fish and ships - EDO NSW

More than just fish and ships - the case for an Oceans Act

EDO NSW has written a report for HSI Australia which sets out a vision for nationally integrated marine management, with strong national, regional and global leadership through a new Oceans Authority and clear framework legislation – an Oceans Act.

By Rachel Walmsley, Director Law Reform and Policy EDO NSW

19 September 2018

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Marine plastics, bleached coral reefs, over fishing, bycatch, shark control programs, rapid coastal development, marine park zoning debates, invasive starfish, super trawlers, aquaculture issues, pollution and sedimentation, warming oceans, shipping, maritime security issues, coastal floods and storms and damage from both natural and human induced disasters - these are issues we see in the media every year. They all impact on our magnificent coasts and oceans.

Australia’s marine environment is immense, constituting almost 4% of the world’s oceans, the third largest maritime jurisdiction in the world. Different laws, different governments and different sectors manage the different issues and impacts and this piecemeal and uncoordinated approach is putting at risk our unique marine environmental assets and natural resources. The threats are increasing in scale and complexity and unfortunately our management regimes are too.

Ocean management is not just about fish and ships, but about security (global, food and economic), about social and cultural well-being and planetary health. Management by sector is failing to protect our marine assets, build resilience and ensure we all benefit from healthy coasts and oceans for generations to come.

The problems may be complex and interrelated, but there is a clear solution.

This report sets out a vision for nationally integrated marine management, with strong national, regional and global leadership through a new Oceans Authority and clear framework legislation – an Oceans Act. The pathway set out in this report will enable us to overcome the barriers that have prevented us from realising the vision of integrated oceans management until now. These barriers include our failure to implement policy through clear laws, our domestic jurisdictional wrangling and lines on maps that are about historical negotiations rather than ecological systems, the failure to actively engage state and local governments in national marine policy and the lack of coordination between different ocean users and sectors, both within and beyond national jurisdiction.

From the coastal catchments to the high seas, Australians benefit from a healthy coastal and marine environment, managed sustainably. A new legal framework for ecosystem-based, integrated coastal and ocean management is needed to ensure we all benefit ecologically, economically and socially. We should not wait for another Montara oil spill disaster to pull our regulatory socks up.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals set targets for marine management with imminent deadlines. With a clear national vision, effectively coordinated, Australia can be a leader in marine management in our region and on the international stage.

Alexia Wellbelove of HSI Australia situates this report in the context of international moves towards a new oceans treaty for conserving and sustainably using the marine biodiversity of the high seas. She writes: "It is essential that whilst these international talks are underway, Australia turns its mind to what we need to do to better coordinate concerted action to deal with all the ever more complex and severe threats to our oceans and the habitats and species they sustain. This needs to be done not only to ensure Australia plays a strong conservation role in negotiations for the new treaty but also to ensure we do the best we can at home."

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