An independent review’s recommendation to reconfigure the Geographe Commonwealth Marine Reserve and prohibit oil and gas mining has been welcomed by South West groups and businesses.
The Federal Government’s independent Commonwealth Marine Reserves Review was released by Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg last month and made a raft of recommendations supporting the national marine park network’s reinstatement.
The recommendations for Geographe include reconfiguring the reserve to extend the adjacent “no-take zone” in the State-managed Ngari Capes Marine Park into deeper water, and the exclusion of oil and gas mining through the entire reserve.
Busselton Jetty Underwater Observatory manager Sophie Teede said the reconfiguration allowed the park to extend into deeper water, protecting more species.
“The total area wasn’t changed, but the plots were reconfigured to cover a better variety of marine life,” she said.
“It also covers more seagrass, which is a nursery habitat for many species and protects the seabed for the recruitment of rock lobsters.”
Save Our Marine Life South West community campaigner Tara Finch welcomed the reserve reconfiguration call and said the declaration of Geographe Bay as an oil-free zone was another improvement.
The review will be available for public consultation until Tuesday, with the Government hoping to finalise plans by mid-2017.
Ms Finch said the process had already dragged on and hoped the Government would support changes and push them through as soon as possible.
Dunsborough’s Naturaliste Charters owner Paul Cross said marine sanctuaries were a major asset to dive and whale watching businesses. “Marine sanctuaries, which have been scientifically proven to safeguard and boost marine life, are essential infrastructure for our industry,” he said in a statement.
Mr Cross joined Ms Finch’s calls for the Government to expedite change, given the process had “dragged on” for three years already.
Busselton Jetty Underwater Observatory, Dive Shed Busselton and Australia’s South West were among more than 200 South West businesses and organisations to join in a push earlier this year for plans for the marine network to be reintroduced.
Labor put forward the plans in 2012, but they were suspended by the Abbott Government in 2013 to conduct a review six months after approval.
While the Federal Government has indicated no timeline, $56 million over over four years for Commonwealth marine reserves was announced in the 2015-16 Budget.