The ACMA

Infrastructure

Submarine cabling and protection zones

NSW protection zones

Australia’s submarine communications cables carry the bulk of our international voice and data traffic and are a vital component of our national infrastructure, linking Australia with other countries.

Submarine cables are vulnerable to damage and breakage, which can cause serious consequences for the flow of information to and from Australia. Cable damage can cause data loss, significant delays, and severe financial loss to businesses, cable owners and individuals who rely on communication links with other countries.

In July 2007, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) made two declarations for submarine cable protection zones off the Sydney coast which have now been in effect since 1 October 2007. The protection zones set out in the declarations have been developed around two cables that are regarded as nationally significant:

  1. the Southern Cross Cable—which links Australia’s communications network with New Zealand, Fiji and the United States, and
  2. the Australia Japan Cable—which links Australia with Guam, Japan and Asia
  3. Map - NSW protection zones (PDF 164 kb)
  4. Information brochure - NSW protection zones (PDF 260 kb)

The location of the cables means that ACMA has declared two separate protection zones:

  1. The Northern Sydney Protection Zone extending from Narrabeen beach to around 40 nautical miles off shore, to the 2,000 metre water depth, covering the northern branches of the Australia Japan Cable and the Southern Cross cable. This zone extends one nautical mile either side of each cable and includes the area in between the two cables
  2. Detailed map – Northern Sydney protection zone (PDF 253 kb)
  3. the Southern Sydney Protection Zone extending from Tamarama and Clovelly beaches and extending 30 nautical miles offshore, to the 2000 metre water depth, covering the southern branches of the Australia Japan Cable and the Southern Cross Cable. This zone extends one nautical mile either side of each cable and includes the area in between the two cables
  4. Detailed map – Southern Sydney protection zone (PDF 164 kb)

For full details of the protection zones, including information about activities that are prohibited or restricted in the zone, please refer to the Declaration for each zone:

  1. Submarine Cable (Northern Sydney Protection Zone) Declaration 2007 (PDF 280 kb)
  2. Submarine Cable (Southern Sydney Protection Zone) Declaration 2007 (PDF 278 kb)

When reading the Declarations, it is advisable to also read the accompanying Explanatory Statements:

  1. Northern Sydney Protection Zone Explanatory Statement (PDF 336 kb)
  2. Southern Sydney Protection Zone Explanatory Statement (PDF 332 kb)

GPS coordinates that describe the outer boundary of each protection zone are listed in the relevant declaration. Zone co-ordinates can also be downloaded as a shapefile (zipped folder 20 kb).

Note: This page contains general information about the protection zones and the Declarations for the Northern Sydney Protection Zone and the Southern Sydney Protection Zone and is intended by the ACMA as a guide only. The ACMA recommends that parties seek independent legal advice about compliance and have regard to the relevant legislation such as the Declarations and their Explanatory Statements to ascertain whether planned activity will be affected. 

Prohibited activities within the protection zones

Marine activities that pose a serious risk of damage to submarine cables are prohibited within the NSW protection zones. From 1 October 2007, it was an offence to undertake these prohibited activities in either of the Northern Sydney Protection Zone or the Southern Sydney Protection Zone. Marine activities that are prohibited in the protection zones are:

Marine activities that are prohibited in both protection zones

Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship trawl gear designed to work on or near the seabed, or a mid-water trawl

Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a dredge, including for scallop dredging

Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a demersal longline, including setlines and trotlines

Establishing, maintaining or using a spoil ground or other ocean disposal point (including dumping materials at sea)

Scuttling or attempting to scuttle a ship

Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a structure moored to the seabed with the primary function of attracting fish for capture (such as a fish aggregating device (FAD))

Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a Scottish or Danish seine

Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a type of net, rope, chain or other object used in fishing operations that is capable of contacting the seabed, other than those activities listed in the restrictions

Restricted activities within the protection zones

Within the NSW protection zones, certain activities are restricted to the extent to which they pose a risk of damage to a cable. For example, some activities cannot damage a cable if they are conducted close to shore where the cables are buried several metres below the seabed and housed in metal conduit; these activities may continue in the zones. To provide for the reduced risk to cables located close to shore, some restrictions on marine activities vary with either distance from shore, water depth or both.

Activity

0 – 500 metres from
low-water mark

500 metres from low-water mark to 100 metres water depth

Waters of greater than 100 metres depth

Anchoring in the Northern Sydney Protection zone

Permitted

Is permitted, providing

  • the anchor weighs 20 kg or less; and
  • the anchor is fitted with a trip release mechanism; and
  • the anchor line has a breaking strain of 850 kg or less; or
  • the anchor weighs no more than 30 kg and is anchored within 200 metres of an ACMA specified shipwreck site

Not permitted

Anchoring in the Southern Sydney Protection Zone

Permitted

Is permitted, providing

  • the anchor weighs 20 kg or less; and
  • the anchor is fitted with a trip release mechanism; and
  • the anchor line has a breaking strain of 850 kg or less; or
  • the anchor weighs no more than 30 kg and is anchored around the Peak (as specified by ACMA’s coordinates)

Not permitted

Lowering, raising or suspending from a ship a shotline

Permitted

Is permitted, providing

  • the shot weighs 20 kg or less
  • the shotline has a maximum breaking strain of 850 kg or less

Not permitted

Demersal fishing using J-hooks

Permitted

Is permitted, providing

  • the fishing line has a breaking strain of 50 kg or less

Is permitted, providing

  • the fishing line has a breaking strain of 50 kg or less

Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a demersal dropline

Permitted

Is permitted, providing

  • only circle-type hooks are used; and 
  • the dropline has a breaking strain of 850 kg or less; and
  • the dropline does not use a wire snood, trace or mainline

