The Australian government has revealed a proposal to create the world’s largest network of marine parks. The marine reserves will cover 3.1 million square kilometres of ocean, protecting more than a third of Australian waters. Many of the proposed marine parks will also feature sanctuary zones, areas where human activities such as oil and gas exploration, seafloor trawling, and over-fishing will be limited.
The Final Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network Proposal will focus on five main areas: the South West; Coral Sea; Temperate East; North; and North West marine regions. The South West marine region will extend from the eastern end of Kangaroo Island in South Australia to Shark Bay in Western Australia. This area is of global significance as a breeding and feeding ground for a number of protected marine animals, such as blue whales, southern right whales, Australian sea lions and numerous fish species. Geographe Bay is included as one of the key locations requiring protection in this region as a whale resting area, as is the blue whale feeding area situated in the Perth Canyon off Perth.
Large parts of the marine reserves will be zoned to allow a range of uses to continue as long as they are consistent with the objective of marine conservation. In Geographe Bay, two small Marine National Park Zones (IUCN Class II) will be created. The primary objective of these zones is to protect natural biodiversity whilst promoting recreational activities. This means that although commercial and recreational fishing will not be permitted within these areas, non-fishing related tourism (nature watching, scuba/snorkelling tours), transit shipping, recreational boating and scientific research will be permitted. However, these two parks only cover a tiny proportion of the Geographe Bay area. Considering that some of the species using the bay are themselves very large, such a small marine park may not be enough to offer adequate protection for these animals.
In the larger Geographe Commonwealth Marine Reserve and adjacent Multiple Use Zone, which together cover most of the bay, there will be less restriction on human activities. In these areas, various commercial and recreational fishing will be permitted, with the exception of demersal trawling, gillnets or longlines. The South West Corner Commonwealth Marine Reserve located off Cape Naturaliste, has been declared an oil and gas exclusion zone. For more information regarding the zoning scheme for marine reserves in the South West, click here.
The proposed Marine Reserve Network is an excellent step forward in the direction of marine conservation. However, the impact of these zones and the varying levels of protection offered to marine fauna and flora is yet to be determined. The effectiveness of the proposed marine reserves will need to be monitored closely to ascertain whether it is meeting the needs of the numerous species it is trying to protect. The work is not over yet!
The final marine reserves are expected to be declared before the end of 2012.
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