Marine SDI and Cadastre

As the world’s largest island, Australia has a coastline length of approximately 36,700 km. The nation’s relative isolation from its neighbours enables it to claim one of the largest maritime jurisdictions in the world. The ocean territory to which Australia lays claim is about 1.5 times larger than the Australian land mass. Given the diversity and extent of Australia’s ocean resources, there is an economic and social need to manage, explore and exploit the nation’s ocean territories in a way that will maximise benefit, while at the same time protecting the ocean environment.

Not only are our oceans subject to the interests of a diverse group of individuals and organisations, they are also governed by a complex web of government legislation. International treaties such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) also need to be considered. Many pieces of legislation contain geographical definitions for areas of jurisdiction. Understanding and managing the relationship and interaction between overlapping and sometimes competing rights is a complex problem.

An essential requirement for the consistent and effective management of the oceans is reliable, comprehensive and accurate spatial information. This introduces the complex issue of defining and quantifying the spatial and temporal interaction of a vast array of rights, restrictions and responsibilities. There is also a deficiency in the availability of reliable and accurate spatial data for the marine environment and a lack of coordination and management of Australia’s marine resources. It is thought that the development of a marine cadastre and marine SDI for Australia would facilitate resolving these issues.

At the Permanent Committee on GIS Infrastructure for the Asia Pacific Workshop on Administering the Marine Environment: The Spatial Dimension, it was recommended that a marine cadastre be defined as:

A management tool, which spatially describes, visualises and realises formally and informally defined boundaries and associated rights, restrictions and responsibilities in the marine environment, as a data layer in a marine SDI, allowing them to be more effectively identified, administered and accessed.

Research at the Centre for Spatial Data Infrastructure and Land Administration is focused on investigating and developing guidelines and tools for administering the spatial dimension of the marine environment.


ARC marine cadastre project ‘A Marine Cadastre for Australia: Addressing Key Scientific and Policy Issues’ was a 3-year ARC funded project that had four main research areas:

  1. Resolving issues in the definition of the tidal interface
  2. The use of natural rather than artificial boundaries in a marine cadastre
  3. Extension and application of the ASDI to include a marine dimension
  4. Marine policy, legal and security issues

The overall aim of this project is the policy and technical basis upon which a marine cadastre can be built. Each research area aims to provide one aspect, the boundaries, the coordination of spatial data or the legal, policy and security implications. It is believed that these areas represent current major impediments. The end result of the project will be to facilitate the development of a marine cadastre in Australia.

This project builds upon a previous ARC marine cadastre project ‘Defining and Developing a Marine Cadastre for Australia’‚ that concluded in June 2004. The objective of this project was to undertake research to identify issues to be considered in the development of a marine cadastre. The project defined the problem and thus provided a framework and a focus for the next stage. There were two research areas in this project: one concerning the institutional and legal aspects involved in developing a marine cadastre, and the other examined the issue of uncertainty in delimitation and positioning of maritime boundaries.

As part of the current ARC-linkage project the focus of project 3 is: ‘Extension and Application of SDI to Support a Marine Dimension’.

Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDIs) are developing in many countries to improve coordination and management of spatial data. Until recently SDI concept has largely overlooked the marine and coastal environments, focussing mainly on connecting people with land-related data and information. Some countries have started to develop a Marine SDI but often as a separate initiative from their existing terrestrial SDI. To effectively manage the coastal zone there is a need for access and interoperability with spatial information from both the marine and coastal environments. The extension of a National SDI covering the land and marine environments on a seamless platform would facilitate greater access to more interoperable spatial data and information across the land-sea interface enabling a more integrated and holistic approach to management of the coastal zone. The aim of this research is to design, develop and test a seamless SDI model that covers land, marine and coastal based spatial information, using a case study.


Prof Abbas Rajabifard

Prof Ian Williamson AM

Sheelan Sheikheslami Vaez