Australia’s coasts, oceans and water resources hold enormous economic, cultural, social and environmental significance. Australia is a leader in the protection and management of our marine environments and supports ongoing investments to improve the health and resilience of our coastal and marine ecosystems to climate change.
The ocean-climate connection
The ocean is a vital part of the global climate system, and Australia recognises the need to build its health and resilience in the face of climate change.
We play a leading role in protecting our ocean ecosystems and threatened and migratory marine species, investing in ocean productivity, and importantly, in protecting and restoring coastal blue carbon ecosystems that play a vital role in drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and protecting coastlines.
First Nations people consider the ocean or ‘Sea Country’ as inseparable to their land and integral to their identity. We recognise and respect the diverse uses of the ocean and the importance of First Nation communities connection, and the role of Traditional Owners’ knowledge to inform and guide sustainable ocean management.
Australia's vast marine ecosystem is the world’s third largest marine jurisdiction. It has some of the world’s largest coral and rocky reef systems, 12 per cent of the world’s blue carbon ecosystems, the third largest area of mangroves globally, and 50 per cent of the world’s seagrass species.
Our mangroves, saltmarshes, and seagrass meadows play a critical role in climate adaptation to build resilience to climate change and help adapt natural, social and built systems. These coastal environments and wetlands capture and store carbon at faster rates than terrestrial forests and are critical for biodiversity, removing sediments, nutrients and other pollutants from land-based run off.
It is critical to practise effective and sustainable management to protect and strengthen our vast ecosystem of ocean and coastal assets to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Australia’s leadership in sustainable ocean management
The Australian Prime Minister is a member of the 17-nation High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel), which is working to accelerate and amplify action to help the world transition to a sustainable ocean economy where jobs are secured, ocean health is protected and prosperity is shared equitably.
At the UNFCCC COP27 in November 2022, the Ocean Panel released Advancing Ambitious Ocean-based Climate Action (PDF) which showcases strong, practical ocean-based climate actions being taken by member countries.
At the UNFCCC COP26 in November 2021 the Ocean Panel released a leaders statement highlighting the link between the ocean and climate, and the ocean-based climate actions that can be progressed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2019 the Ocean Panel released a Call to Ocean-Based Climate Action (PDF) which outlined how the ocean and ocean industries can help to mitigate and adapt to climate change including by investing in nature-based climate solutions and decarbonising ocean industries.
In 2020 the Ocean Panel released its Transformations for a Sustainable Ocean Economy for how the world can make a rapid transition to a sustainable ocean economy.
Australia has committed to sustainably manage 100 per cent of the ocean area within our national waters, guided by a sustainable ocean plan, by 2025.
Sustainable ocean management and a sustainable ocean economy are part of the solution to addressing the interconnected global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. Australia is investing in climate adaptation and resilience efforts and protecting our ocean, blue carbon ecosystems and coral reefs:
- The Australian Government is investing $10.8 million to improve ocean and marine park management in Australia and to strengthen our international environmental leadership in ocean policy.
- Our Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan focuses on protecting the Great Barrier Reef through building reef resilience, adaptive marine park management and improving water quality. The Australian and Queensland governments are investing more than $4.4 billion from 2014-15 to 2029-30 to implement the Plan.
- Our $500m+ investments in ocean adaptation and resilience, including long-term investments to fund environment and climate research supporting science-based solutions to environmental issues, and investments to address the challenge of ghost nets and plastic litter in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
- The Australian Government manages 62 marine parks – 60 Australian Marine Parks located around the country, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the remote, sub-Antarctic Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve. States and the Northern Territory also have marine parks that protect coastal ecosystems and habitats.
- Our support for creating new Sea Country Indigenous Protected Areas, restoring blue carbon ecosystems, and supporting marine conservation is enhancing the resilience of threatened and migratory marine species to climate change.
- Our partnerships with our neighbours on nature-based solutions, including:
- building capacity for Indo-Pacific countries to participate in carbon markets.
