Marine conservation involves applying scientific understanding to manage the human use of, and impacts on, marine environments and resources. It is an integral part of the national objective of providing for ecologically sustainable development while protecting biological diversity, heritage and cultural values. The field of marine conservation is developing rapidly. It started to acquire a separate identity in the 1970s as science and public education focused attention on the links between human activities and the actual and potential impacts on the largely hidden marine environments of coastal and offshore waters.
Marine conservation is particularly important in Australia since we have one of the longest coastlines in the world and the great majority of our population lives on or close to the coast. Also, Australia is responsible for the management of the Exclusive Economic Zone (Australian Fishing Zone), which extends up to 200 nautical miles from the coast and islands to cover an area one and one-half times the land mass of the continent.
Marine conservation involves many disciplines, including the biological, chemical, earth, physical and social sciences, economics, engineering, geography, law, planning and public administration. Tertiary training is essential in at least one of these areas, and is usually followed by additional training through a postgraduate course or specialist in-service program. Some universities offer specialist multidisciplinary courses in coastal zone management at the undergraduate level, and courses in marine and coastal conservation are increasingly available as units within other programs.
The largest employers of marine conservation staff are commonwealth and state government bodies, although coastal local authorities are becoming increasingly involved. In the private sector, fisheries, tourism, and other coastal and marine industries are likely to hire staff or consultants to help meet their responsibilities under coastal and marine management strategies. Australia has acquired a well-earned international reputation as a leader in marine conservation, and consequently there is likely to be a range of consultant and advisory opportunities for Australians overseas. Work overseas is likely to increase significantly in the near future following the United Nations Conference of Environment and Development held in Rio de Janiero in 1992, which prompted most nations to undertake commitments to protection and management of marine environments.
Photos: (Top) Conservation of mangrove and seagrass habitats is vital since they are important nursery areas for juvenile fish, including many commercial species, and other organisms. (Bottom) Part of the effort of applied conservation is to develop technologies to reduce impacts on habitats and species so that problems like the one shown here, a seal entangled in a piece of fishing net, can be avoided.