Australia is an island continent bounded by three of the world's great oceans - the Pacific, Indian and Great Southern.

As a people, we live mostly along the edges of our vast and relatively arid lands – with 85 percent living within 50 kilometres of the shore.

We have a great fascination and respect for the oceans and the vital role they play in all our lives.

The world's largest coral formation – the Great Barrier Reef stretches along more than 2000 kilometres of our northern pacific coastline – it is truly one of the wonders of the world.

For perspective, it is roughly the size of Japan or Italy: a maze of 3000 coral reefs and 1050 islands.  Nearly two million people from around the world visit every year.

We also have the largest representative network of marine protected areas in the world, stretching from Australia’s tropical north to the sub-Antarctic in the south.

While it is important to establish marine protected areas – it is as important to ensure these areas are well managed, with comprehensive plans and investment for the future.

That is why we have put in place a plan to 2050 to manage the Great Barrier Reef which includes funding over the next decade of $2 billion and establishment of a $1 billion Reef Fund to promote innovation finance for protection of the reef.

We are very mindful of the value of this huge ecosystem to the world and take our responsibilities as its custodian seriously – to protect it for future generations

Let me highlight four elements of our 2050 Plan:

  • we are strengthening our world-leading fisheries management system because we know how vital biodiversity is for the health of the reef
  • we have put in place extensive measures to improve water quality and to manage the highly destructive crown of thorns starfish
  • we have concluded a world-first genetic coding of coral species which will help us understand and manage the Reef’s response to changing climate, and
  • we have supported development of the eReefs water monitoring system, which is another world first and now live online.

Last year, the World Heritage Committee concluded our management of the Reef is world’s best practice – reflecting over 40 years of diligent stewardship.  And we hope to do more with other coral reef nations in the future.

Australia is the lead development assistance partner for many Pacific Ocean nations, and we work with them to promote sustainability and economic growth.

The Blue Economy is vital - the Pacific tuna fishery alone generates more than $380 million of income and supported 22,000 jobs in 2015 – however it is believed that a further $150 million is lost through illegal, unregulated and  unreported fishing - mostly by licensed vessels.

This harms the sustainability of fish stocks and deprives nations of significant income. 

The South Pacific is home to many of our closest neighbors and we consider them to be family, due in part to the large number of Pacific Islanders who call Australia home.

We are partnering with Pacific Island nations through a $2.5 billion 30-year Pacific Maritime Security Program, in which Australia provides 22 patrol boats and new aerial surveillance for better regulation and enforcement.

Australia is also investing in the support of communities in 28 villages in Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Vanuatu to better manage their local fisheries.

This support will explore how to deliver community based fisheries management at scale throughout the region.

We must be more innovative in fisheries management.

A paradox of the fish farming industry is that while it takes direct pressure off wild stocks, about 30 per cent of the wild catch is used to produce feed for the farms.

Through the innovationXchange that I established within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we launched a Blue Economy (Aquaculture) Challenge to find innovative solutions to this problem, and we have identified some truly ground breaking ideas.

I announced the winners a short time ago at an event hosted by the WWF – with the winning innovative ideas coming from Australia, United States, France, Tanzania, Thailand, South Africa and India.

Australia is also pleased to partner with the Safe Oceans Network, an initiative of Secretary Kerry, to better coordinate action of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

And Australia has long been a strong supporter of the drive to prohibit harmful subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing – through the WTO's enhanced disciplines approach.

Coastal ecosystems are under pressure from human development activities, particularly sea grasses, tidal marshes and mangroves.

Climate change is adding to those pressures and Australia announced at last year's COP21 conference that we would establish an International Partnership for Blue Carbon, to facilitate blue carbon science, policy and implementation.

I am pleased to note that Secretary Kerry has committed the United States to become the most recent member of the Partnership and also that France has joined the Partnership so thank you John and Ségolène.

This spirit of partnership is why Our Oceans Conference has become such a success.  There is so much we can learn from each other as we all grapple with ensuring the oceans continue to play their critical role for our world.

For this spirit of partnership and action may I lastly thank and acknowledge the leadership and unstinting efforts of Secretary Kerry in protecting our sparkling, magical, powerful seas.

Thank you.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555