Is permitted, providing

  • only circle-type hooks are used; and
  • the dropline has a breaking strain of 850 kg or less; and
  • the dropline does not use a wire snood, trace or mainline

Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a pot or trap

Permitted

Is permitted, providing

  • the base of the trap does not exceed 2 metres in length, width or diameter; and
  • the trap rope breaking strain is 850 kg or less

Is permitted, providing

  • the base of the trap does not exceed 2 metres in length, width or diameter; and
  • the trap rope breaking strain is 850 kg or less

Harvesting the benthos

Permitted

Is permitted, providing

  • harvesting is conducted by hand

Is permitted, providing

  • harvesting is conducted by hand

Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a net anchored to the seabed

Permitted

Not permitted

Not permitted

Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a grapnel

Permitted

Not permitted, except in waters more than 500 metres from the low water mark, and only if it is used in the course of work on electricity, oil or gas pipelines and cables, installations for the use of ships, civil engineering, mining or petroleum operations or in conducting research that involves contact with the seabed

Not permitted, except in waters more than 500 metres from the low water mark, and only if it is used in the course of work on electricity, oil or gas pipelines and cables, installations for the use of ships, civil engineering, mining or petroleum operations or in conducting research that involves contact with the seabed

Use of an explosive or explosive device

Permitted if used in the course of mineral or petroleum operations, civil engineering work or an exercise conducted by or with the Australian Defence Force

Permitted if used in the course of mineral or petroleum operations, civil engineering work or an exercise conducted by or with the Australian Defence Force

Permitted if used in the course of mineral or petroleum operations, civil engineering work or an exercise conducted by or with the Australian Defence Force

Some restrictions allow certain activities to continue, particularly those relating to marine and energy infrastructure, providing notification and consultation with cable owners occurs before engaging in the activity and the activity occurs in a manner that is unlikely to cause cable damage. Any person intending to conduct these activities within either of the NSW protection zones must contact cable owners at least 21 days prior to the commencement of the activity and must comply with consultation requirements set out in the declarations.

Activities that must not occur unless notification and consultation with all cable owners occurs before engaging in the activity and the activity occurs in a manner that is unlikely to cause cable damage:

Installing, maintaining or removing an electricity cable, an oil or gas pipeline, any like cables or pipelines and using any associated equipment

Constructing, maintaining or removing an installation for the use of ships

Conducting civil engineering work, including constructing and removing navigation aids

Exploring or exploiting resources (other than marine species)

Conducting research that involves contact with the seabed

Some restrictions allow certain activities to continue, particularly those relating to marine and energy infrastructure, providing notification and consultation with cable owners occurs before engaging in the activity and the activity occurs in a manner that is unlikely to cause cable damage. Any person intending to conduct these activities within either of the NSW protection zones must contact cable owners at least 21 days prior to the commencement of the activity and must comply with consultation requirements set out in the declarations. These activities include:

Installing, maintaining or removing an electricity cable, an oil or gas pipeline, any like cables or pipelines and using any associated equipment

  1. Constructing, maintaining or removing an installation for the use of ships
  2. Conducting civil engineering work, including constructing and removing navigation aids
  3. Exploring or exploiting resources (other than marine species)
  4. Conducting research that involves contact with the seabed.

Activities not affected by protection zones

Many activities are unaffected by NSW protection zones, such as:

  1. certain activities that do not contact the seabed
  2. certain recreational activities that occur within 500 metres of the shore
  3. some commercial fishing methods such as purse seining, beach seining, squid jigging, pelagic longlining, pelagic haul netting
  4. beach safety meshing nets around beaches may also continue in the zones up to 500 metres from the low-water mark
  5. recreational fishers that target large bottom-dwelling fish offshore are able to use any size circular hook and can continue using J-hooks, provided that their line has a breaking strain of 50 kg or less<
  6. recreational fishers that target mid or upper water fish are not affected by the NSW protection zones.

During the development of the NSW protection zones, marine users informed ACMA that key fishing and diving sites are located in both Sydney protection zones. As these sites can be readily identified using depth sounding equipment, anchoring using an anchor that weighs no more than 30 kg is permitted within 200 metres of ACMA specified shipwreck sites (PDF). Anchoring using an anchor that weighs no more than 30 kg is also permitted in a rectangular area around The Peak (PDF) to allow fishing activities to continue.

Offences and penalties in protection zones

The protection zone legislation sets out a number of criminal penalty provisions in relation to protection zones. These penalties apply in the Northern Sydney Protection Zone and the Southern Sydney Protection Zone from 1 October 2007. Within all protection zones, it is a criminal offence to:

  1. cause damage to, or to sever, a submarine cable
  2. engage in negligent conduct that results in damage to a cable
  3. engage in an activity that is prohibited or restricted in a protection zone declaration.

Penalties for engaging in these activities may result in imprisonment for a period of up to 10 years and/or a fine of $330,000.

Defence practice area

There are two Defence practice areas which overlap with the Northern Sydney Protection Zone. Detailed location information for the practice areas is available on the Australian Hydrographic Service website, using the references R489 & R595.

The ACMA and the Department of Defence signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 22 December 2008, to address concerns about possible damage to submarine cables in areas where submarine cable protection zones overlap with Defence practice areas.

The MoU outlines acceptable parameters for Defence to conduct operations using explosives and includes the direction for firing ammunition, the use of inert practice rounds and the use of targets by Defence. For further information on the MoU see submarine telecommunications cables.

It is important to note that Submarine cable operators have an obligation to contact Defence under the Defence Force Regulations 1952 prior to accessing Defence practice areas. Contact details for Defence are available on submarine telecommunications cables.

Last updated: 27 August 2014

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