Australia is a world leader in the management, conservation and sustainable use of the marine environment. Australia maintains an active presence and participation in international marine fora to promote Australia's interests by ensuring effective and complementary approaches to marine conservation on a regional and global level.
Our region includes the common maritime boundaries in the Timor, Arafura and Coral Seas and the Torres Strait, and countries in the Indian Ocean, South East Asia and the Pacific. The Department's efforts in our region are guided by Australia's national interests, our internationally shared natural resources, species and ecosystems, and an understanding that countries and peoples face a diversity of needs and challenges.
The Department’s regional international activities aim to address transboundary marine conservation and environmental issues through informal discussions, cooperative programs, knowledge and skill-sharing with counterpart agencies, and formal agreements or legally binding instruments. Our engagement recognises that many of Australia’s marine resources are shared with our neighbours and that sustainable use and successful biodiversity conservation measures can only be achieved through cooperation at a regional level.
Engagement in regional fora
Australia actively participates in a number of environmental fora, agreements and projects with neighbouring countries in the Asia-Pacific region. These include:
Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP)
The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) is the primary intergovernmental environmental organisation in the Pacific. SPREP’s mandate is to promote cooperation in the Pacific region by providing technical assistance, policy advice, training and research activities to assist its member countries to protect and improve the environment and deliver sustainable environmental development outcomes. Headquartered in Samoa, SPREP has 26 member countries including five metropolitan members (Australia, New Zealand, the United States, France and the United Kingdom).
Australia is SPREP’s largest donor of core funding. The Department is the focal point for Australia’s engagement with SPREP. The Department represents Australia as members of SPREP and leads delegations to SPREP meetings. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) provides Australia’s core and project funding through the Australian Aid Program and has significant involvement in SPREP corporate matters and specific climate change projects.
As well as providing core funding to SPREP, Australian Government agencies, including the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and CSIRO, provide substantial project support to SPREP.
To contact the Department about SPREP, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pacific Ocean Litter Project
The Australian Government is investing $16 million (2019 – 2025) in the Pacific Ocean Litter Project (POLP) to reduce sources of marine litter in the Pacific Ocean. The Project provides much needed assistance to the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) to undertake regional coordination and boost the level of support SPREP can provide to Pacific island countries to reduce marine litter.
The Project will focus on the most prevalent types of single-use plastic litter such as plastic bags, take away food polystyrene packaging, plastic straws, and PET bottles. SPREP will work with member Pacific nations to identify and implement practical actions that can reduce the use of these plastics, improve their post-use management, or both.
The Coral Triangle Initiative for Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF)
The CTI-CFF is a partnership between Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. The CTI-CFF is focused on improving marine conservation and management and through sustainable livelihoods, food security and economic development. Australia is a strong supporter of the CTI-CFF and has official partner status. The department leads Australian Government engagement which has included provision of financial, technical and administrative support for the establishment of the permanent Regional Secretariat and support for national scale activities in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste, as well as regional activities. Australia has committed $13.2 million in Australian Aid funds since 2009.
To contact the Department about the CTI, please email: CTIAUSFocalPoint@environment.gov.au
Enhancing Pacific Ocean Governance (EPOG)
From 2014-2017 Australia provided significant support for implementation of the 2010 Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape by investing in the Enhancing Pacific Oceans Governance (EPOG) project ($6.4 million over 4 years). The overarching goal of EPOG wass to empower Pacific Island countries and territories to effectively manage marine and coastal resources for sustainable economic development and food security, while maintaining productive ecosystems and biodiversity.
EPOG supported actions identified in the Framework, including: marine planning, improved oceans data management, defining maritime boundaries and regional leadership and coordination on oceans.
- More about Enhancing Pacific Ocean Governance
- Enhancing Pacific Ocean Governance - 2014 Publication
- Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape
To contact the Department about EPOG, please email: EPOG@environment.gov.au
Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystems Action (ATSEA)
The Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystems Action (ATSEA) program comes out of a longstanding commitment between Australia, Timor-Leste and Indonesia to cooperate on management of the rich biological and economic resources of the Timor and Arafura Seas. These seas support a large number of coastal communities dependent on healthy marine and coastal assets for their livelihood.
