Industry proposals and NOPSEMA assessments to have consideration of changes to Biologically Important Areas

26 February, 2024

A review of Biologically Important Areas (BIAs) for protected marine species in Australian waters is currently being undertaken which will have implications for environment plan (EP) and Offshore Project Proposal (OPP) assessments.

BIAs are areas used by protected marine species at certain times for critical life functions, such as reproduction, feeding, migration or resting.

BIAs are designated for marine species protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Protected marine species include species listed nationally as, threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Conservation Dependent), migratory, marine and all other cetaceans.

BIAs are located anywhere within the Australian marine environment including state, Commonwealth, and adjacent waters. They can also be designated over terrestrial areas used for biologically important behaviours, for example, nesting habitats for marine turtles and seabirds which are found on land.

NOPSEMA strongly recommends proponents review the Department of Climate Change, Energy the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) BIA website page for more information.

The review, by the DCCEEW, aims to:

Clarify and strengthen the definitions for biologically important behaviour categories and the BIA designation process (including the process to submit and assess data).

Include contemporary behavioural data, Indigenous ecological knowledge, and areas not previously included such as the sub-Antarctic, Antarctic, Christmas, and Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Update BIA maps for protected marine species and provide publicly available information on the data and criteria used in the determination of BIAs.

Increase awareness of the BIAs as decision-support tools for conservation planning and regulatory decision-making in the marine environment.

BIA geospatial data is currently displayed in the National Conservation Values Atlas (NCVA), which provides an interactive platform for viewing maps and querying BIA data.

This platform allows current information to be stored and referenced in a geospatial environment and can be updated by the Australian Government as new information becomes available.

Consequently, the most current BIA information and spatial data layers must be considered and used to inform conservation planning, environmental impact assessments and decision-making.

NOPSEMA sought clarification on how proponents should consider the updated BIA data, particularly in circumstances when an in-force Recovery Plan does not reflect the same BIAs as designated under the new BIA Protocol.

NOPSEMA’s Director Geophysical Survey and Installation Rohan Kok said the key advice was that proponents should consider the new BIA data and that new BIA data should be taken into consideration from the time of publication on the DCCEEW’s website and the NCVA.

“The new information relating to BIAs is relevant for NOPSEMA assessments, particularly when considering how BIAs have been considered by proponents in undertaking their environmental impact and risk assessments and presenting cases as to whether an EP is not inconsistent with a Recovery Plan,” he said.

“NOPSEMA’s obligations under the EPBC Act Program require that decisions made must not be inconsistent with a Recovery Plan for a listed threatened species under the EPBC Act where it is determined that the Recovery Plan is relevant to an assessment, therefore all assessments must have regard to the new BIA data as displayed on the NCVA.”

NOPSEMA strongly recommends proponents regularly review the DCCEEW’s BIA website page.

For further information on BIA updates contact the DCCEEW BIA review team by email.

Page last updated: