The Coral Sea no-take area is part of the marine planning. (Photo: protectourcoralsea.org.au/environment.gov.au/FIS)
World's largest marine protected area proposed in Coral Sea
Tuesday, November 29, 2011, 00:50 (GMT + 9)
The government has announced the proposed establishment of the world's largest marine protected area (MPA) spanning some 989,842 sqkm in the Coral Sea. Fishers worry the changes could devastate their livelihoods.
"There is no other part of Australia's territory where so much comes together – pristine oceans, magnificent coral, a military history which has helped define us and now a clear proposal for permanent protection," Environment Minister Tony Burke noted.
The Coral Sea islands are renowned for their diversity of predatory fish, such as albacore, yellowfin and bigeye tuna, broadbill swordfish, black marlin and mako sharks. As several important species there are being overfished elsewhere and suffering from habitat degradation, the MPA would provide a refuge for them.
"That's why our Marine Bioregional Planning Programme is so important. It is more than conservation - it's about making sure the future of our oceans is one of strength and resilience," Burke said.
"Although we are still to complete our consultation process and declare a final network, Australia is on track to deliver a world-leading system of marine reserves which will include examples of all the different marine ecosystems and habitats found in Australian waters," he continued.
Burke said the government had consulted a broad range of marine users and interest groups in the development of the proposed reserve. The consultation period has been extended from 60 to 90 days to ensure people have every opportunity to provide feedback; it runs until 24 February 2012.
The government wants to set up a no-take area of 51 per cent and to ban gillnet fishing and seabed trawling in the Coral Sea. Fishers are irate, ABC reports.
“It is potentially one of the perverse outcomes of marine planning,” argued Winston Harris from the Queensland Seafood Industry Association. “It puts fishermen in smaller and smaller areas.”
Professor Terry Hughes, director of coral reef studies at James Cook University, countered that not only is the proposed Coral Sea no-take area hundreds of km offshore, but also that “very, very little” commercial fishing currently takes place there, BBC reports.
Commercial fishers that would have to relocate their operations will be compensated.
"There's about half where recreational fishing is allowed to continue and for the commercial fishing, other than trawling, there's about a quarter of the total area which is still a massive area," Burke commented. "Certainly for anyone who gets caught up where the only area they can go to forms part of an area that's been protected, then there's a fisheries adjustment policy."
During the consultation period, officers from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities will be visiting centres along the Queensland coast, holding information sessions and meeting with representatives of various industries and stakeholder groups.
By Natalia Real