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Canberra all at sea over position of Southern Ocean

By Andrew Darby
December 22, 2003

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What's in a name? When it's the Southern Ocean, it's an ocean of difference.

Australians have long felt the waves pounding the continent's southern cliffs and beaches originated in the same ocean that floated icebergs up from Antarctica. Now the Federal Government is defending this belief against the world.

The International Hydrographic Organisation, the global marine mapping body, says in a forthcoming update of its marine mapping bible, Limits of Oceans and Seas that the Southern Ocean is limited to the polar world: south of 60 degrees south.

As a result, according to the hydrographic organisation, the balmy Indian Ocean reaches right across southern Australia and washes to King Island.

The organisation nominates the Indian Ocean's boundary at 146 degrees longitude, near Tasmania's South East Cape. It says the waters of Bass Strait are part of the South Pacific, which even reaches down to penguin-populated Macquarie Island.

But according to Canberra, when the Southern Ocean flows our way it encompasses something much greater. Australia has lodged a reservation to a definition in the new publication.

The Australian Hydrographic Office, a navy bureau based in Wollongong, says the Southern Ocean rises from the IHO's 60-degrees-south line at about 67 degrees east to include Heard and Macdonald islands.

From there, the line runs north-east to Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia, and then across the southern shores of Australia. At King Island the Southern Ocean turns south-east around the Tasmanian coast to include Macquarie Island before running back to the 60-degrees-south line.

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