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Commonwealth marine reserves system
This document has been developed as a guide only. This
information should not be relied upon solely. Potential
bidders are encouraged to consult the 2014 Acreage
Release General and Special Notices and information
regarding Commonwealth marine reserves at: prior to making
any commercial decisions.
Commonwealth marine reserves
The Australian Government has established
Commonwealth marine reserves in Commonwealth waters
around Australia as part of the National Representative
System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA) agreed
between the Commonwealth and the States and the
Northern Territory.
Commonwealth marine reserves are sections of the ocean
that are managed primarily for the conservation of their
ecosystems, habitats and the marine life they support.
The creation and effective management of marine
reserves is widely regarded, both nationally and
internationally, as one of the most effective mechanisms
for maintaining the long-term health and productivity of our
oceans. The reserves help ensure that Australia's diverse
marine environment remains healthy, productive and
While the primary objective in establishing the reserves is
the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of
natural resources is allowed in parts of reserves where
doing so is not inconsistent with this primary objective.
Details on how the Commonwealth marine reserves
network affects the individual Release Areas can be found
in the 2014 Acreage Release Special Notices at
Management arrangements for Commonwealth marine
reserves are currently under review and will be subject to
consultation. The review does not concern the South-east
Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network, which is
managed under a statutory management plan that came
into effect in July 2013. Further details about the Southeast management plan and the transitional management
arrangements that currently apply to all other reserves are
The primary aim of the NRSMPA is to establish and
manage a comprehensive, adequate and representative
system of marine reserves to contribute to the long-term
ecological viability of marine systems, to maintain
ecological processes and systems and to protect
Australia’s marine biological diversity at all levels.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is managed under its
own legislation. All other marine reserves in
Commonwealth waters are established and managed as
Commonwealth reserves under provisions of the
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act
1999 (EPBC Act).
In late 2012, 2.3 million square kilometres of marine
reserves were added to the previously existing protected
areas, expanding the overall size of the Commonwealth
marine reserve estate to some 2.8 million square
kilometres. The estate comprises 59 reserves covering
more than a third of Commonwealth waters.
Commonwealth marine reserves are managed according
to management principles set out in regulations made
under the EPBC Act. These principles inform the
development of statutory management plans and underpin
implementation policies and operational procedures. The
Director of National Parks (the Director), established under
the EPBC Act, is responsible for the management of
Commonwealth marine reserves.
DISCLAIMER: This fact sheet has been developed as a guide only. It does not replace or amend information provided in the Offshore Petroleum Legislation, Regulations and
Guidelines available at: In the event that there is a discrepancy between this fact sheet and the legislation or regulations, the legislation or regulations
has precedence. Explorers should not rely solely on this information when making commercial decisions. Image courtesy of BHP Billiton Petroleum Pty Ltd.
Marine reserves and any zones within them are assigned
to one of seven categories defined by the International
Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Each IUCN
category has its own principles as outlined in the EPBC
Regulations and the reserves must be managed
consistently with the principles.
Mining is prohibited in zones assigned to IUCN categories
I, II and IV. Construction and maintenance of pipelines
may be authorised in IUCN category IV zones. Generally,
mining activities are allowed in IUCN category VI zones,
although there might be exceptions. Mining is prohibited
across the entire Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine
South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves
Network Management Plan 2013-23
The South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network
Management Plan 2013-23 came into effect on 1 July
2013. The management plan continues the interim
management arrangements established when the
reserves were declared in 2007.
Zones in use within the South-east Commonwealth Marine
Reserves Network include: Sanctuary Zone (IUCN Ia);
Marine National Park Zone (IUCN II); Habitat Protection
Zone (IUCN IV); Recreational Use Zone (IUCN IV);
Multiple Use Zone (IUCN VI) and Special Purpose Zone
In the South-east network, mining operations including
exploration, development and other activities can be
carried out in Special Purpose Zones (IUCN VI) and
Multiple Use Zones (IUCN VI).
The South-east Network consists of fourteen separate
Class approvals are being used to avoid duplication of
environmental assessments and the need to issue
individual permits in those instances where stringent
environmental requirements already apply.
In issuing class approvals, the Director must be satisfied
that the activities to be approved are not likely to have an
unacceptable impact on the relevant conservation values
of the reserves and will be conducted in a way that is
consistent with achieving the objectives of the
management plan.
Under the South-east management plan, mining class
approvals have been issued for those activities
undertaken as part of mining operations that are assessed
and approved under Part 7 or 9 of the EPBC Act (that is,
in relation to matters of national environmental
significance) and those operations that have been referred
under the EPBC Act and deemed to be not controlled
actions. Mining-related activities that are not assessed and
approved under Part 7 or 9 require a permit or approval
from the Director in order to be carried out in the marine
In February 2014, the Environment Minister endorsed the
Environmental Plan approval programme undertaken by
the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and
Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) under
the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage
(Environment) Regulations 2009, and approved those
offshore mining activities assessed under the endorsed
NOPSEMA programme. This approval is a legal step that
allows activities identified in the endorsed programme to
proceed without the need for further approval from the
Australian Government under Part 7 or Part 9 of the
Macquarie Island
East Gippsland
South Tasman
Tasman Fracture
processes with existing regulatory regimes, when this is
appropriate and consistent with the objectives of the plan.
In the context of those offshore mining activities taking
place within the South-east network, the mining class
approvals issued under the South-east management plan
authorise operations taken in accordance with the
endorsed programme.
Other Commonwealth marine reserves:
transitional management arrangements
For reserves established in the South-west, North-west,
North and Temperate East networks and the Coral Sea
reserve, transitional management arrangements are in
place until management plans are prepared and come into
Mining class approvals
The South-east management plan contains a commitment
to minimise the regulatory burden on users of marine
reserves, through integrating marine reserve management
Under the transitional management arrangements,
there are no changes on the water for users undertaking
activities in new marine reserve areas. Under these
arrangements, the Director has issued general approvals
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authorising a range of activities, including mining
operations. For those areas of the networks that were
already a marine reserve prior to 2012, the same
restrictions on activities will continue to apply even where
the areas of those reserves have been incorporated into
new, larger reserves.
Details of restrictions that apply in those areas are
available at:
If an existing approval to undertake activities within
Commonwealth marine reserves is held by titleholders,
they can continue to operate under the terms of their
existing approval. No additional administrative
requirements apply.
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