The Marine chapter of the state of the environment (SoE) report provides an overarching synthesis of the state and trend of Australia’s marine environment, key pressures on the environment, and the management structures that are in place to support the sustainability of the marine environment and marine industries. For the first time, it also aims to integrate Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. It was written in collaboration with more than 200 marine experts from around Australia, including Traditional Owners. New Indigenous contributions have been included in this chapter through: seeking Traditional Owner interest in participating in an online yarning circle about sea Country management seeking Traditional Owner interest in contributing their expert opinion about state and trends across the range of marine and coasts assessment indicators. Past contributions made by Indigenous practitioners and rangers to the environmental sector have been recognised in this chapter through: referencing the Indigenous-led environmental work by Indigenous practitioners and rangers across the country acknowledging the leadership and collaborations involved in strengthening the assertion of Indigenous knowledge and learnings. Because Australia’s oceans are so vast and complex, and the boundaries between the marine, coastal and terrestrial environments are not clear-cut, this chapter is not intended to be comprehensive in scope. Complementary related content can be found in other chapters, particularly the Coasts chapter (see the Coasts chapter). ‘Western science’ assessments Consistent with the Marine chapter of the 2016 SoE report, expert assessments provide the foundation of this chapter. Assessments fall into 3 categories: assessments of key pressures on the marine environment, assessments of the state and trend of components of the marine environment, and assessments of the effectiveness of management approaches. The set of assessments considered for 2021 was kept largely consistent with the assessments considered in the 2016 report to support comparability between reports. However, some changes were made with the aim of reducing the overall number of assessments to make the chapter more accessible and align the assessments with the natural values considered in the Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Improvement (MERI) framework recently developed by Parks Australia in conjunction with the National Environmental Science Program’s Marine Biodiversity Hub (Hayes et al. 2021), to facilitate the alignment of monitoring and reporting activities across Australian jurisdictions. Additional details are provided in the scoping paper for this chapter, which can be downloaded from the Have Your Say website (https://haveyoursay.awe.gov.au/state-of-environment). In addition to assessments, case studies highlight key concepts and issues of importance. Monitoring of key ecosystem processes as indicators of marine ecosystem health is required to assess, adapt and revise management actions (Evans et al. 2016). As a result, identifying appropriate variables to measure and monitor has been a topic of considerable interest and discussion in scientific and management communities (e.g. Miloslavich et al. 2018, Newman et al. 2019, Tanhua et al. 2019). The 9 key biophysical and ecosystem processes assessed here were kept largely consistent with previous SoE reports for comparative purposes. Diseases and algal blooms were assessed for both marine and coastal environments (Hallegraeff et al. 2021, Nowak & Hood 2021) and are included in the marine ecosystem processes assessment, but are discussed in detail in the Coasts chapter. For the purposes of this chapter, we divided pressures arising from human use of the marine environment into those directly associated with marine industries and those not directly associated with marine industries, including various forms of marine pollution. (Although anthropogenic noise and ocean acidification are often considered as forms of pollution, we consider them with industrial and climate change pressures, respectively.) We have assessed 6 major categories of pressures associated with Australia’s marine industries: commercial fishing; Indigenous commercial fishing; shipping (marine vessel activity); mineral, oil and gas extraction and production; offshore renewable energy generation; and anthropogenic marine noise. This is the first time that Indigenous commercial fishing has been included in the SoE report; the remaining set of pressures is consistent and comparable with the set of assessments used for SoE in 2016 and 2011 (with some simplification of categories). For both assessments and case studies, relevant Australian experts (senior researchers and emerging leaders) were engaged via email and provided with an assessment/case study template and instructions. ‘Keys’ for assigning grades were provided with templates (see below). Drafts of individual assessments and case studies were peer reviewed, again by experts on topics, and metadata records and DOIs (digital object identifiers) were then generated for each assessment and case study. Individual assessments and case studies have been archived on the Integrated Marine Observing System Australian Ocean Data Network. The grades used throughout this chapter and their definitions have generally been kept consistent with the marine chapter of the 2016 SoE report for consistency (see the 2016 chapter in Downloads and Supplementary material). The exception is management effectiveness, where the 6 subcategories used in 2016 were reduced to 3 for 2021, and updated of the definitions to ensure alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Table 10). It is important to note that these grades are necessarily simplifications and generalisations. For example, a grade of ‘good’ for state does