The federal government’s plan to set up the world’s largest network of marine parks has been slammed for ignoring a call to set up a Tweed-Byron Marine Reserve or to protect a nationally significant offshore canyon.
Federal environment minister Tony Burke last week announced the plan to create 44 marine parks covering 3.1 million square kilometres, or a third of Australian waters, including the Coral Sea and the southwest coast of Western Australia. The reserves limit fishing and some oil and gas exploration.
The minister will make a final decision on the plan following a 60-day consultation process.
But leading north coast environmentalist Dailan Pugh says NSW and the north coast have missed out badly.
He told Echonetdaily that 4,500 submissions supporting the proposed Tweed-Byron Marine Reserve were ignored and the Tweed Canyon ‘is to get no protection at all’.
Mr Pugh said that unique marine environments such as the Britannia and Queensland volcanic seamounts, 170km offshore from the Tweed and Byron coasts, were only given limited protection as habitat protection zones in the Central Eastern Commonwealth Marine Reserve.
‘These unique places should have been fully protected,’ he said.
‘By failing to deliver a reasonable outcome for waters off NSW, our federal government members have badly let down their constituents and the numerous unique species and ecosystems of our waters that have been severely depleted and are in urgent need of protection. They have committed many of our most vulnerable species and ecosystems to oblivion.’
Mr Pugh said that while the reserve plan had ‘delivered a major step towards the urgently needed comprehensive, adequate and representative marine reserve system’ for NSW it had ‘unfortunately, delivered an appalling outcome’.
‘While 26 per cent of the 1.5 million square kilometres Temperate East Marine Region is to be included in reserves, only four per cent is to be fully protected in marine national park zones.
‘Despite less than one per cent of the 7,100 submissions to the draft plan supporting the same or less protection than the Commonwealth proposed, it has ignored 99 per cent of submissions by reducing the area of marine national park zones and rezoning the meagre 1.6 per cent of the continental shelf proposed for reserves as special-purpose zones that have virtually no effect on any activity.
‘These are reserves in name only. This leaves a meagre 0.01 per cent of the continental shelf, around two grey nurse aggregation sites that are proposed for marine national park zones, as all that is to be protected.
‘In reducing protection for the continental shelf the Commonwealth has not only ignored the public, but also the scientific organisations CSIRO, Australian Museum, Australian Marine Sciences Association, NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee and Australian Coral Reef Society, who all identified the particular need to increase protection for the continental shelf and upper slope where high biodiversity values are threatened by high human impacts.’