- leading the International Partnership for Blue Carbon and support capacity building activities on blue carbon and forests in countries of our region.
- supporting the Kiwa Initiative Nature-based Solutions for Climate Resilience.
Australia’s ocean priorities
All Australia’s major Oceans’ programs contribute to our understanding of global climate systems and support multiple outcomes including building resilience to climate change. A snapshot of Australia’s major ocean priority programs and their role in responding to climate change:
- Antarctic and Southern Ocean Activities
- Coastal Blue Carbon Ecosystems
- Coral Reefs, World Heritage and Ramsar Wetlands
- Marine Protected Areas
- Ocean Accounts
- Threatened and Migratory Marine Species Conservation
Antarctic and Southern Ocean Activities
Antarctica plays an important role in the global weather and climate system. The Southern Ocean is the engine room for global weather and climate and has far reaching influence on oceanic and atmospheric circulation. The Southern Ocean moderates global climate change through absorbing heat and carbon. Antarctica teaches us about our past and current climate, and informs us of the nature, extent, and consequences of future climate change. These include impacts of changes in temperature, salinity, pH and sea ice on ecosystems and the central issue of melting ice shelves, loss of continental ice and sea level rise. The science we conduct in Antarctica also provides the essential evidence through which we can ensure a resilient environment to our south through responsible international environmental stewardship of the region.
Snapshot of current activity
- Australia has a significant Antarctic program, supported by our stations and capabilities in the region. We carry out a wide range of globally significant scientific research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, a significant component through partnerships with other nations.
- Australia plays a leading and influential role in the Antarctic Treaty system and actively engages in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM), the Committee on Environmental Protection, and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), including to conserve and protect Antarctica’s unique environment.
- Australia and key partners, continue to advocate through CCAMLR for a representative system of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), including proposals for an East Antarctic MPA and a Weddell Sea MPA.
Coastal Blue Carbon Ecosystems
Coastal blue carbon ecosystems are environments that support mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses. They are prevalent along most coastlines in the world.
Blue carbon ecosystems provide habitat for marine species, support fish stocks and food security, sustain coastal communities and livelihoods, filter water flowing into our oceans and reef systems, and protect coastlines from erosion and storm surges. In addition, blue carbon ecosystems are a significant carbon sink, holding large pools of carbon in their soils, roots and plants, and can sequester two to four times more carbon per hectare than terrestrial forests.
With a view to conserve and restore coastal blue carbon ecosystems, the Australian Government is supporting research, on-ground restoration projects, capacity building and global and cross-sector partnerships.
Read more about Australian Government actions on Coastal Blue Carbon Ecosystems.
Coral Reefs, World Heritage and Ramsar Wetlands
Climate change is the most serious long-term threat to the health of coral reefs worldwide. The World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef is under pressure and has experienced four mass bleaching events in recent years (2016, 2017, 2020 and 2022).
Australia is highly regarded for our coral reef science, World Heritage and Ramsar wetland management, and we readily share our findings and expertise globally. We play a critical role in protecting, restoring, and managing marine and coastal World Heritage sites, such as the Great Barrier Reef, and our Ramsar wetlands, of which 36 of Australia’s 66 sites are located in coastal or marine areas.
We are committed to maintaining the ecological character of our coastal Ramsar sites and to the wise use of all coastal wetlands. We are committed to protecting the Outstanding Universal Value of all 20 of our World Heritage properties and maintaining Australia’s reputation in the World Heritage system. Australia will continue to build capability and share expertise in reef and wetland science and management to ensure these ecosystems are protected for generations to come.
Australia’s focus for improving the long-term outlook for coral reefs is founded on three key action areas – contributing to global emissions reductions, direct action to reduce local pressures like poor water quality, and supporting adaptation and resilience to a changing climate. Australia’s investments and action are outlined below.
