Waters surrounding Australia's coastlines are protected from wastes and pollution dumped at sea by the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 (the Sea Dumping Act). The Sea Dumping Act regulates the loading and dumping of waste at sea and the placement of artificial reefs within Australian Waters. Australian Waters stretch from the low water mark of the Australian shoreline out to 200 nautical miles, but does not include waters within the limits of a state or territory.
The Sea Dumping Act:
- prohibits the ocean disposal of material considered too harmful to be released into the marine environment
- regulates permitted ocean waste disposal to minimise its environmental impacts
- regulates the placement of artificial reefs for the purposes of enhancing the marine environment
- applies to all vessels, aircraft and platforms in Australian Waters, and to all Australian vessels and aircraft in any part of the sea.
Sea dumping is any:
- deliberate disposal into the sea of wastes or other matter from vessels, aircraft, platforms, or other man-made structures at sea
- deliberate disposal into the sea of vessels, aircraft, platforms, or other man-made structures at sea
- storage of wastes or other matter in the seabed and the subsoil thereof from vessels, aircraft, platforms, or other man-made structures at sea
- abandonment or toppling at site of platforms or other man-made structures at sea, for the sole purpose of deliberate disposal.
Sea dumping does not include:
- disposal derived from the normal operations of vessels, aircraft, platforms, or other man-made structures at sea such as sewage and galley scraps. For these discharges, you must comply with legislation administered by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority
- placing matter for a purpose other than disposal, provided that such placement is not contrary to the aims of the London Protocol
- scattering human ashes at sea (however, you need a permit to make a sea burial).
Waters within the limits of the state
Australian Waters does not include waters defined as being those which are within the limits of a state or territory. Waters within the limits of the state were set out in letters patent issued during Federation to the Governors of each of the states. The limits may have been drawn to include features such as bays, gulfs, estuaries, rivers, creeks, inlets, ports or harbours.
Generally, the state limits are low water along the coastline together with bay closing lines (usually of no more than 6 nm in length) and river closing lines. In some areas of the coastline, locating these boundaries may be difficult, especially where islands lie very close to the coastline and in relation to certain bays. In such cases there are detailed legal principles that must be applied to determine the exact location of the state limits.
Defining waters within the limit of the state can be complex. You may need to seek legal advice to determine these limits. We will help you where we can.
Dumping waste in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
To carry out a sea dumping activity within the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP), you must comply with:
If you are proposing a sea dumping activity in the GBRMP, you must apply for a sea dumping permit through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
Contact the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972 (the London Convention) is an international treaty that has been in force since 1975 to protect the marine environment from human activities.
In 1996, the London Protocol was agreed to modernise the Convention and eventually replace it. Australia became a Party to the London Protocol in 2000. Under the Protocol, all dumping is prohibited, with exception of those listed in Annex 1. Annex 1 includes matter such as dredged material, sewage sludge and fish waste. The Protocol entered into force on 24 March 2006 and there are 53 Parties to the Protocol as of 22 June 2021.
Australia fulfils its international obligations under the Protocol through the Sea Dumping Act. Australia reports annually to the International Maritime Organisation on all permitted and sea dumping activities in Australian waters or by Australian flagged vessels overseas.
The London Protocol aims to:
- protect and preserve the marine environment from all human activities
- take all practical steps to prevent pollution of the sea by the dumping of wastes and other matter.
If you are proposing to dump waste into the ocean, please see: Sea dumping permits.