There has been significant investment in research and information-sharing among these three countries on issues such as marine pollution, sustainable fisheries and climate change. Following the development of a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis, the Australian Government jointly agreed with Indonesia and Timor Leste in 2014 to cooperate in implementing the ATSEA Strategic Action Programme. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has developed a proposal to implement the Strategic Action Program from 2017 to 2021.
Torres Strait Treaty Environmental Management Committee
The Environmental Management Committee was formed in 1988 to report to the Joint Advisory Council of the Torres Strait Treaty (1978). The Torres Strait Treaty outlines the maritime boundaries between Australia and Papua New Guinea in the Torres Strait. The Treaty aims to protect the ways of life of Traditional Inhabitants and conserve the Torres Strait Protected Zone.
The Committee meets annually to consult with other agencies and Traditional Inhabitants and address environmental issues in and around the Torres Strait Protected Zone. The meeting is co-chaired by representatives from the Department and the Papua New Guinea Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority. Other Australian members include the Torres Strait Regional Authority, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Queensland state government and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
For more information, please see the following link:
Australia - France-New Caledonia Coral Sea Transboundary Collaboration
Australia and France-New Caledonia have both declared marine parks which abut along our common maritime boundary. Collaboration with France-New Caledonia has been formalised under a (2010) Coral Sea declaration of intention, which has included work to support a shared understanding of transboundary environmental interests. Under the Declaration both countries communicate on matters of interest to support complementary management arrangements.
In 2016 France-New Caledonia and Australia agreed to produce a newsletter to share information on activities underway in the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve and the Coral Sea Nature Park. To receive these newsletters please contact email@example.com.
Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs)
The Department leads Australia's engagement on international fisheries issues, including RFMOs.
Website: International fisheries
High seas biodiversity treaty
In March 2023, UN member states including Australia agreed to the final text of a new treaty under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).
The high seas biodiversity treaty will apply to 'areas beyond national jurisdiction’; that is, the high seas and seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, as defined under UNCLOS. It will not apply to Australian waters.
What’s the issue?
Around 60% of the world’s oceans are beyond national jurisdiction. These waters are some of the least well-known and least protected areas on Earth – but they are subject to increasing international interest and human activity.
The use of areas beyond national jurisdiction has grown exponentially over recent decades, presenting risks to the health and resilience of biodiversity on the high seas. Established activities have intensified, and the longer-term impacts of new and emerging activities are difficult to predict with any certainty.
The high seas biodiversity treaty will provide a framework for:
- the adoption of area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, on the high seas
- environmental impact assessments for planned activities on the high seas
- the management of marine genetic resources, including access and benefit sharing; and
- capacity building and the transfer of marine technology, to help developing states participate fully in the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity.
The treaty would complement existing relevant legal instruments and frameworks, and relevant global, regional and sectoral bodies that have a mandate for managing activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
The text of the high seas biodiversity treaty will need to be formally adopted by the UN. Countries will then have the opportunity to sign and then ratify the treaty. The treaty will only enter into force 120 days after the 60th ratification.
Australia would need to incorporate the treaty provisions into domestic law before ratifying the treaty.
To learn more about BBNJ, visit United Nations Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction.
Protecting marine species
In addition to domestic measures to protect threatened marine species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Australia engages with the international community to protect threatened marine wildlife.
Regulating international trade in marine species
Australia is one of more than 150 countries that are a party to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Each member country controls the import and export of an agreed list of species that are endangered, or at risk of becoming endangered, due to inadequate controls over trade in them or their products.
Agreements for protecting migratory species
Through the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), Australia is signatory to a number of multilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding that promote the conservation of migratory marine species and seabirds.
- More about the Convention on Migratory Species
- Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks
International action to protect whales
The key forum for progressing Australia's agenda on whale conservation is the International Whaling Commission (IWC).