Australia’s giant leap forward in ocean protection

11 October 2012 | Article

The announcement of the world’s largest system of marine parks to circle Australia represents a turning point in the protection of the ocean.

The federal Environment Minister Tony Burke announced his intention to create the national system in June of this year and then opened his plan for public comment. The overwhelming majority of submissions supported his proposal, by a ratio of 8:1. The marine parks are likely to be proclaimed in the next few weeks.

In the Minister’s own words, the “jewel in the crown” is the Coral Sea Marine Reserve. The Coral Sea lies between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Australia’s maritime border with New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. It is one of the last remaining intact tropical ocean ecosystems in the world where populations of large ocean predators - sharks, tunas, and marlin - have not been severely reduced.

The proposed reserve will be almost 1 million square kilometers in area (386,100 square miles) and will be entirely safeguarded from mining, including petroleum exploration and development. More than 99 per cent will be shielded from trawling and almost three-quarters will be protected from long-line fishing, the major current uses of the area. The eastern half will be safeguarded from any extractive activities, making it the second largest no-take marine park in the world.

Together with marine parks in Australia’s southeast and the Great Barrier Reef (both established by the Howard government), Australia will have 13% of its EEZ in an IUCN I or II protected area and a further 23% in an IUCN IV or VI protected area. The IUCN World Conservation Congress in South Korea, just this September, adopted a resolution that congratulates Australia for its landmark announcement to establish the world’s largest network of marine reserves, and urges Australia to proclaim the network swiftly.

For more information contact Imogen Zethoven, Pew Environment Group.