Australia needs an ocean agency

| July 22, 2023

The private sector is calling for greater coordination and collaboration to achieve a sustainable blue economy with prosperity for all Australians.

Speaking at the inaugural Ocean Business Leaders’ Summit in Sydney on 1 March 2023, Minister for the Environment and Water The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP announced the development of a National Sustainable Ocean Plan as a ‘roadmap’ to help determine “the kind of future we want for our oceans”.

Organisers of the Summit, Ocean Decade Australia, say the historic meeting was a first for genuine cross-sector conversation about Australia’s significant ocean estate, including 25,780 kilometres of coastline and the third largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world.

Gathering 257 leaders from business, finance, science, research, community, and government, participants were able to share their expertise, gain understanding, and develop an action-oriented starting position for what it would take for Australia to develop and benefit from a sustainable ocean economy.

A synthesis of the discussions at the Summit, the white paper identifies the private sector’s desire for greater cohesion and holistic governance of the ocean as a key enabler for Australia’s ability to lead on ocean matters, including big ideas such as a National Ocean Minister and a dedicated, independent Ocean Agency.

Ocean Decade Australia Chair and Co-founder, Jas Chambers, noted that it was through consultation with the private sector that the vital need for a connected conversation in Australia regarding the blue economy and role of the marine environment was identified.

“Australia was one of the first nations in the world to develop and publish an Ocean Policy in 1998 – the then International Year of the Ocean. That policy has not changed, and many of the desires and priorities have not been realised. The fact that Australia has a space agency but not an ocean agency indicates the lack of connectivity in the conversation about the ocean and it is why we founded Ocean Decade Australia,”

“Our work has revealed a low level of ocean literacy – understanding our impact on the ocean and its impact on us – and is part of the reason Australia has had such a fragmented approach to ocean use, management and stewardship. The white paper is a key tool to take the discussion a step further, link those conversations up and to make plans together.”

The ocean is being recognised as a new economic frontier for new entrants including offshore energy producers and blue carbon proponents, offering opportunities for economic growth, employment, and innovation. However, despite seeming vast, unknown and untouched, the ocean has not been spared from human impact. Stressors including rising sea temperatures, pollution, resource overexploitation, biodiversity loss, sea-level rise, and extreme weather events have only recently been understood and experienced by humans.

The ocean plays a crucial role in regulating the planet’s climate by acting as a heat sink and absorbing carbon dioxide. It also influences global climate patterns through its circulation patterns and currents. Conversely, climate change has profound effects on the ocean and its inhabitants, including ocean warming, ocean acidification, and changes in currents and circulation. Understanding and addressing this connection is crucial for effective climate change mitigation, adaptation and investment strategies.

The summit, and resulting white paper, generates collective understanding and identification of high-level actions while simultaneously growing awareness of the ecosystem of ocean stakeholders, drivers and opportunities amongst the participants which included young people, First Nations custodians and Pacific island representatives.

The publicly available report outlines the business community’s emphasis on ambition and action, acknowledging the links between ocean health, human health and the prosperity of local communities and the need to determine how best to ‘share’ the ocean neighbourhood.

Summit Director, Dr Lucy Buxton said:

“The ocean is a shared public good – we all benefit from it, and therefore we all have responsibility for it. We designed the Summit with that complexity in mind and gathered a diversity of thought, experience and expertise together. We were fierce in our insistence on inclusive dialogue. The white paper is the output of those conversations and is a tool for ocean stakeholders for further engagement and discussion.”