Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve Plan of Management

Australian Nature Conservation Agency
Commonwealth of Australia

Management Prescriptions

13. Habitat Management

13.1 Pollution

Dumping of waste material and the discharge of toxic substances in the Reserve is prohibited. ANCA will liaise with the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories which is responsible for the issuing of permits for dumping at sea under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 so as to ensure that the risk of pollutants reaching the Reserve is minimised.

Measures to control overboard discharge of garbage from ships have been agreed in the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. This Convention, which came into force internationally in 1983, prohibits the deliberate discharge of plastics and strictly regulates the disposal of other types of garbage, thus reducing the amount of such material drifting into the Reserve. Australian legislation to give effect to this aspect of the Convention came into force in November 1990.

13.2 Recovery of Petroleum and Minerals

Operations for the recovery of minerals, including exploration for petroleum, will not be permitted in the Reserve during the period of this plan. The known environmental consequences associated with oil spills present considerable environmental risks to marine systems and conflict with the major objectives of the Reserve. In accordance with established practices elsewhere, the ANCA considers it desirable that drilling for petroleum not occur within 50 km of the Reserve boundary. The ANCA will confer with other Commonwealth Departments in an endeavour to ensure that, if exploration and production permits are issued over this area, special environment protection conditions are applied in recognition of the biological value of the Reserve.

13.3 Prevention and Management of Shipwrecks

Although the number of shipping accidents on the reefs has decreased in recent times, mainly due to modern navigational aids, the potential for shipwrecks to occur at the Reefs, does, however, still exist. The principal management objective in the case of a shipwreck at Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs is to prevent loss of life. Prevention of damage to the ecology of the Reefs, particularly through oil pollution, is an important secondary consideration.

The best way to prevent loss of life from a shipwreck is to minimise the possibility of a shipwreck occurring. Wrecks on the Reef such as the Runic show up easily on radar, and global positioning systems enable a ship's position to be accurately fixed, regardless of most weather conditions. Such equipment is now available at an affordable price for recreational vessels. It could be estimated that the risk of a major vessel, such as an oil tanker, striking one of the Reefs is insignificant. The need for a large scale rescue operation and the risk to the Reefs of a major oil pollution problem arising from a shipwreck are, therefore, remote.

However, should a major oil pollution incident occur at the reefs, it is unlikely that a spill could be contained or treated - the reefs are too remote and exposed. It would generally be impractical and possibly dangerous to try to contain surface oil by booms, and the reefs are outside the effective operational range of most aircraft capable of carrying and applying dispersants. The extreme variation in wind and oceanic current direction and velocities experienced at the reefs make it impossible to predict in advance the movement and behaviour of an oil slick. An appropriate response plan to an incident would, therefore, have to be formulated on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the weather conditions at the time and the nature of the incident.

The vessels most likely to become wrecked on the Reefs are pleasure craft or fishing vessels which either lack sophisticated navigational equipment or do not have a continuous watch set on that equipment. The history of shipwrecks at the Reefs has been and will continue to be highlighted in ANCA publications about the Reserve to inform pleasure craft skippers of the dangers of the Reefs. Licences will not be issued for commercial fishing within the boundaries of the Reserve.

If a shipwreck does occur at the Reserve, the ANCA will liaise closely with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to ensure that any threats to the ecology of the Reefs are minimised; the Australian Maritime Safety Authority would have principal responsibility for coordinating any search and rescue operations.

Section 329 of the Navigation Act 1912 provides for the removal of wrecks for the purposes of saving human life, securing the safe navigation of ships or where there is a serious threat to the environment. Approval for salvage operations in the Reserve may also be given by the Director of National Parks and Wildlife subject to provisions to ensure that the environment and biota of the Reserve are not threatened.