Waters surrounding Australia's coastlines are protected from waste and pollution dumped at sea by the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 (Sea Dumping Act).
The Sea Dumping Act regulates the loading and dumping of waste at sea and the creation of artificial reefs in Australian waters. Australian waters stretch from the low-water mark of the Australian shoreline out to 200 nautical miles (nm). It does not include waters within the limits of a state or territory.
The Sea Dumping Act:
- prohibits the ocean disposal of material considered too harmful to be released into the marine environment
- regulates permitted ocean waste disposal to minimise its environmental impacts
- regulates the placement of artificial reefs for the purposes of enhancing the marine environment
- applies to all vessels, aircraft, and platforms in Australian waters, and to all Australian vessels and aircraft in any part of the sea.
Sea dumping is any:
- deliberate disposal into the sea of wastes or other matter from vessels, aircraft, platforms, or other man-made structures at sea
- deliberate disposal into the sea of vessels, aircraft, platforms, or other man-made structures at sea
- storage of wastes or other matter in the seabed and the subsoil thereof from vessels, aircraft, platforms, or other man-made structures at sea
- abandonment or toppling at site of platforms or other man-made structures at sea, for the sole purpose of deliberate disposal.
Sea dumping does not include:
- disposal derived from the normal operations of vessels, aircraft, platforms, or other man-made structures at sea such as sewage and galley scraps. For these discharges, you must comply with legislation administered by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority
- placing matter for a purpose other than disposal, provided that such placement is not contrary to the aims of the London Protocol
- scattering human ashes at sea (however, you need a permit to perform a sea burial).
Waters within the limits of the state
Australian waters do not include waters defined as those within the limits of a state or territory. Waters within state and territory limits were set out in Letters Patent issued by the Governors of each of the states during Federation. The limits may include features such as bays, gulfs, estuaries, rivers, creeks, inlets, ports, or harbours.
State limits are generally low water along the coastline together with bay closing lines (usually of no more than 6 nm in length) and river closing lines. Along some coastlines, locating these boundaries may be difficult, especially where islands lie very close to the coastline and certain bays. There are detailed legal principles that must be applied to determine the exact location of the state limits.
Defining waters within the state limit can be complex. You may need to seek legal advice to determine these limits. We will help you where we can.
For help, email email@example.com.
The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972 (the London Convention) is an international treaty that has been in force since 1975 to protect the marine environment from human activities.
In 1996, the London Protocol updated the Convention and will eventually replace it.
The London Protocol aims to:
- protect and preserve the marine environment from all human activities
- take all practical steps to prevent pollution of the sea by the dumping of wastes and other matter.
Australia became a Party to the London Protocol in 2000.
Under the London Protocol, all dumping is prohibited, with exception of matters listed in Annex 1 (see below). The London Protocol entered into force on 24 March 2006 and there are 53 Parties to the London Protocol.
The permitted substances listed in Annex 1 of the London Protocol are:
- Dredged material
- Fish waste, or material resulting from industrial fish processing operations
- Vessels and platforms or other man-made structures at sea
- Inert, inorganic geological material
- Organic material of natural origin
- Bulky items primarily comprising iron, steel, concrete and similar unharmful materials for which the concern is physical impact and limited to those circumstances, where such wastes are generated at locations, such as small islands with isolated communities, having no practicable access to disposal options other than dumping
- CO2 streams from CO2 capture processes.
Australia fulfils its international obligations under the London Protocol through the Sea Dumping Act. Australia reports annually to the International Maritime Organisation on all permitted sea dumping activities in Australian waters or by Australian flagged vessels overseas.
If you are proposing to dump waste into the ocean, please see: how to apply for a sea dumping permit.