Commonwealth marine areas are protected as a matter of national environmental significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The Australian Government has developed marine bioregional plans for five Commonwealth marine planning areas to help government and industry manage and protect the marine environment. The plans describe the marine environment and conservation values of each marine region, set broad biodiversity objectives, and identify regional priorities, strategies and related actions.

Conservation values are defined in the plans as species or places that are listed under the EPBC Act, (such as threatened species or heritage areas), or Key Ecological Features considered important for a region’s biodiversity or ecosystem function and integrity. Marine Biodiversity Hub research on these conservation values is covered in this section of the report. Hub research on listed species is covered in Section 2, and research on Commonwealth marine reserves and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is covered in Section 3.

Research was designed to contribute to the following strategies identified in marine bioregional plans:

  • provide relevant, accessible and evidence-based information to support decision-making with respect to development proposals that come under the jurisdiction of the EPBC Act;
  • increase collaboration with relevant industries to improve understanding of the impacts of anthropogenic disturbance and address the cumulative effects on the region’s key ecological features and protected species; and
  • improve monitoring, evaluation and reporting on ecosystem health in the marine environment.

Responding to the need

An important research focus was to make better use of existing physical and biological data to better understand biodiversity in the Commonwealth marine area. Museum collections were reinterpreted to characterise the spatial structure of marine habitats and communities at national scales and to identify prehistoric processes that influence contemporary biodiversity patterns. Further data were used to identify habitats inside and outside CMRs that support multiple species of vulnerable elasmobranchs and may benefit from refinements to management. The impact of fisheries and biodiversity conservation management interventions in the past three decades on the predicted state of benthic communities was also investigated. Surveys were used to gather information about how the public values the marine environment, existing data were collated on environmental pressures and their potential for cumulative impact.

Hub scientists worked to improve monitoring and reporting on ecosystem health through an enhanced understanding of KEFs and by extending Australia’s capabilities to collect and analyse relevant biological data in deep water environments. Finally, this new knowledge and capability was combined with an extensive review of existing data relevant to KEFs as input to a blueprint for monitoring ecosystem health. This was developed in concert with the Australian Government Department of the Environment and other stakeholders.