In recent years a number of oilfields have been developed in tropical waters of the Rowley Shelf, north-west Australia. Along with Bass Strait and the Timor Sea, this region is the focus for Australia's current oil exploration and production. It supports major coral and mangrove habitats and fishing grounds sensitive to the effects of oil pollution.

Much of the information on the nature and extent of the marine habitats has been gained through survey and monitoring undertaken by oil companies as part of specific development applications in the region.

This paper provides a synthesis of the Rowley Shelf marine environment and reviews procedures protecting the marine resources of the region from the effects of oil spills. Recent government and industry initiatives for improving the protection of the environment are outlined and discussed on the basis of the improved understanding of the marine resources and experience being gained in oil spill contingency planning. The tropical habitats of the Rowley Shelf occur within the Indo-Pacific Zoogeographic Region, therefore experience gained in Western Australia is applicable to similar environments in the South East Asian region.

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