After more than a decade’s preparation the Federal Government has now announced its plans for marine parks and sanctuaries around Australia’s coast. It will be the largest network of marine protected areas in the world.
While many areas have been earmarked for protection in marine sanctuaries, and even more remain at risk, this announcement is far more significant than simply lines on maps. It marks a turning point in recognizing and dealing with the devastating impacts of seafloor trawling, over fishing and oil and gas drilling in Australia. Marine protection is now a mainstream issue and, like national parks on land, marine sanctuaries are now accepted as a vital piece of the jigsaw puzzle in safeguarding the health of our oceans and marine life into the future.
After the release of these maps, no-one would be under any illusions that more
will have to be done to properly protect our marine life.
However through this one announcement we have made huge progress which should be celebrated as an unprecedented step forward for marine protection. Polling since the announcement demonstrates overwhelming support for this increase in protection, with 70% of Australians saying they approve while just 13% disapprove.
Within a few weeks the government will be inviting you to comment on their plan. Help make the world’s largest network of marine parks a reality by signing up to the Big Blue Army. We’ll contact you as soon as comments are open.
Below is a region-by-region summary of the highlights of this new plan and some of the areas needing further attention in the future.
Note: Marine sanctuaries are zones within Marine Parks. They are like national parks on land where the plants and animals inside them are protected from damaging activities such as mining, oil drilling and over fishing. Other zones within marine parks allow a range of activities such as fishing and oil exploration. Marine sanctuaries are called Marine National Parks on these maps.
South West(South Australia and southern half of Western Australia)
Significant progress in protecting our deep ocean habitats has been made. The Diamantina Fracture Zone, which is Australia’s largest mountain range and the site of our deepest waters, would receive substantial protection off WA’s south coast.
Geographe Bay off Busselton and Bunbury – whale resting and breeding area for many unique fish species. Two sanctuaries and an extended area would be protected from destructive gillnetting and is solid progress, which would add to the natural, recreational and tourism assets of these regional towns.
Perth Canyon off metro Perth – the small marine national park zones will be useful and more will be needed in future to protect what is one of the most important oceanographic features on the West Coast, including blue whale feeding areas.
The Abrohlos – Southern most coral reefs and jewel in the crown of West Coast. Protection of the Houtman Canyon offshore between Kalbarri and Geraldton in its entirety would be a great outcome. In the waters closer to the islands on the shelf the sanctuary to the north will be very important in demonstrating benefits for future expansion of the network.
Margaret River – an important new sanctuary will be created here along with a new zone prohibiting oil drilling (an Australian precedent outside the Great Barrier Reef). This moves any active part of the oil acreage from 80 kms to about 100kms away from the coast and sends a clear signal that any future attempts to drill in the area will be strongly resisted. Unfortunately most of the prospective oil lease would remain open to future exploration activities, leaving the Capes coast vulnerable to an oil spill.
Eastern Recherche – highest density of unique fish species in the country alongside whale and Australian sea lion breeding areas. A new sanctuary here is welcomed but the zoning over much of the area that allows gillnetting would need to be addressed.
The new Marine Park at Jurien Bay would still allow destructive and deadly gillnets leaving the endangered Australian sea lions at risk.
Off South Australia, there are now five proposed sanctuaries on the continental shelf, which would help protect vulnerable populations of marine life.
Changes to the Great Australia Bight Commonwealth Marine Reserve would provide increased protection for one of Australia’s most important calving areas for the endangered Southern right whales.
The oil and gas industry has been given free reign off the coast of Kangaroo Island, one of Australia’s most loved wildlife tourism destinations and critical feeding location for the endangered blue whales.
North West(Pilbara coast and the Kimberley, Western Australia)
A big step forward for deep water protection of the Abyssal Plain with 2 new sanctuaries proposed for the edge of Australia’s marine territory, one west of Ningaloo and the other North West of Broome.
The proposed marine sanctuary along the Buccaneer Archipelago would provide protection for the humpback whale calving aggregation - one of three hotspots for humpback whale calving in the Kimberley.
Most of the Pilbara and Kimberley’s special marine hotspots have been left unprotected, including the Rowley Shoals, which has attracted public controversy over plans to drill for oil. A marine park is proposed but it would allows oil and gas development.
North(Northern Territory and Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland)
Sanctuaries in Western Cape York, near the Wellesley Islands and in the Wessel group north of Nhulunbuy will protect important dugong, seagrass beds and reefs in those areas.
Multiple use zones in Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, the oceanic shoals west of the Tiwis and the Arafura Canyons will reduce pressure but will not secure the long term adequate protection for these areas.
The Limmen Bight has gained limited protection for an internationally significant site for dugongs and sea turtles, however its not yet protected from proposed seabed mining.
This plan fails to create reserves adjoining wild river catchments and will need dramatic expansion in coming years.
While recognizing this as an important step forward, the plan overall does not protect this highly intact tropical marine shelf.
Coral Sea(East of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Queensland)
The Coral Sea would be included in the world’s largest marine reserve, which contains within it the world’s second largest marine sanctuary (51% of the Park).
Most of the Park is proposed to be protected from destructive trawling practices and the entire Park would be protected from mining.
Spectacular coral reefs including Kenn, Mellish, Marion, Bougainville, Osprey, Shark, and Vema reefs would be protected.
Micro-zoning: buffers of 250-750 meters around Osprey, Shark, Bougainville and Marion – would allow pelagic game fishing around the reef walls. This is less than the voluntary 2 km buffer zone negotiated by local commercial and tourism operators several years ago.
Temperate East(From Bundaberg, Queensland down to far southern New South Wales)
The valuable Derwent Hunter, Elizabeth and Middleton Seamounts would be protected in marine sanctuaries.
Gifford Guyot habitat protection zone would extend out to the edge of Australia’s marine territory and could encourage neighbouring New Caledonia to increase protection.
Almost all of the Eastern seamounts would receive better protection in either habitat protection zones or in marine sanctuaries.
Unfortunately this plan allows damaging bottom trawling in Port Stephens Marine Park despite local fishers and significant parts of the community supporting increased protection.
The Eastern Norfolk seamounts would be left totally unprotected and this would need to be corrected at the earliest possible time.
This plan would deliver no protection from fishing or mining on the continental shelf, home to the highest biodiversity and under the greatest threat from overfishing and mining.
Photo by Johanna Pool
Photo by Josh Coates
Photo by Hannah Seward
Photo by Lucy Trippet
Photo by Richard Ling