Australia Set to Become World Leader in Ocean Conservation

The Australian government has delighted environmentalists by announcing that it will create the world’s largest network of marine reserves. The area will cover 3.1 million square kilometres of ocean including the entire Coral Sea, and encompass a third of the island continent’s territorial waters.

Once proclaimed under national environmental law, the conservation measure will increase the number of Australia’s marine reserves from 27 to 60, and will become the largest network of marine reserves anywhere in the world.

The new law which will restrict oil and gas exploration and fishing is considered a major step towards safeguarding the environment and securing access to food.

The Gillard Government today released the final marine reserve map, drawn up after 12 months of public consultations with marine and tourism business representatives, environmental groups and members of the public through 250 meetings across the country.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said the government expects to pay an estimated 100 million Australian dollars to the fishing industry in compensation for the new restrictions on their operations which will take effect later this year.

There are no restrictions for the creation of the marine reserve under existing environmental laws, however there are some fears that conservative opposition may review the boundaries of the reserve if it comes to power next year.

“I am instinctively against anything that damages the rights of recreational fishing … and anything that will further damage the commercial fishing industry and tourism industry,” opposition leader Tony Abbott said.

The designated reserves are inhabited by 45 of the world’s 78 whale and dolphin species, six of the seven known species of marine turtle, and 4,000 fish species. It is also home to green turtles, southern right whales, blue whales and the Australian sea lion, as well as grey nurse shark, the vulnerable white shark, threatened black cod and many more species.

“Our aim is to protect our unique marine environment, while supporting coastal communities and marine industries around the country,” said Environment Minister Tony Burke today. “Australia can lead the world in marine protection.”

“We have an incredible opportunity to turn the tide on protection of the oceans and Australia can lead the world in marine protection,” he said.

Australian Marine Conservation Society Director Darren Kindleysides said Australians can be proud of this protective action. “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,” he said. “The progress made today shows that as a country we’ve continued to act to protect what is most special about our oceans. Australia’s marine life needs real respite from overfishing and industrial development.”