Credit: Photo by Xanthe Rivett
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East of the Great Barrier Reef lies one of the last remaining intact tropical ecosystems in the world, and the Gillard government has today protected it from mining and fishing.
“The government’s intention to protect the entire Coral Sea from mining (including petroleum exploration and development) and almost all of it from trawling will help secure the future of one of the world’s most important tropical seas,” says Imogen Zethoven of the Pew Environment Group.
It will create the world’s largest marine reserve as well as the world’s second largest highly protected zone at more than 500,000 km2. A quarter of the world’s coral reefs are destroyed and two thirds are in serious trouble, and now more than a third of this region’s namesake fragile coral reefs will be safe from mining, oil and gas development, and fishing.
“We welcome the decision not to allow fishing on five additional reefs compared to the draft plan released for public comment late last year,” said Zethoven.
"Today the tide turned in favour of our oceans. This is a landmark announcement for our seas and one of the most significant advances for environmental protection in Australia’s history," said Darren Kindleysides, Director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS). “As a nation we’ve come a long way since coral mining was proposed for the Great Barrier Reef and commercial whaling occurred in our waters.”
"While some important areas have been left vulnerable to fishing or mining, the proposed reserves network is a significant step forward for marine conservation in Australia and on the world stage. We will keep striving to protect important areas that have been missed, including critical turtle and dugong habitat in the Gulf of Carpentaria, blue whale feeding grounds off Kangaroo Island and incredible coral reefs off the Kimberley coast," says Kindleysides.
The waters of the Coral Sea are home to healthy coral reefs, atolls, cays, and islands that provide shelter to reef fish, sea turtles, and seabirds. It is one of the last remaining intact tropical ocean ecosystems in the world where populations of large ocean predators - sharks, tunas, and marlin - have not been severely reduced.
"Over half a million people from here and overseas have called for greater protection for Australia's oceans during consultations over the marine reserves network,” says Kindleysides. The Pew Environment Group believes that this is the highest level of public support ever received by the Australian government for an environmental issue.
Equivalent in size to Spain, the Coral Sea marine national park has attracted outrage from fishing groups. “When ‘lock it up’ is the government’s approach to vast areas of Australia’s territorial waters is it any wonder our supermarkets are overflowing with imported seafood?” Leader of The Nationals Warren Truss said today.
But environment groups support the stance that a marine national park should be accompanied by a financial assistance package for affected fishing operators. There is still less than one percent of the world’s oceans that are fully protected, and 85 per cent of all global fish stocks are currently overfished, recovering from historic depletion or fished to their limit. Thirteen Commonwealth-managed fish stocks in Australia are either overfished or subject to overfishing.
The proposed Coral Sea Marine Reserve was announced as part of a national network of marine reserves put forward by the Commonwealth government.
“As governments gather this week in Rio de Janeiro for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, Australia has made it clear that ocean conservation and management are critical to the world’s economic prosperity and environmental health,” said Zethoven.