A big step forward for our oceans

Posted by Fran G — 28 June 2012 at 2:07pm - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: © Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland

For a long time organisations like Greenpeace, backed by people like you, have been calling for stronger protection of our oceans.

Last week showed our voices were heard. The Australian environment minister Tony Burke announced what is a genuinely significant step forward for ocean protection, not only for Australia, but in global terms.  From Cronulla to the Kimberley, the marine planning process has delivered some of the largest protected ocean zones in some of the world's most pristine marine ecosystems.

Firstly, a big thanks to all those who put their names to one of the most expansive environmental campaigns Australia has seen in recent years. Close to 20 environmental organisations were directly involved and well over half a million individuals supported the national marine reserves process. This is a phenomenal effort. 

The overall outcome:

The Australian government’s plan shows that people’s concerns for our oceans were genuinely considered. A huge number of submissions to save our Coral Sea resulted in some great new measures for that region – for instance, there are new ‘no-take’ areas around some important, yet previously ignored, reefs. Yet what the plan also shows is that Australia remains a quarry nation in the eyes of government and our oceans are big business. The plan opens the gate for massive mineral developments in some of our most vulnerable waters.

The good bits:

  • A network of 44 individual marine protected areas, the largest network in the world. The world’s largest marine protected area in the Coral Sea at approximately 1m sq km and the world’s largest highly protected zone at 500,000 sq km.
  • The entire Coral Sea protected from mineral exploration.
  • Queensland longline fishers responsible for the majority of the historic Coral Sea catch (88% between 2005-09, latest data) are supportive of the buyout plan.
  • Fair financial compensation offered to fishers.
  • Most commercial fishing moved out of the Coral Sea. Vital reefs like Osprey and Mellish in Queensland are fully protected.
  • Trawling banned in almost all of the Coral Sea.
  • Important no-take zones established in all regions from Tasmania to the top end.
  • Protection for dugong breeding grounds and crucial seagrass sites in Cape York and the gulf country.
  • Bottom trawling banned in crucial zones like Bonaparte Gulf and the oceanic shoals off Tiwis in the Northern Territory.

The not–so-good bits:

  • Trawling and longlining still permitted in important areas of the Coral Sea.
  • Massive oil and gas exploration licences granted in all regions except the Eastern seaboard.
  • Shell granted oil drilling permission ten kilometres from Rowley Shoals, one of the most important and distinct marine habitats in Australia.
  • Oil drilling permission granted in Sea Canyons adjacent to the Kangaroo Island World Heritage Site.
  • World Heritage-ready Ningaloo reef not fully protected.
  • Blue whale feeding grounds in Perth Canyon under-protected.
  • Most of the coral encrusted Eastern seamounts unprotected.
  • Opportunities for indigenous saltwater communities to have greater control over the management of their traditional Sea Country have not fully been seized.

In short, this marine park plan is one to be welcomed. We celebrate many of the advancements in marine protection, particularly around the Coral Sea. But what could have been a truly groundbreaking plan fell short. 

Clearly the resources industry continues to call the shots in Australia. We will never have true marine protection if we allow mining developments to take place in some of our most pristine areas, such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Ningaloo-Pilbara and Kimberley coastlines.

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