Back to FISH Vol 30 1
PUBLISHED 4 Mar 2022

The Midway Point report on the 10-year National Marine Science Plan measures progress and defines the next steps required to achieve our blue economy potential

By Kate Harvey

It is easy to forget that the Earth is a blue, water-dominated planet; continents and islands make up only 29 per cent of the Earth's surface and water covers the rest.

As an island continent, Australia has a vast marine estate (see breakout box) with enormous economic and environmental wealth. Projections suggest that Australia's marine estate could support a prosperous and healthy blue economy worth $100 billion each year by 2025 if we focus investment on the biggest development and sustainability challenges facing our oceans.

In 2015, the National Marine Science Committee (NMSC) mapped out the way to help Australia realise this potential in the National Marine Science Plan 2015–2025. The NMSC is an advisory body that promotes the essential role of high-quality marine science in developing Australia's blue economy. It has 39 member organisations, including the FRDC, that conduct and use marine research across Australia.

The plan was a call to action outlining the marine science needed to provide the knowledge, technology and innovation to address seven critical challenges that Australia needs to overcome if we are to achieve the potential of our blue economy.

Those challenges are:

  • maintaining maritime sovereignty, safety and security;
  • achieving energy security;
  • ensuring food security;
  • understanding and adapting to climate variability and change;
  • conserving our biodiversity and ecosystem health;
  • creating sustainable urban costal development; and
  • developing equitable and balanced resource allocation.

The midway point

So, six years on, how are we tracking against the plan?

Late last year, the NMSC released the National Marine Science Plan 2015–2025: The Midway Point, which assesses how far we have come and what is still required to achieve the long-term health and wealth of Australia's marine environment, economy and people.

The report is a detailed look at the marine science sector's progress in achieving the plan's eight recommendations and it builds on the original plan by identifying three new recommendations (see Table 1 below). Of the original recommendations, two are at an early stage, four are underway and two are at maturity.

Some of the achievements include:

  • the establishment of the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) and the Marine Bioproducts CRC (see next story on Marine Bioproducts CRC to kickstart new industries);
  • increased research vessel capacity with the replacement of RSV Aurora Australis with a new national icebreaker RSV Nuyina, the operation of RV Investigator for a full 300 days a year and the operation of coastal research vessels such as RV Cape Ferguson and RV Solander; and
  • secure funding for the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) to 2023 and extension of its focus into marine ecological monitoring.

The Midway Point covers the progress and highlights the next steps required to achieve our blue economy potential. And this strong focus on marine science is perfectly timed. There is increased international attention on collaboration with the commencement in 2021 of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and the Australian Government's commitments through the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. f


Table 1: National Marine Science Council recommendations and progress





Create an explicit focus on the blue economy throughout the marine science system.



Establish and support a national marine baseline and long-term monitoring program to develop a comprehensive assessment of our estate and help inform management of Commonwealth and state marine parks.



Facilitate coordinated national studies on marine system processes and resilience to enable understanding of the impacts of development and climate change on our marine estate.



Create a national oceanographic modelling system to provide the accurate, detailed data and predictions of ocean state that are required by defence, industry and government.

Early stage


Develop a dedicated and coordinated science program to support decision-making by policymakers and industry.

Early stage


Sustain and expand IMOS to support critical climate change and coastal systems research that includes coverage of key estuarine systems.



Develop marine science research training that is more quantitative, cross-disciplinary and congruent with the needs of industry and government.



Fund national research vessels for full use.



Develop a nationally coordinated approach to integrate the knowledge, rights, capability and aspirations of traditional owners into conventional marine science.

New recommendations published in
The Midway Point


Establish national policy guidelines for open access to government-funded or regulatory data, provide historical dataset access, and expand the Australian Ocean Data Network (AODN).


Develop a coastal resilience-building approach firmly based in the proactive use of our natural environment.



Figure 1. Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone

Map of Australia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). © Commonwealth of Australia (Geoscience Australia) 2022

View enlarged map





Limit of Australia's exclusive economic zone including certain treaties (not all in force).


Limit of Australia's continental shelf including certain treaties (not all in force). Areas beyond 200 nautical miles, not resolved, not shown.

Source: Geoscience Australia



Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone

Getting your mind around the vastness of Australia's ocean resource is not an easy task.

Thanks to our 35,821 kilometres of coastline, we have the world's third-largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (Figure 1). This is the area of Australian sovereign rights to the natural resources (living and non-living) of the water column, seabed and subsoil. Australia has a confirmed outer limit to its continental shelf extending beyond 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) from the territorial sea baseline.

With a total marine area of about 10 million square kilometres, our EEZ is considerably larger than the 7.69 million square kilometres of land that makes up Australia's states and territories. More than 70 per cent of Australia's territory lies beneath the ocean.

Australia's oceans and seas include those off the mainland and our offshore territories in the Pacific, Southern and Indian oceans as well as the Timor, Tasman and Coral seas. Our EEZ area is made up of 8.2 million square kilometres off the coast of Australia and our remote offshore territories, and 2 million square kilometres off the Australian Antarctic Territory. f

More information
National Marine Science Committee,