- Government to decide on marine park system around Australia
- Also to determine highly protected park in the Coral Sea
- Less than 1pc of the ocean is highly protected at this time
AUSTRALIA could be on the brink of making marine history.
In the near future, the Federal Government will decide on the creation of a marine park system around Australia, including whether to establish the world’s largest highly protected marine national park in the Coral Sea.
This singular act would be a fitting addition to Australia’s long history of setting aside national parks to safeguard our natural wonders and unique wildlife.
It would also significantly contribute to safeguarding the health of the ocean, less than 1 per cent of which is highly protected at this time.
More than a century ago, Australia created Royal National Park just 32km south of Sydney. It is the world’s second oldest after Yellow stone in the US. This landmark decision set off a series of designations on land – and on water.
In 1975, the creation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park put Australia at the forefront of global ocean conservation.
And 10 years ago Australia again led the world by implementing the GBRMP Representative Areas Program, the most significant environmental initiative in Australia.
Once again, we have a unique opportunity with the Coral Sea to demonstrate our conservation leadership by creating a lasting ocean legacy.
Our Coral Sea is unique.
It is one of the last remaining places where populations of large ocean predators – including deep-water sharks, mighty tuna and majestic marlin – have not been drastically reduced.
Scattered throughout this remote and wild sea are healthy coral reefs and atolls, as well as cays and islands that provide shelter to reef fish, turtles and seabirds.
As part of its national marine planning process, the Federal Government is now in the final stages of deciding what level of protection it will afford this unique marine jewel, along with other precious areas in Australian seas.
In November, the Government released a draft plan that would rule out mining and trawling in the Coral Sea – a very positive outcome.
However, that same draft plan fails to provide the scale of protection needed to sufficiently safeguard the Coral Sea’s fragile coral reefs and spectacular ocean life.
In fact, the draft plan leaves 90 per cent of the area’s coral reefs unprotected.
To ensure the future health of the Coral Sea, the Government’s final plan must be strengthened: the proposed marine national park needs to protect more reefs and more of the deep waters that provide a blue highway for whales, turtles and other ocean giants.
Places like Osprey Reef, one of the world’s top 10 shark dive sites, remain vulnerable, as do many of the coral reefs of the Queensland Plateau, a vital breeding and feeding pathway linking the Great Barrier Reef and Pacific Ocean.
The highly successful protection of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has awakened community consciences and community attitudes to the need and value of protecting the Coral Sea.
More than 486,900 people from around Australia and the world have voiced support for protection of the Coral Sea in the world’s largest marine national park.
This is one of the biggest public consultation responses in Australian conservation history. The enormous show of support includes school children, recreational fishers, divers and tourism businesses.
More than 300 marine scientists from 21 countries have endorsed the need for a stronger plan. They agree that a large, highly protected park is necessary to match the scale and biological importance of the region itself.
Commercial fishers with significant catch history in the Coral Sea are willing to restructure and remove fishing from this special place.
They should be commended and they themselves are entitled to protection through a fair financial assistance package to the small number of affected operators.
As Australians, we have a special relationship with the ocean. Our coastlines and beaches are places of leisure, work, celebration, discovery and wealth creation.
Our seas and shores are as much a part of our identity as Waltzing Matilda. In short, the ocean is a part of who we are. That is why we must protect it.
Right now, this generation of Australians has the opportunity to match the heroic and far-sighted actions of our forbears, who gave us the Royal National Park and other icons by which we are known and respected.
Peter Lindsay is the former Liberal MP for Herbert.