Snapshot of current activity
The centrepiece of Australia’s Reef protection efforts is the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, jointly developed and implemented with the Queensland Government. The Australian and Queensland governments are investing more than $4.4 billion from 2014-15 to 2029-30 to implement the Reef 2050 Plan. Of this, more than $3 billion is from the Australian Government. For example climate adaptation and resilience initiatives include (non-exhaustive):
- Water Quality improvement through landscape-scale land management transformation across a vast catchment area – around 424,000 square kilometres.
- More than $611 million (2022-23 to 2029-30) is committed to addressing the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef catchment, including working with farmers to improve farm productivity while reducing pollutant run-off and repairing catchments; and to address sources of water pollution from other land uses, including urban and public lands.
- Leading coral reef adaptation science through the $150 million Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program committed through the Reef Trust Partnership and research partners.
- Coastal ecosystem and species protection with over $56 million committed, including wetland and island restoration, shark conservation, and turtle research.
- We have developed a comprehensive, cutting-edge reef knowledge system to track Reef 2050 Plan progress and inform decision-making to ensure adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
- The Australian Government also finances clean energy projects in Great Barrier Reef catchments through the $1 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s Reef Funding Program. This fund tackles coral reefs’ two biggest challenges – climate change and water quality.
- The Australian Government has invested $1.2 million at the Ningaloo Coast and $1.9 million at Shark Bay World Heritage properties from 2018-19 to 2022-23 for marine and coastal management activities.
- Australia is a founding, and active member of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) – a global partnership to share our knowledge and experience in coral reef science, management, restoration.
- We also engage internationally on reefs and wetlands through the Commonwealth Blue Charter, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, the Convention on Biological Diversity, World Heritage Convention and Ramsar Convention, and as an Official Development Partner to the Coral Triangle Initiative.
- Australia sponsored a resolution on blue carbon ecosystems at the most recent Ramsar Convention Conference of Parties meeting in Dubai in 2018.
Marine Protected Areas
Australian, state and territory governments have established a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas, covering 4 million km2 or 45% of Australian waters, to protect Australia’s unique marine environments.
Within this national system, the Australian Government manages 62 marine parks – 60 Australian Marine Parks located around the country, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the remote, sub-Antarctic Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve. States and the Northern Territory also have marine parks that protect coastal ecosystems and habitats.
Marine protected areas can provide nature-based solutions that contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, including through increased biodiversity, carbon sequestration and coastal protection.
Australia supports a global target to protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s land and 30 per cent of the world’s ocean by 2030, including through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’s Post−2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (known as the ‘30by30’ target).
Snapshot of current activity
- Australia has one of the world’s largest representative networks of marine protected areas. This is making a significant contribution to the ocean component of the ‘30by30’ target and contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
- In March 2022, new Indian Ocean Territories marine parks (Christmas Island Marine Park and the Cocos (Keeling) Marine Park) were established. At 744,000 square kilometres, the two newest Australian Marine Parks are a globally significant contribution to ocean conservation.
- Recent investments supporting Australian Marine Park management include: $39.9 million (from 2021) to support Australian Marine Park partnerships, to engage communities and industries in park management, support implementation of new marine parks in the Indian Ocean Territories and undertake ocean discovery and restoration projects through co-investment with private, philanthropic and science partners; and $28.3 million (from 2020) to enhance Australian Marine Park management, by expanding compliance and enforcement activities, increasing science and monitoring activities, and supporting Indigenous engagement in management of Sea Country.
- As part of the $10.8 million ocean and marine park package announced in the 22-23 budget, the Australian Government will partner with the Northern Territory Government to support Indigenous-led, integrated coastal and marine park management, specifically across two contiguous territory and Commonwealth marine parks in the south-west Gulf of Carpentaria.
- Australia is investing $11.6 million to create new Sea Country Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) in 10 locations across Australia under the Sea Country IPAs Program. The program seeks to increase the area of ocean and coast in IPAs to strengthen the conservation and protection of the marine environment, while creating employment and economic opportunities for Indigenous Australians. There are currently 81 dedicated IPAs in Australia, with 10 of these including ocean.
