The federal government’s release of draft marine reserves in the Commonwealth waters far off the NSW coast is seen as a missed opportunity to establish much-needed protection for marine life by leading environment groups.
Nicola Bowskill from The Wilderness Society said, ‘We are calling for the establishment of a network of marine sanctuaries that meet international scientific benchmarks for protection. Unfortunately, this was not achieved in the current draft.’
Local conservationists are equally shocked that the federal government has failed to identify a Commonwealth marine park off the Byron and Tweed coasts given that last year they identified this as an area for further assessment to identify a location for a marine park.
On Friday the Commonwealth released its proposed marine reserves network for our 1,470,000 sq km Temperate East Marine Region, stretching from north of Fraser Island down to near the Victorian border and off the coast to include Australia’s 200km exclusive economic zone, including around Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands.
Byron-based conservationist and marine artist Dailan Pugh said that conservationists had expected a Commonwealth addition to the (state-based) Cape Byron Marine Park that would have turned it into a truly world-class marine park, stating ‘instead we got nothing’.
‘The Commonwealth has not only let down this region, but all Australians, with its proposal that a measly 4.3 per cent of the Temperate East Marine Region be included in Marine National Park zones and excluded from fishing.
‘The Commonwealth has totally abandoned any pretence of scientific or conservation credibility. They have refused to create any substantial Marine National Park zones on or near the continental shelf off the NSW coast.
‘For the past 15 years there have been increasing calls from scientists around the world to exclude fishing from 20 to 30 per cent of our seas and oceans.
‘In 2010 the Commonwealth identified six areas for further assessment in the Temperate East Marine Region, including the Tweed, an area greater than 3,000 square kilometres adjacent to Cape Byron Marine Park. It extended from Tweed Heads south to adjoin the Cape Byron Marine Park, from 5km off shore out for 90km to past the edge of the continental shelf and 4,000 metres depth.
‘The Tweed Area for Further Assessment included the massive Tweed Canyon and the stunning offshore reefs of Windarra Banks and Nine Mile with their corals, huge cod, giant rays, and massive schools of fish and sharks, including the endangered Grey Nurse Shark.
‘The Tweed is an area of exceptional biodiversity value due to the overlap of temperate and tropical species and large number of endemic species. It is an area required for inclusion to establish a truly national marine reserve system,’ Mr Pugh said.
In 2003 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature called for 20–30 per cent of the marine environment to be included in fully protected areas by 2012. In 2009 the Australian Marine Sciences Association identified the need to fully protect at least 10 per cent by 2012, and to aim for the 33 per cent as in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
The total area proposed for inclusion (or already included) in Marine Reserves in the Temperate East Marine Region is 371,114 km2 (25.3 per cent) but these are of a lesser value than Marine National Parks.
Two-thirds of this is multiple use or general use and thus provides minimal protection and allows commercial and recreation fishing – and even mining. Only Marine National Parks prohibit fishing entirely.
Multiple-use zones use exclude a few types of fishing, such as certain types of net fishing and trawling, but most types of activities are allowed. General-use zones make up the largest part by far and there is effectively no difference between them and any other type of sea.
Only 17 per cent of these new reserves (or 4.3 per cent of the total) is intended to actually exclude fishing.
Public consultations have been proposed during the public consultation period in a number of areas; however, none are proposed for the Tweed-Byron region.
The draft is open for comment and concerned readers are encouraged to do so at http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/temperate-east/consultation/index.html#networkproposal (you will need to scroll to the bottom of the page).