Australia currently regulates the deliberate loading, dumping and incineration of waste at sea under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 and the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment Act 1986. The waters surrounding Australia's coastline are increasingly threatened by pollution from wastes dumped at sea. To reduce this threat, there are Australian Government laws that control dumping at sea.
Permits from the Department are required for all sea dumping operations. Currently, about 30 permits are issued in Australia per year, mainly for the dumping of uncontaminated dredge spoil. Applications can be obtained from the Department or the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (if the dumping is to take place within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park).
Artificial Reefs are regulated under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981. An application for a permit to create an artificial reef must be obtained from the Department. Additional permits may also be required under relevant State legislation.
- Sea dumping - Placement of artificial reefs
- An application for a permit to create an artificial reef
Montara oil spill
On 21 August 2009 the Montara wellhead platform drill rig owned by PTTEP Australasia suffered a well head accident, resulting in the uncontrolled discharge of oil and gas. The discharge of oil and gas was stopped on 3 November 2009.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority coordinated the emergency spill response in accordance with Australia's National Plan to Combat Pollution of the Sea by Oil and Other Noxious and Hazardous Substances (the national plan).
The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (now known as the Department of the Environment) engaged in the response through both a Wildlife Plan of Action and by taking on the role of Environmental and Scientific Coordinator under the national plan.
Land based marine pollution
Poor water quality and sediment quality are the most serious known pollution issues affecting Australia's coastal and marine environments. The 1995 State of the Marine Environment Report found that pollution from the land contributes up to 80 percent of all marine pollution and is a major threat to the long-term health of nearshore marine systems. It affects ecological processes, public health and social and commercial use of marine resources. For more information visit the State of the Environment, Coasts and Oceans Reporting. The following links are past and present Australian Government initiatives that promotes tackling marine pollution at source.
- Australia's National Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities
- Integrated Coastal Zone Management
- Reef Water Quality Protection Plan
- Great Barrier Reef Coastal Wetlands Protection Program
- Queensland Wetlands Program
Coastal acid sulfate soils
Acid sulfate soils (ASS) is the term usually given to soils or sand that contain iron sulfides (pyrite). In an undisturbed state, coastal acid sulfate soils are relatively harmless. However, when exposed to oxygen, through drainage or excavation, sulfuric acid is produced in large quantities. After rain, particularly following prolonged dry periods, this acid is mobilised in the soil profile, carrying with it other liberated toxins such as heavy metals. This toxic cocktail eventually flows into surrounding waterways significantly decreasing water quality.
The Department works co-operatively with other Australian Government and State agencies on domestic and international maritime pollution policy and its implementation. This includes participation in the International Maritime Organisation and the domestic ANZECC Maritime Accidents and Pollution Implementation Group (MAPIG). Current issues include ballast water, toxic anti-foulants, introduced marine pests, pollution from shipping operations and marine debris.
Ballast water and introduced marine pests
Ballast water is a major source of introduced marine pests. The Department of Agriculture is the lead agency for the management of ballast water taken up outside Australian waters with the intention of discharge within an Australian port. Part of the Department of Agriculture's charter is to ensure that foreign ballast water has been managed in accordance with the Australian Ballast Water Management Requirements before permitting its discharge inside Australia's territorial sea (12 nautical limit generally applies).
Australian ballast water management requirements are consistent with International Maritime Organisation (IMO) guidelines for minimising the risk of translocation of harmful aquatic species in ships' ballast water.
What is biofouling?
Biofouling occurs when marine organisms attach to, and grow on, objects such as hulls, anchors, cables, fenders, cordage, tenders - in fact, just about anything that's in regular contact with the sea.
Biofouling adversely affects the performance of a marine vessel and can increase the risk of spreading harmful marine invasive species.
To reduce the effects of biofouling it is recommended that vessel hulls have an effective anti-fouling treatment applied.
- Further information on biofouling: Marine pest biosecurity - Biofouling management
Anti-fouling and in-water cleaning guidelines
In response to the contamination and biosecurity risks associated with shore-based and in-water maintenance of vessels and movable structures, guidelines detailing best-practice approaches are available at
- Anti-Fouling and In-Water Cleaning Guidelines - June 2013