Commonwealth marine reserves are areas established under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (EPBC Act)  to help conserve Australia’s spectacular marine life.

The establishment of Commonwealth marine reserves in 2007 (South-east region) and 2012 (South-west, North-west, North and Temperate East regions and the Coral Sea) completed the Commonwealth waters component of the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA), and met the Government’s commitment at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 to develop such a system by 2012.

Image: Reef Life Survey

The CMR network was designed to meet the needs of a comprehensive, adequate and representative system (CAR) that also minimised impacts on other marine users. Scientific input from the Commonwealth Environment Research Facility (CERF) Marine Biodiversity Hub included assembling all available data and predicting biodiversity distributions at medium to large scales (kms to thousands of kms) to meet the CAR objectives. While this scale of scientific data was appropriate for planning, it is of limited value for managing the CMR network. Management requires more detailed knowledge at finer scales so that any changes in the environment inside the CMR can be compared with changes in similar areas outside the CMR network.

In responding to the requirement for research to meet the needs of CMR network managers, Hub scientists have worked with the Department to:

  • break down higher level policy objectives to scientifically measureable operational objectives;
  • develop survey approaches to cost-effectively monitor (or provide a baseline to monitor against) fine-scale changes in biodiversity that are statistically representative of the broader marine reserve;
  • conduct public surveys to determine how the public understands and values marine biodiversity and the CMR network;
  • compare environmental conditions in areas closed to fishing compared with adjacent fished areas.

In the process of this research, Hub scientists have:

  • improved the knowledge and description of the marine environment within selected CMRs;
  • collated existing data to show the pressures facing the marine environment and their potential for cumulative impact (Section 1);
  • conducted an extensive review of existing data for 54 CMRs (Section 1); and
  • identified fish communities in all 14 reserves of the SECMR network.

Monitoring the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area

At the request of the Australian Government, Hub researchers led a collaborative research project to establish an integrated monitoring framework for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, including social and economic aspects. The framework was designed to contribute to the strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef under the EPBC Act, as well as to the Long-Term Sustainability Plan for the World Heritage Area.