Friday, November 16, 2012

Australia creates world's biggest marine park

Australia has declared a protected zone across vast tracts of the country's oceans to create the world's biggest marine park and protect endangered fish species and coral reefs. About a million square miles of ocean will be proclaimed reserves today in a bid by the Gillard Government to limit fishing and oil and gas exploration. 

The reserves will surround the entire continent and cover the Coral Sea as well as areas off the coasts of South Australia, West Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory. They will connect to existing reserves across the iconic Great Barrier Reef and the coasts of Victoria and Tasmania to form a 1.2 million square mile marine park.

''Australia is a world leader when it comes to protecting our oceans, and so we should be, we've got responsibility for more of the ocean than almost any other country on Earth,'' said Tony Burke, the environment minister.

"The principle is the same as national parks, to have some parts of our ocean that are simply protected for nature. Many of the world's endangered marine animals including green turtle, blue whale, southern right whale, Australian sea lion and the whale shark are found in these protected waters."

Australia will now have about a third of the world's marine reserves, in a move hailed by environmentalists as "visionary and historic". The new reserves involve different levels of restrictions, including some areas with total fishing bans and others where recreational fishing will be allowed but commercial fishing and trawling will be banned. The restrictions come into effect from July 2014. Most recreational fishermen will not be affected as the total bans mostly apply to areas more than 200 miles from the coast.

However, the reserves have angered commercial fishermen and been rejected by some conservation groups which say they are not big enough and the protections are too weak. The government has set aside £65 million to compensate fishermen whose livelihoods will be affected.

The rural-based Nationals, the smaller of the two Opposition parties, has slammed the reserves, saying the government has "circled" Australia's amateur and professional fishermen. Barnaby Joyce, a Nationals Senator, said the reserves will cripple the fishing industry and force Australia to increase imports of seafood.

"The reality for Australian people is we import 72 per cent of our seafood," he said. "So if you eat seafood it's 72 per cent likely to have come from somewhere else. Therefore you're exporting your environmental problem to another country." But the zones are expected to give a boost to the tourism industry, particularly around the Coral Sea, which attracts about two million visitors a year. The Pew Envioronment Group, a marine conservation organsiation, described the new zones as "world-leading and historic".

For more information please refer to the Australian Government page.

Photo courtesy of Paul from via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)