THE PAPER | Marine Nation 2025: Australia’s Maritime Sovereignty, Security and Safety

THE PAPER | Marine Nation 2025: Australia’s Maritime Sovereignty, Security and Safety

By Oceans Policy Science Advisory Group
Government of Australia

By 2025, the combined value of Australian marine industries — both existing and emerging— and ecosystem services is projected to be more than $100 billion per annum. In support of Australia’s burgeoning ‘blue economy’, it is clearly in our national interest to ensure that the economic, ecosystem and cultural resources of the marine estate are well known, wisely used and carefully managed. This task can only be achieved with increased focus on marine science to inform industry development, policy and management. The world is facing significant challenges to sustainable economic development. These challenges include the effects of climate change, food and energy security, biodiversity conservation, management of marine resources, resilience in the face of marine disasters, and issues with sovereignty and security.

THE PAPER | Marine Nation 2025: Australia’s Maritime Sovereignty, Security and Safety

Despite relative economic and social security and good environmental management, Australia is also vulnerable to these challenges. Many answers to global challenges lie in the sustainable use and management of the marine environment — by developing a blue economy. A blue economy is one in which our ocean ecosystems bring economic and social benefits that are efficient, equitable and sustainable. Used wisely, Australia’s ocean resources can generate wealth, food, energy and sustainable livelihoods for generations. Australia claims the third largest marine jurisdiction of any nation on Earth—13.86 million km2 (check the map below)—more than double the size of its land mass. 

Image Attribute: Australia's Maritime Jurisdiction
Map Attribute: Australia's Maritime Jurisdiction

Image Attribute: Australia's Maritime Jurisdiction

Because Australia is an island continent, our national security depends on maintaining our maritime borders, and our valuable primary export income relies on the marine estate, through both shipping routes and Australia’s extensive port network. The marine estate is also becoming increasingly important strategically as the gateway to East and South-east Asia. Australia derives substantial benefits from the oceans that are not easily quantifiable in market terms. The value of these ‘ecosystem services’ has been estimated at over $25 billion and growing. They include regulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by ocean absorption, recycling essential nutrients and controlling pests and diseases as well as social and cultural benefits including sport and recreation, and inspiration for art, design and education. 

In 2009 Australia’s Oceans Policy Science Advisory Group (OPSAG) released a strategic National Framework for Marine Research and Innovation, A Marine Nation. The framework highlighted the significant economic, social and environmental value of Australia’s marine estate and the opportunities for research and innovation to support industry development and government policy development and regulation. A Marine Nation aimed to support Australia’s quest to maximize wealth generation from marine assets while maintaining the health of the marine environment for future generations. It guided strategic planning and investment in national marine research and research capability, as evidenced by investment in a Marine and Climate Super Science Initiative in 2009. Through broad consultation with science providers and users, A Marine Nation ensured that investment was well connected to, and thus likely to have positive impact on, both government and private industry stakeholders. The concepts and recommendations within the document gained widespread community and political support.

Australia has sovereign rights over much this vast area of ocean, along with the fishery, mineral, and petroleum resources found within it. The marine estate is growing rapidly in value as a vital national asset as our population continues to grow and offshore oil and gas resources are developed. Activity continues to increase along the coastal fringe and new bulk commodity ports are servicing expanding resource-based export industries. The national value of production across marine-based industries (e.g. oil and gas exploration and extraction, tourism, fishing, boat-building, shipping, ports) was $42.3 billion in 2009–10 (compared with $39.6 billion from agriculture), a major contribution to Gross Domestic Product, employment and infrastructure at national, state/territory and regional levels.

The protection and security of national sovereignty, for both Australia’s territory and people, and the safety of the population are essential responsibilities for the government. These responsibilities support our national values and the advancement of the social, environmental and economic well-being of our nation.

