Protecting critical ocean habitats: Australia

Sanctuaries are essentially underwater national parks, where whales and other marine creatures should be protected from human actions and threats. Depending upon who manages the sanctuary, it may be called a marine protected area, a marine sanctuary or simply a whale sanctuary. An individual sanctuary may protect important feeding, breeding, birthing or migratory areas for one or more species of whale, dolphin and porpoise.

These sanctuaries can help depleted whale populations recover, ensure the overall health of marine ecosystems and protect the natural heritage of coastal communities. Some of these sanctuaries ban only whaling activities while others have a broader scope, including:

  • Regulation of vessel interactions and area closures;
  • Monitoring specific fishing practices or seasonal closures;
  • Developing pollution protocols for habitat protection.

In 2012, the Australian Government established the new Commonwealth marine reserves network, ensuring that the regions around the continent are now legally binding protected areas, safeguarding much of Australia’s waters and marine life for years to come.

In the most recent public consultation phase on these proposals, the Government received 80,000 submissions from Australian citizens.


The waters around Antarctica, which comprise 10% of the Earth’s oceans, are particularly important to whales. A group of environmental organisations and celebrity supporters, including IFAW, have come together to form the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA).

This group has lobbied before the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the body that regulates the Antarctic marine environment. AOA advocates for the world's largest network of fully protected marine reserves and marine protected areas in the ocean around Antarctica.

Two proposals to protect East Antarctica and the Ross Sea were stifled at the 2013 CCAMLR meetings in Hobart when Russia and the Ukraine actively blocked them from passage. The AOA continues to pursue the proposals in subsequent meetings.