Australia to establish world's largest system of marine parks to help protect ocean life


Protection extended to ocean life in one-third of coastal waters, with oil and gas exploration limited , writes PÁDRAIG COLLINSin Sydney

AUSTRALIA WILL create the world’s largest system of marine parks to protect ocean life in an area covering more than one-third of Australian waters.

The network, made up of five main zones, will surround all of Australia’s eight states and territories.

“It’s time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans,” said federal environment minister Tony Burke, announcing the plan.

“Australia today is leading that next step. This new network of marine reserves will help ensure that Australia’s diverse marine environment, and the life it supports, remains healthy, productive and resilient for future generations.”

The marine parks system will limit oil and gas exploration off Western Australia and extend reef protection in the Coral Sea off the country’s northeast coast.

The number of reserves from will increase from 27 to 60, covering significant marine breeding and feeding grounds over 3.1 million square kilometres.

“This is the largest network of marine reserves anywhere in the world,” Mr Burke told ABC radio.

“The areas where you’ve got some of the most substantial outcomes are areas like the south-west of WA [Western Australia], areas like the Perth Canyon, which is as large as the Grand Canyon, that would have been protected years ago had it been on land.”

The plan has been broadly welcomed by environmental groups, but has met with criticism from opposition political parties.

The Greens say it does not go far enough, but Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott says he is “instinctively against” anything that curtails the rights of recreational fishermen.

The Labor government says the marine reserve system in the Coral Sea will support critical nesting sites for green turtles, as well as protecting sharks and other fish.

But the area is also home to a yellow fin tuna fishing industry worth $35 million (€27.7 million) a year. Mr Burke says the government will pay about $100 million in compensation to fishing businesses, but the Australian Marine Alliance claims that 36,000 jobs will be lost and the cost of seafood will soar.

“Reserves have been designed to minimise the impacts wherever possible. The reserves are estimated to displace approximately one to two per cent of the annual value of wild catch fisheries production in Australia,” said Mr Burke.

The Australian Conservation Foundation welcomed the plan but said it was concerned some marine areas would still be under threat.

“There are a lot of stakeholders involved in this: the oil and gas industry, the commercial and recreational fishermen, environment groups, and so on,” said the foundation’s healthy oceans campaigner Chris Smyth.

“Obviously some of the areas we would have liked to have got are still being opened to oil and gas interests and commercial interests, but across the board we think it’s a major achievement in terms of oceans conservation.”

A 60-day consultation period with stakeholders has been scheduled, with the new reserves expected to be officially declared by the end of the year.