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Byron Shire
December 2, 2023

Marine park audits welcomed

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Conservationists yesterday cautiously welcomed the release of the NSW government’s Report of the Independent Scientific Audit of Marine Parks in New South Wales.

The audit recommends that NSW’s current system of marine parks be maintained and that mechanisms be found for filling the identified reserve gaps off Sydney and the far south coast.

The audit was an election platform of the incoming state government but the Greens last week accused the government of stalling on tabling it.

Greens MP and environment spokesperson Cate Faehrmann said yesterday, ‘Now that [the government’s] long-awaited report is telling them the “inconvenient truth” that the science behind marine parks is justified we see more stalling tactics’.

‘To now put this report out to another public consultation until June is a disgraceful move by the government and designed to delay the inevitable – the lifting of the moratorium on marine parks.’

North coast conservationist Dailan Pugh welcomed the audit’s strong endorsement of NSW’s existing marine parks and the need for fully protected sanctuary zones.

‘Hopefully this latest audit will signal an end to efforts to wind back marine conservation in NSW and lead to a more scientific and systematic approach to identifying the areas we need to fully protect in the interests of biodiversity and all the people of NSW.’

These views were echoed by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

‘The audit report lays to rest claims that marine parks and sanctuaries are “voodoo science” by recognising that a “very significant body of research, both international and national, supports an increase in size and abundance of most marine species following the cessation of fishing”,’ chief executive officer Pepe Clarke said.

The audit’s primary recommendation is that the marine environment be managed by a coastal and marine management authority as a continuous whole, and appropriately zoned from strict protection to sustainable use. This is proposed to be overseen by an independent scientific committee.

‘The advantage of this is that it would effectively mean turning all of NSW’s waters into one big marine park and would allow for better placement of sanctuary zones and regulation of uses. Scientific oversight is long overdue,’ said Mr Pugh.

‘Climate change and overfishing are identified as the major threats to the marine environment and fully protected sanctuary zones are strongly endorsed as effective responses. Though the audit considers that the primary importance of sanctuary zones is for the preservation of habitats free from extractive human impacts for biodiversity conservation.

‘Land-based pollution is considered to be primarily a threat to estuaries. The audit‘s recommendation that the proposed coastal and marine management authority be given a concurrent role in proposed developments and works upstream from a marine park is welcomed.

‘The audit identifies the need to better understand the social and economic benefits and costs of marine parks and to take this into account in zoning in a meaningful and scientifically robust manner. If implemented this will be a significant improvement on the ad-hoc manner in which unsubstantiated economic claims are regularly used to override and limit conservation outcomes,’ Mr Pugh said.

The audit report is at: http://www.marineparksaudit.nsw.gov.au/audit-report/.

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