Australia’s Commonwealth Marine Reserves


Expanded MPA estate established: 2012
Location: Commonwealth waters, around Australia
Size: 2,834,028 km² or 1,094,224mi2, is one of the largest representative network of marine protected areas in the world

Australia’s Commonwealth Marine Reserves Estate

Australia’s Commonwealth marine reserves estate covers over 2,834,028 km² or 1,094,224mi2 and is made up of 59 individual marine reserves (or MPAs). Together they form one of the largest representative networks of marine protected areas in the world. The marine reserves represent examples of all the different marine ecosystems and habitats found in the oceans around Australia and range in depth from drying reefs to the deep abyss at over 6400 meters. They protect important habitats like coral reefs, undersea canyons and seamounts, and the diversity of marine life they support.

Australia’s Commonwealth marine reserves are still being explored due to the large expanse and depths of all sites collectively. However, we do know the protected areas are special as there are 322 recognised ‘biologically important areas’ for protected species across sites, plus are home to hundreds of unique species only found in Australia. There are seamounts taller than Mont Blanc (the European Alps’ highest mountain), hundreds of submarine canyons – including one larger than the Grand Canyon attracting aggregations of pygmy blue whales to feed and over 120 listed historic shipwrecks. The closest Commonwealth marine reserve to the Australian mainland is approximately three nautical miles away and with some extending to the outer limit of Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone some 200 nautical miles away.

Parks Australia manages Australia’s Commonwealth marine reserves estate as 6 networks (the smallest network – the North Network – covers over 157,000 km2). Within the 6 networks are five individual very large MPAs that are the member sites of Big Ocean. They are (listed in order of establishment):

  • The Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve (989,842 million km2 or 382,180 mi2) that is internationally recognised for its rich biodiversity, unique species and important heritage values;

  • South-west Corner Commonwealth Marine Reserve (271,898 km2 or 104,980 mi2) home to a wide range of important ecosystems in both shallow and deep water reaching abyssal depths of up to 6400 meters or more and includes parts of the Naturaliste Plateau believed to be associated with rich and possibly unique biological communities;

  • Norfolk Commonwealth Marine Reserve (188,433 km2 or 72,754mi2) home to benthic habitats thought to act as stepping stones for faunal dispersal, connecting deep-water fauna from New Caledonia to New Zealand;

  • Macquarie Island Commonwealth Marine Reserve (162,000 km2 or 62,548mi2) home to important habitat for seabirds including five albatross species, and foraging areas for New Zealand, antarctic and subantarctic fur seals and penguins during the breeding season;

  • and the Argo-Rowley Terrace Commonwealth Marine Reserve (146,099 km2 or 56,409mi2) home to foraging areas for migratory seabirds, the endangered loggerhead turtle and unique seafloor features.