Truths of the Coral Sea Reserve

Sorting the facts from fiction on the Coral Sea Marine Reserve.


Osprey Reef is one of the areas that is lacking much-needed protection in the Coral Sea.

Credit: Photo by Xanthe Rivett

- Advertisement -

On 14 June 2012, Australia Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke announced a national network of marine reserves, including the “jewel in the crown” — the Coral Sea. The proposed Coral Sea Marine Reserve is almost one million square kilometres, with half of it fully protected in a marine national park zone. The new reserves will become legally binding in the next six months to one year. Since the announcement, a number of fishing lobby groups have expressed opposition to the reserves and disseminated misleading and inaccurate information about them.

Below are 11 facts that debunk five myths about the proposed marine reserves:

Myth 1: The proposed Commonwealth marine reserves network will devastate the fishing industry and the Australian economy, costing it $4.3 billion and 36,000 jobs.

Fact 1.1: The proposed marine reserve network will displace $11.1 million worth of commercial fishing production per annum. This is less than 1 per cent of the $2.2 billion in total gross value produced by Australian fisheries.
Fact 1.2: Nationally, 103 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs will be lost. The federal government has pledged $100 million to assist fishing businesses affected by the marine reserves network. The proposed network covers an area that provides $2 billion a year in unaccounted ecosystem services.

Myth 2: Australia will have to import more seafood from overseas to make up for closures in the Coral Sea.

Fact 2.1: The Coral Sea Fishery is a very low-value fishery with 16 permits but only four active boats in recent years. Two of the permits are used to collect aquarium specimens, which are taken live for their decorative value; another permit is used to collect sea cucumber for export to Southeast Asia.
Fact 2.2: For some target species in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery, the tonnage allowed to be fished is very likely to remain unchanged when the Coral Sea reserve takes effect, whilst for other species — probably albacore tuna and bigeye tuna—the total allowable catch may be reduced. Albacore tuna is a tropical species and is mainly caught in the Coral Sea. Bigeye tuna is overfished on the east coast of Australia, and the total catch needs to be reduced, regardless of the status of the Coral Sea Marine Reserve.

Myth 3: Australia’s fisheries are underexploited.

Fact 3: There are no major opportunities to expand Australia’s fisheries. In 2010, 42 per cent of Australia’s fish stocks were assessed as either overfished or unknown. Our waters are comparatively less productive (much like our land) than waters found elsewhere in the world. This fact makes them more vulnerable to overfishing.

Myth 4: The charter fishing industry will be crippled by the Coral Sea Marine Reserve.

Fact 4.1: More than 99 per cent of reported tag-and-release game fishing off the coast of Queensland occurs within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and less than 1 per cent occurs in the proposed Coral Sea Marine Reserve.
Fact 4.2: The Regulation Impact Statement into the proposed marine reserve, produced by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities based on ABARES modelling, found there to be “minimal impact expected” on recreational and charter fishing.
Fact 4.3: The government has proposed to keep 18 of the Coral Sea’s 25 unprotected coral reefs open to both recreational and charter fishing, and a further four partially open. Only three coral reefs that are now open to fishing are proposed for full protection.
Fact 4.4: The proposal would allow recreational and charter fishing in 49 per cent of the Coral Sea Marine Reserve — almost half a million square kilometres.

Myth 5: The Coral Sea Marine Reserve locks out recreational fishers.

Fact 5.1: The closest to shore marine national park (no fishing) zone in the proposed Coral Sea Marine Reserve is well beyond the continental shelf — a very long way from the Queensland coastline. The vast majority of recreational fishers in Queensland will not be affected.
Fact 5.2: The nearest marine national park zone in the proposed Coral Sea Marine Reserve is 210 kms from Cairns, 330 kms from Townsville, 380 kms from Mackay, 500 kms from Gladstone, and 490 kms from Bundaberg.