not mean ‘excellent’ or ‘pristine’. Similarly, a grade of ‘partially effective’ for management means that there is need for improvement, and some aspects may be ineffective. Furthermore, the grades represent the expert assessment of the best estimate of the overall national average; there is almost always considerable variation underlying the national average (e.g. differences between species within groups, differences across regions). Table 10 Management effectiveness grades Grade Description Very effective Approach Understanding of environmental and cultural systems, and factors affecting them is good for most management issues. Effective legislation, policies and plans are in place for addressing all or most significant issues. Policies and plans clearly establish management objectives and operations targeted at major risks. Responsibility for managing issues is clearly and appropriately allocated. Financial and staffing resources are largely adequate to address management issues. Biophysical and socio-economic information is available to inform management decisions. Well-designed management systems are being implemented for effective delivery of planned management actions, including clear governance arrangements, appropriate stakeholder engagement, active adaptive management and adequate reporting against goals. Outputs Management objectives are being met with regard to timely delivery of products and services and reduction of current pressures and emerging risks to environmental values. Management responses are mostly progressing in accordance with planned programs and are achieving their desired objectives. Targeted threats are being demonstrably reduced. Outcomes Management objectives are being met with regard to improvements in resilience of environmental values. Resilience of environmental values is being maintained or improving. Values are considered secure against known threats. Effective Approach Understanding of environmental and cultural systems, and factors affecting them is generally good, but there is some variability across management issues. Effective legislation, policies and plans are in place, and management responsibilities are allocated appropriately, for addressing many significant issues. Policies and plans clearly establish management objectives and priorities for addressing major risks, but may not specify implementation procedures. Financial and staffing resources are mostly adequate to address management issues, but may not be secure. Biophysical and socio-economic information is available to inform decisions, although there may be deficiencies in some areas. Well-designed management systems are in place, but are not yet being fully implemented. Outputs Management responses are mostly progressing in accordance with planned programs and are achieving their desired objectives. Targeted threats are understood, and measures are in place to manage them. Outcomes Resilience of environmental values is improving, but threats remain as significant factors affecting environmental systems. Partially effective Approach Understanding of environmental and cultural systems, and factors affecting them is only fair for most management issues. Resilience of environmental values is improving, but threats remain as significant factors affecting environmental systems. Financial and staffing resources are unable to address management issues in some important areas. Biophysical and socio-economic information is available to inform management decisions, although there are significant deficiencies in some areas. Management systems provide some guidance, but are not consistently delivering on implementation of management actions, stakeholder engagement, adaptive management or reporting. Outputs Management responses are progressing and showing signs of achieving some objectives. Targeted threats are understood, and measures are being developed to manage them. Outcomes The expected impacts of management measures on improving resilience of environmental values are yet to be seen. Managed threats remain as significant factors influencing environmental systems. Ineffective Approach Understanding of environmental and cultural systems, and factors affecting them is poor for most management issues. Legislation, policies and planning systems have not been developed to address significant issues. Financial and staffing resources are unable to address management issues in many areas. Biophysical and socio-economic information to support decisions is deficient in many areas. Adequate management systems are not in place. Lack of consistency and integration of management activities across jurisdictions is a problem for many issues. Outputs Management responses are either not progressing in accordance with planned programs (significant delays or incomplete actions) or the actions undertaken are not achieving their objectives. Threats are not actively being addressed. Outcomes Resilience of environmental values is still low or continuing to decline. Unmitigated threats remain as significant factors influencing environmental systems. Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share this link Authors of management effectiveness assessments were also asked to consider the following questions in assigning the grade for management approach: Are climate change, climate adaptation and resilience to disasters accounted for in the approach, and encompassed by relevant policies, strategies and planning? Is decision-making inclusive, participatory and nondiscriminatory? Are regulations largely consistent across jurisdictions and are they consistent with international law? For marine industries, are renewable energy sources / carbon emission reduction mechanisms being incorporated into industries? For commercial fishing, recreational fishing and traditional use of marine resources, are regional cooperation and coordination in the management of shared stocks, particularly where industries might use or impact shared stocks (e.g. fisheries, tourism, shipping), accounted for in the approach, and encompassed by relevant policies, strategies and planning? Where industries harvest shared stocks, is there recognition and implementation of specific allocation/access rights for small-scale and Indigenous fishers/marine farmers in relevant policies, strategies and planning? Do management frameworks recognise and incorporate traditional/community-based management approaches? Outcomes Expert assessments were mapped to relevant SoE outcomes, and the status results for outcomes were then taken as the mode (most common) grade of the expert assessments relative to each outcome. Some expert assessments of management effectiveness provided 3 sets of grades (grades for state, trend and confidence for each management component – approach, outputs and outcomes), whereas others provided a single set of grades. In tallying assessment grades for outcome assessments, cases where only a single set of grades was provided were tallied as 3 grades to ensure consistent weighting. Exceptions to this were the outcomes ‘Policy and management support Indigenous leadership of adaptive management of Country’ and ‘Management of the marine environment and resources supports inclusiveness, equity and human wellbeing’, which were qualitatively assessed based on the responses from the Indigenous online surveys (see below) and narrative supplied by experts in assessments of management effectiveness. Indigenous contributions The SoE 2021 report differs from previous reports in having a more inclusive approach to incorporating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s contributions and knowledge of the environment. For the Marine and Coasts chapters, Indigenous participation in activities was sought for input into the assessments, outcomes and case studies, as described below. A case study from each state, the Northern Territory and Torres Strait islands was planned to provide reach around the nation. This meant that 8 different case studies were sought: 4 to be included in the Marine chapter and 4 in the Coasts chapter. Each case study was selected to highlight some key aspect involving either recent Indigenous-led change, Indigenous management, traditional knowledge and/or an emerging area of growth. The potential authors of the Indigenous case studies were contacted to seek their availability to develop the case studies by the cut-off date. Five out of the 8 planned Indigenous case studies were included: 3 in the Marine chapter and 2 in the Coasts chapter. Traditional Owners were remunerated for their time, if this was a chosen option. Ethics Before activities involving Traditional Owner participation commenced, the aims and proposed methods were reviewed for approval by the CSIRO Social Science Human Research Ethics Committee (CSSHREC). Key aspects of the participant consent process were outlined to the CSSHREC, including that participation in the project was entirely voluntary and no information of a personally or culturally restricted nature would be sought or recorded. For free, prior and informed consent to be achieved, potential participants were provided with clear explanations of the process. A full ethics application was submitted to the CSSHREC, and ethics approval was granted (approval number 150/20). Assessments and outcomes Two activities were developed to incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander views and inputs into the Marine and Coasts chapters: online yarning circles with Traditional Owners about outcomes and sea Country management online survey to seek Traditional Owner views about assessment indicators. Online yarning circles An expression of interest call was made to seek national interest in attending a Traditional Owner online yarning circle about sea Country management. The basis of selection involved criteria of interest and availability in attending the yarning circle, experience with marine and coastal management, and location diversity. The online yarning circles commenced by seeking the free, prior and informed consent of Traditional Owners to participation. An information sheet contained important information, including how information is safeguarded and shared by addressing Indigenous cultural and intellectual property. Each online yarning circle ran for 3 hours and had a maximum of 10 Traditional Owners, including 2 Indigenous facilitators. The online yarning circles were designed around openly discussing sea Country management and the outcome topic, as well as allowing individuals to anonymously grade, if they wished, their views on outcome statements. Traditional Owners were remunerated for their time, if they chose this option. Online survey for assessment indicators Participants in the online yarning circles were invited to complete an online survey about assessment indicators. Individuals decided whether they wished to participate in the online survey. A background information sheet was developed and provided to give detailed information about the SoE assessment indicators and grading system. Traditional Owners selected the indicators where their expert opinion could be provided. It was made clear that there was no expectation to score each indicator. Participants also selected the range of their expert opinion from the options of local, regional and national. The selected state and trends by Traditional Owners were used to inform the gradings for Indigenous expert opinion of assessment indicators. Traditional Owners were remunerated for their time, if this was a chosen option. It is important to bear in mind the differences in assessment scales when drawing comparisons between grades for ‘western science’ and Indigenous assessments.