CORAL Sea stakeholders have had a mixed reaction to a draft management plan for the marine reserve, which has had its protected areas cut back by more than 75 per cent.
The Turnbull Government has finally released its long-awaited plan for the vast marine park, off the Far Northern coastline, which covers 989,842 sq km.
According to the State Government, the proposal has decreased the Coral Sea marine park protected area by 76 per cent.
Sally Barnes, the federal government’s director of national parks, says the plan strikes a balance, setting how marine parks can be used and enjoyed, while providing protection through active management.
Australia’s national network of marine parks was established by Labor in 2012, and suspected by the Abbott government one year later, which committed to a review of the management scheme.
Cairns Professional Game Fishing Association president Dan McCarthy said the new plan was significantly better than previous strategies.
“It’s still not perfect,” he said. “Obviously we’ve had to make concessions, but if it comes as it is, we can live with it.”
He said under the current plan, fishers had lost partial access to Osprey Reef, 230km northeast of Cooktown.
“Osprey’s a significant reef for all of the groups and it has, historically, been very lightly used,” he said. “Even with up to 50 years of the current level of use, everybody agrees it is in absolutely pristine condition. On that basis, they can’t justify kicking out responsible users.”
Mike Ball Dive Expeditions operations manager Craig Stephen said the plan would effectively open up pristine dive sites, such as Osprey Reef and the Cod Hole, to more fishing.
“Peeling the green zones there, basically opens things up to destructive industry,” he said.
“We have suffered on our dive sites. We’ve had scuba divers coming to the surface with sharks with hooks hanging out of them, and lines hanging out of their mouths. That’s had a direct impact on us.”
Queensland’s Environment Minister Steven Miles said any cut to protections in the Coral Sea was unacceptable.
“We have had two back-to-back coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef and the federal government wants to downgrade a safe haven for marine life,” he said.
“All so that they can increase longline fishing and sea floor trawling, which will decimate fish populations. To call this short-sighted is an understatement.”