Valuing Top End Sea Life

Our Territory marine life is largely healthy, but things are changing

Sea life in the Top End faces many threats on a daily basis. Right now, big resources companies are eyeing off our coastline for oil, gas and seabed mining projects. Developers are discharging pollutants into our waterways, our healthy rivers are under pressure, and a growing population and powerful fishing technology is taking its toll.

"You can't catch as many golden snapper now as you could five years ago,"  Deputy Chief Minister Willem Westra van Holthe 27th Sept 2013

Add the impacts of warming water and changing ocean chemistry from climate change, and the future looks far from certain for our sea life.

Luckily Territorians are working together more than ever before to protect our special places and wildlife.


The diversity of marine habitats in our Territory is truly extraordinary

Top End Sea Life is like nothing else on Earth and Territorians benefit from its protection.

Coastal mangrove forests provide nurseries for many species of fish and crustaceans, and constantly filter our water keeping it clean and full of oxygen. Colourful coral reefs in Darwin Harbour, the Cobourg Peninsula, and along the Arnhem coastline provide homes for hundreds of coral and fish species and provide feeding grounds for sharks and big fish like snapper and groper. The NT has some of Earth's highest concentrations of threatened dugong which feed on the regions plentiful seagrass meadows. And six of the world's seven species of sea turtles inhabit the Territory's waters including the Flatback, Green, Hawksbill, and Olive Ridley turtles which nest on sandy beaches throughout the Territory.

The Top End and the Gulf are an underwater treasure trove, stretching from the Northern Territory/Western Australia border in the west to the tip of Queensland’s Cape York in the east. This area is one of the last intact tropical marine systems left on the planet.

In the west of this region between the NT/WA border and Darwin, the warm shallow waters of the Timor Sea provide a haven for threatened sea turtles which feed on submerged reefs and nest on nearby beaches. East of Darwin, underwater pinnacles off the Coburg Peninsula rise dramatically from the sea floor, providing a haven for light-loving marine life.

A recently created network of marine reserves is welcome but protects less than 3% of this tropical treasure trove in highly protected marine sanctuaries.

On the edge of the continental shelf, at the head of the Arafura canyons, cooler, deeper ocean waters rise, providing feeding grounds for whale sharks and predatory fish. Closer to shore, the islands which dot the Arnhem shelf are fringed by colourful reefs and clear waters, and provide a refuge for large fish like snapper, emperor and groper.

Further east, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, sea grass meadows off Groote Eylandt and Limmen Bight are a hot-spot for globally vulnerable dugong and rare snubfin dolphins. The soft sea floor of the central Gulf is home to an abundance of heart urchins, which cycle nutrients through the inter-connected food web.

The monsoonal rivers that flow into the southern Gulf are largely free from dams and large scale water extraction, making the region globally unique. Free-flowing wild rivers bring a flood of nutrients and fresh water each wet season, supporting high levels of phytoplankton: the sea-plants which produce the oxygen we breathe.

In the far east of the region, near the Torres Strait, sea turtles swim through a migratory highway between their feeding and breeding grounds in the Gulf and the Coral Sea.

Aboriginal Traditional Owners and Sea Ranger groups are active throughout the region. Drawing on traditional knowledge, contemporary science, and their increasing legal rights, they visit sacred sites, track sealife, report illegal fishing and remove ghost nets while maintaining and renewing cultural connections to their sea country.

The Top End and Gulf marine environment is priceless because it is home to an abundance of tropical sealife threatened in other parts of the world. Effectively protected, our Top End and Gulf waters will be a global haven that helps safeguard the world’s endangered sea turtles, vulnerable dugong, rare dolphins, migratory whales, and fragile coral reefs.

Marine Parks help protect sea life and marine habitats

Properly managed marine parks give our marine habitats the best possible chance of remaining healthy and sustaining natural populations of sea life. Like many things in life it is both quality and quantity which matters when establishing marine parks. Just like on land there are different types of marine parks, and carefully placed marine sanctuaries – zones where activities like mining and recreational and commercial fishing are restricted – provide the highest level of protection for our precious sea life.

Currently less than 3% of our Territory and federal waters are highly protected in dedicated marine sanctuaries.

Do you value Top End Sea Life? See what you can do.


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