Maritime sovereignty, security and safety are particularly important for Australia because of our economic reliance on the oceans for transport, trade, energy, international communication and food. We are separated from our neighbours by oceans, and rely on good order at sea to promote peaceful and prosperous relations. Our national interests need to be protected against maritime security threats that include the illegal exploitation of natural resources, illegal activity in protected areas, maritime terrorism, piracy, robbery or violence at sea, and compromise to bio-security and marine pollution. Substantial growth in oil and gas developments and shipping of resources has meant that our ability to protect the much expanded ports, shipping and offshore infrastructure from attack such as terrorism is vital to our economy. There will also be greater risk of oil spills requiring improved management to minimize impacts on biodiversity. Adapting to a changing climate will place greater demand for assessment of risks in the protection of assets, the safety of maritime operations and occurrence of natural hazards to allow adequate preparedness.

The physical environment of our EEZ is extraordinarily complex. It ranges from tropical seas with strong tidal flows, cyclones and areas where breaking internal waves belie a smooth sea surface, to the huge swells and storms of the wild Southern Ocean. To facilitate safe navigation for maritime trade routes, manage commercial fisheries and to undertake patrols, rescues and Defence activities successfully in these waters, it is necessary to understand and predict the waves, current systems, tides and other oceanographic phenomena. Accurate hydro-graphic data and charts are essential for safety of navigation for maritime trade and recreational users alike. They are also crucial for defining changing maritime boundaries of legislative jurisdictions and assist in substantiating our sovereign claims. Hydrography also assists in the exploration and management of sea floor resource exploitation and responses to natural or human disasters. However, significant parts of Australia’s marine jurisdiction are not adequately charted.

The impact of extreme events, such as tsunamis, cyclones and severe storms, on communities and infrastructure is a significant issue for Australia’s maritime security.To improve our ability to predict the impact and risk of these and other marine natural hazards, and better plan for emergency response, fine-scale coastal bathymetric and oceanographic data and advanced risk-based modeling approaches are needed.

Safety of life at sea also depends on reliable predictions about the behavior of the marine environment. Maritime incidents caused by a lack of appropriate information can be potentially catastrophic in terms of loss of human life, economic impact, degradation of the environment and the maintenance of safe navigation. Crucially, surveillance and security activities require legally robust data to support prevention and compliance activities and enhanced operational forecasts for the ocean, atmospheric and geo-hazard domains. Limited blue water and tsunami forecasting capacities exist for the open ocean and to some extent near shore, but long term commitment is required to develop a national operational oceanographic and geo-hazard forecasting capability with an enhanced coastal component. 

To provide real benefit to the Australian community, these operational forecasting systems will need to focus on achieving true forecasting skill at fine spatial and temporal scales, predict seabed and shoreline conditions and be able to provide a clear indication of the reliability of the forecast. These aspirations will need to be supported by a wide range of observations, collected both remotely and in situ, to feed into forecasting and compliance systems. Future sensors collecting these observations will need to be able to adjust to the limitations of environmental conditions such as turbidity, waves and other effects caused by the weather. Methods used to analyze the data, integrate and calculate the forecasts will also need to improve. As we acquire ocean data at finer scales and in real (or near real) time, the demand for efficient and inter-operable data systems will become critical. National ocean observation and data systems will provide rapid, more accurate and accessible forecasts of Australian ocean and geo-hazard conditions, potentially saving lives, averting major incidents, reducing industry operating costs and improving the efficiency of our Defence and other compliance forces and enhancing our ability to predict the impact and risk of marine natural hazards.

To meet the challenges ahead, Australia needs to invest in the three traditional pillars of science: observation, experimentation and modeling. Infrastructure is required for all these steps in the science process, ranging from observing technologies, through platforms such as research vessels, sustained observing systems, and experimental infrastructure, to data management, storage, manipulation and visualization technologies. A stable, sustained and predictable commitment to maintaining, updating and transforming infrastructure, and the human resources to run it, is critical to ensure the initial investment in new infrastructure delivers long-term and sustainable benefits. Investment in human capability is also required: training, skills development, mechanisms and incentives for collaboration. Finally, investment in science communication is needed to improve application and acceptance of science in policy, legislation and regulation. This will require communication of the relevance and need for marine science and the benefits gained from previous and ongoing investment in this element of the national innovation sector.

Publication Details:

This an abridged article derived from Marine Nation 2025 report prepared by the Oceans Policy Science Advisory Group, Government of Australia, published under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia license. The details of the relevant license conditions are available on the Creative Commons website at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en. Download The Complete Paper - LINK
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