New protection for the Coral Sea



The East Marine Region

The East Marine Region covers 2.4 million square kilometres from the Torres Strait to southern New South Wales, and as far east as Norfolk Island. The region encompasses the Coral Sea, but does not include the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park or the Torres Strait Protected Zone.

Credit: ERIN

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The Coral Sea has received new draft protection with the Federal Government's announcement of a “The Coral Sea Conservation Zone".

The new status means that almost 1 million km2 of marine area will be protected - from the eastern border of the Great Barrier Reef marine park, to the edge of Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

"The pressures on our oceans are increasing and we need to take clear steps to protect our fragile marine environments. Just last week, I was privileged to witness six leaders of our neighbouring countries agree to work cooperatively and decisively to preserve their coral reefs through the Coral Triangle Initiative," said Peter Garrett, Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts.

Minister Garrett announced the Conservation Zone while releasing the East Marine Bioregional Profile at the Sydney Aquarium. The profile is the first stage of the marine bioregional planning process for the region. The final plan is due in 2010.

"The bioregional planning process is part of Australia’s push to better understand our marine resources from a scientific and socio-economic perspective and the best means of protecting them. This Bioregional Profile identifies key habitats, species, natural processes, heritage values and human activities in the area," Garrett said.

Garrett said the establishment of the Conservation Zone would allow for detailed and extensive consultation with local communities and stakeholders before any permanent protection measures - like the creation of the highest level of conservation- a marine protected area - are proposed.

"The Coral Sea is one of the world’s healthiest marine wilderness areas, where it is still possible to see
healthy populations of sharks, turtles, whales, fish and coral," said Lydia Gibson, WWF’s marine policy manager.

As part of the conservation zone, current activity in the Coral Sea such as tourism and fishing will be allowed to continue, but new commercial activity will be rigorously assessed while the Government evaluates the region for its conservation value, according to WWF.

"As climate change begins to effect ecosystems around the world, including the Coral Sea, marine
protected areas provide a buffer zone, allowing species to adapt to the changes. WWF would like to see
a chain of interconnected marine protected areas across the world, giving marine species the greatest
chance of survival," Gibson said.

"The Australian Government has a unique opportunity to save one of the world’s last pristine wilderness
areas, and we urge them to continue the process."

Other green groups also praise the move.

"The protection of the Coral Sea is an essential first step to ensure the future of an area rich in natural and cultural history", said Alexia Wellbelove, program officer, for the Humane Society International. "We will be engaging with the marine bioregional planning process to ensure areas of critical importance to those species found in the Coral Sea are included within the future protected zone, and will be calling for the application of a strict ‘no-take’ protection approach".