- We are an active member of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People (and, its International Steering committee) and the Global Ocean Alliance, which are two international coalitions calling for the protection of at least 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030.
- Australia is a proponent for two proposed MPAs in the Southern Ocean. The East Antarctic and Weddell Sea MPAs, if adopted, would contribute an additional 3.2 million square kilometres to a representative system of MPAs in the Southern Ocean.
Ocean accounts organise data so we can describe the complex environmental and economic systems present in our oceans. We use them to inform decisions about how we manage our oceans, including how to better adapt to climate change.
Australia is a global leader in the development of environmental-economic accounts. The Australian Government’s vision is for communities to understand the environment’s contribution to our quality of life, and for its condition and value to be accounted for in decision-making for a prosperous and healthy society.
The Australian Government is prioritising the development of national and local scale ocean accounts focused on blue carbon ecosystems. We want to see a global roll-out of ocean accounts, including as a means of collectively improving our measures of economic success. We encourage continued momentum towards universal adoption of a harmonised approach and interoperable systems of ocean accounts.
Snapshot of current activity
- Australia is implementing a National Strategy and Action Plan on Environmental-Economic Accounting, agreed by all Australian environment ministers in April 2018.
- Australia invested over $250,000 to develop an ocean accounting pilot in Geographe Marine Park and supported a pilot ocean waste account in Samoa.
- Australia is investing $1.1 million to support planning for the roll out of ocean accounting at a national scale to provide robust measurement of the blue economy and ecosystem services.
- Australia is developing a National Ocean Ecosystem Account focusing on mangrove, saltmarsh, seagrass and kelp ecosystems, and including key ecosystem services they provide such as carbon sequestration and coastal protection.
- Australia works with global experts to develop ocean accounts including founding members of the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership.
Read further at Environmental-Economic Accounting for the Oceans
Threatened and Migratory Marine Species Conservation
Future climate change scenarios are likely to significantly impact threatened and migratory marine species. Effective conservation requires regional and global cooperation to address priority issues for key threatened migratory species such as turtles, dugong, cetaceans, birds and sharks. Protecting and conserving threatened and migratory marine species is something we cannot do in isolation, given these species’ ability to move large distances that regularly takes them to other jurisdictions. Australian waters provide critical habitat for many species, either year-round or along their migratory routes. Over 100 of these species are globally threatened or declining. Threats include climate change and variability, marine debris and other pollutants, ocean noise, habitat loss or degradation, fisheries bycatch, entanglement, poorly regulated tourism, invasive or pest species and disease.
Snapshot of current activity
- Australia works with countries towards the comprehensive protection of our shared migratory species through the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals and other international and bilateral agreements.
- Our international commitments are reinforced by domestic legislation and policy. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 provides protection for threatened and migratory species and allows for the development and implementation of conservation planning documents that aim to enhance the conservation status of threatened and migratory species.
- We are also working domestically to protect threatened and migratory marine species nationally by investing $11 million over four years to improve the outlook for these important species through such actions as:
- $6 million for threatened and migratory marine species programs including development of a national underwater anthropogenic noise guideline, trialling innovative techniques to mitigate the impact of rising beach temperatures on marine turtle nests, preventing light pollution and protecting important beaches for marine turtles and shorebirds; and
- $5 million to support the marine environment and sustainable fisheries through development and implementation of practical measures to avoid bycatch of threatened and migratory species.
Within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, we are investing $61.7 million from 2023-2030 to improve the sustainability of commercial fisheries which interact with threatened and migratory marine species. This funding will support independent data validation and observers on high risk fisheries (such as net and trawl), inform fishing gear modifications to reduce bycatch and implement traceability assurance.
- Australia’s climate change strategies
- Climate adaptation
- Climate science
- Climate services and tools
- International adaptation
- Adapting Australia's unique environment to climate change
- Nature-based solutions for climate
- Climate change and the agricultural sector