Go to top of page

Managing Australia’s marine jurisdictions


To support sustainable use of our marine environment.


Geoscience Australia supports the effective, efficient and sustainable management of the marine environment through the provision geoscience data, information and advice.

Performance criteria and results

Table 5: Strategic priority: Managing Australia’s marine jurisdictions—performance

Secure marine jurisdiction for Australia

Program deliverable1


A collaborative program of support for Pacific island countries to access their maritime jurisdictional entitlements under international law

Geoscience Australia held the 19th Pacific Islands Regional Maritime Boundaries Working Session at the University of Sydney over 2.5 weeks. Participants included representatives of 14 South West Pacific countries, Geoscience Australia, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Australian Hydrographic Office (AHO), the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the United States Department of State, the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, the Pacific Community, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency. This meeting progressed the finalisation of maritime limit declarations by Pacific states and facilitated four ongoing boundary negotiations.

We advised the Pacific Community and Pacific states on the issues of climate change and maritime boundaries and contributed to the development of the Pacific region’s submission to the International Law Commission’s investigation into the international law aspects of these issues. We also provided in-country workshops in Nauru and Samoa, working with the Attorney-General’s Department and the Pacific Community.

Geoscience Australia participated in a regional workshop in Nadi, Fiji, to investigate the scientific and legal aspects of the impacts of climate change on the stability of Pacific maritime boundaries, and to develop a regional strategy to address this issue.

Provide support for the Australian Government’s implementation of a new treaty with Timor-Leste

Geoscience Australia:

  • provided advice on the amendment of legislation and legislative instruments implementing the provisions of the new treaty with Timor-Leste
  • contributed to the development of operational advice for enforcing Australia’s northern boundaries, in coordination with the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Home Affairs, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • produced new digital information depicting Australia’s maritime boundaries, reflecting new arrangements with Timor-Leste
  • produced amended information supporting the administration of petroleum titles, including updated Scheduled Areas, Offshore Areas and Petroleum Blocks
  • developed new wall maps for Australia’s Maritime Border Command to support operational planning, including an updated map for Operation Sovereign Borders.

Marine geoscience to support the blue economy

Program deliverable1


Deliver marine and coastal geoscience data, derived products and advice that informs evidence-based decisions for the management of Australia’s marine jurisdictions, including the Australian Antarctic Territory

Geoscience Australia:

  • enhanced the AusSeabed Marine Data Portal (ausseabed.gov.au), improving the discoverability of, access to and analytics for seabed data, especially bathymetry, products derived from this data (seabed backscatter and geomorphology), and seabed sediments across Australia’s marine area. With these enhancements, the portal recorded 3000 bathymetry data downloads, a 47% increase on the prior financial year
  • continued implementing the AusSeabed initiative, establishing an Executive Board to oversee the strategic direction of this national collaborative program in seabed mapping that includes partners from government, marine industries and the research community
  • completed seabed mapping surveys at the Lord Howe, Wessel, Gascoyne and South-west Corner marine parks, as deliverables for the National Environmental Science Program Marine Biodiversity Hub. We also completed mapping within the Coral Sea Marine Park in collaboration with the Schmidt Ocean Institute and James Cook University
  • collaborated with James Cook University and the AHO to develop a new 30 metre digital elevation model of the Great Barrier Reef, from its northernmost extent at the coastline of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to the New South Wales border. This included the AHO resurveying parts of the reef to support delineation of Australia’s maritime zones in the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea
  • undertook a national facility survey in collaboration with the University of Tasmania to secure scientific evidence for a revised submission relating to an area of outstanding Australian legal continental shelf in the Southern Ocean.

1 Source: 2019–20 Corporate Plan

Case Study

Using openly available, authoritative maritime boundaries to provide certainty for investment in offshore areas

Geoscience Australia is responsible for developing authoritative information representing the location of Australia’s maritime boundaries, based on relevant domestic and international laws and the physical geography that contributes to these maritime limits and boundaries. We work with Australian Government entities to develop legislation and data products that support the delivery of those entities’ responsibilities. We publish digital information as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data and online applications to ensure that the broadest range of users can easily see the location of Australia’s maritime boundaries, and resource, environmental, fishing and other interests. This work underpins the administration, defence and management of the complete body of Australia’s offshore legislation and economic activity within Australia’s marine jurisdiction.

Following the finalisation of the revised maritime boundary agreement with Timor-Leste, legislation affecting the northern part of Australia’s maritime jurisdiction required significant amendments. Geoscience Australia worked with colleagues in a number of Commonwealth entities, developing amendments to legislation and legislative instruments, and providing operational guidance in implementing these changes. Working with our industry colleagues, Geoscience Australia provided assistance to Timor-Leste in developing transitional arrangements for petroleum titles. We are presently publishing a harmonised national maritime boundary, and information necessary for the administration of petroleum titles adjacent to the Timorese boundaries.

Geoscience Australia continues to progress the spatial and titling aspects of a new legislative framework for offshore renewables, providing drafting advice and developing the framework data needed to support the administration of offshore renewable energy. We are working with Commonwealth marine entities and the Victorian Government to identify access conflicts and support the initial marine planning for this new offshore sector.

Performance analysis

Australia’s oceans continue to play an important role in our nation’s economic and social security. The need for authoritative and defensible information to support policy and operations across the marine jurisdiction remained a high priority in 2019–20. Reliable and easily accessible data that unambiguously defines Australia’s marine jurisdiction and what lies on the sea floor remains critical to maritime security and for striking an appropriate balance between resource exploitation, environmental management and social amenity.

Geoscience Australia’s programs and leadership resulted in strong progress in improving the availability, governance and reliability of data covering Australia’s marine jurisdiction and beyond. There were strong improvements to the speed at which sea floor data can be published via AusSeabed, and a corresponding rise in the number of data downloads. Geoscience Australia established and now chairs the AusSeabed Executive Board, which provides stronger coordination for data acquisition. Geoscience Australia led the development of internationally recognised approaches for defining maritime boundaries and the data standards for exchanging that data; confirmed the location of maritime boundaries with Timor-Leste; and continued to engage with global efforts to build knowledge of the world’s oceans.

Australia’s approaches to defining our maritime boundaries is gaining international credibility. Greater certainty on where our boundaries are, in particular with Timor-Leste but also for domestic purposes, is removing risk for offshore investment. Many Australian Government entities in the Infrastructure, Industry, Agriculture and Environment, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Home Affairs and Defence portfolios continue to heavily depend upon Geoscience Australia’s information and advice for their operations, policy development and policy implementation. Our advice supports management of the offshore energy sector; safe navigation; and management and monitoring of marine protected areas and on-water activities.