Commonwealth Marine Reserves

Commonwealth marine reserves are established under Australian law to conserve representative examples of Australia’s marine ecosystems while allowing for the ecologically sustainable use of Australia’s marine resources.

There are 60 Commonwealth Marine Reserve networks in Commonwealth waters around Australia, totalling 3.2 million square kilometres in area.

The Director of National Parks (the Director) is responsible for the management of 59 of the Commonwealth marine reserves with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority responsible for the management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Australian Antarctic Division manages the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve on behalf of the Director.

Reserve networks

Commonwealth marine reserves are managed as five networks of reserves and one large reserve in the Coral Sea.

The South-east network was proclaimed in 2007 and has a management plan in place until 2023. The Temperate East, South-west, North-west and North Commonwealth marine reserve networks and the Coral Sea Commonwealth marine reserve were proclaimed in 2012 and are currently under transitional management arrangements.

Figure 1 – Commonwealth marine reserves networks, the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve, the Heard and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Management Plans

Management Plans provide for the protection and conservation of the marine reserves by setting out the arrangements for management of activities within the reserves for a period of ten years. Management Plans state how natural features, heritage and other value are to be protected and conserved and set out what rules about what activities can be done in reserves and where. They are deigned to provide certainty to reserve users by giving effect to decision on zoning and allowable activities consistent with the relevant Australian IUCN reserve management principles. The Director of National Parks is legally required to prepare management plans for all Commonwealth reserves.

The Director has commenced the formal statutory process to make new management plans for the Commonwealth Marine Reserve Networks (except for the South-east network), following the release of the independent review in September 2016.

The process includes two public comment periods that seek input into the development of management plans including feedback on what the public would like to see in draft plans, and an opportunity to comment on the draft plans. The Director will then consider the comments received and finalises the plans. The plans are approved by the Minister for the Environment and Energy. For more information on the process see:

Further information about Commonwealth marine reserves can be found at

Details on how the Commonwealth marine reserves affect individual areas released for offshore petroleum exploration, including transitional management arrangements, can be found in the 2017 acreage release Special Notices.