidelines for establishing the National Reserve System of Marine Protected Areas; ANZECC 1998 65]
The Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) established the Task Force on Marine Protected Areas to advance the establishment of the NRSMPA. Development of partnerships with industry and indigenous groups is an important component of this process. The Commonwealth Government is identifying priority areas within the Exclusive Economic Zone for the establishment of marine protected areas. It is committed to substantial progress by 2002 in establishment of the NRSMPA in cooperation with State and Territory Governments.
Key tasks in the development of the NRSMPA are:

  • refinement and application of a national bioregionalisation for inshore and offshore waters (see below);

  • development of guidelines, criteria and areas;

  • identification of potential areas in Commonwealth, State and Northern Territory waters for inclusion in the NRSMPA;

  • compilation and maintenance of accessible information on the characteristics of existing marine protected areas;

  • development and implementation of effective management for marine protected areas; and

  • development of performance measures for the NRSMPA, including assessment of the contribution of marine protected areas to the conservation of biological diversity in the context of integrated ocean management.


Reference: [Australia's Oceans Policy 1998:Appendix 4].

3.2.5 IMCRA: an ecosystem-based regionalisation of Australia’s oceans


The Interim Marine and Coastal Regionalisation for Australia (IMCRA) is an ecosystem-based classification of Australia's marine waters. It describes regions at the 100s to 1000s of kilometre scale (meso-scale) and the >1000s of kilometre scale (macro-scale), drawing on information about the biological, physical and chemical variability of the sea floor and overlying waters.
A meso-scale regionalisation out to the 200 metre isobath around the Australian mainland and Tasmania recognises 60 regions. These regions range in size from the largest at 240,000 square kilometres to the smallest at 3000-5000 square kilometres in embayments and major gulfs.
Preliminary work on a macro-scale regionalisation of the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf has also been completed. Regionalisations such as those used in IMCRA are conceived and developed for specific purposes. Ecologically based regionalisations provide the first layer in a broad ecological planning framework within which more detailed information on ecosystems, communities and/or species distributions can be used to assist decision-making across or within a region.
The regionalisations will continue to be refined as data becomes available. The meso-scale and macro-scale regionalisations contribute to an understanding of the variation of Australia’s marine environment and form an important input to planning decisions that may be made at different spatial scales. For some decisions more detailed mapping and classification of the marine environment will be required.
Reference: [Australia's Oceans Policy 1998:Appendix 4].
As is the case with the terrestrial bioregionalisation IBRA, IMCRA attempts to identify regions containing repeating patterns of similar ecosystems.


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