Controversy brews over Australia’s marine park debate

THE world’s largest network of marine reserves is to be created in Australia, restricting gas and oil exploration as well as fishing. This means that the resulting total of marine reserves off the Australian coast will reach 60.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef Pic: Shutterstock

The announcement has been met with mixed reactions from different interest groups. Environmentalists are disappointed that the move fails to protect the northwest region of the country, while some members of fishing industry have vowed to fight against it.

The new protected region covers 3.1m sq km (1.2m sq miles), encompassing a third of Australia’s territorial waters and adjoins the already protected Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Though the government has announced that it will compensate fishers to the tune of $100m AUS, members of the marine industry see it as potentially disastrous.

From the Townsville Bulletin:

Everyone who uses the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea is proactive in protecting the environment, which they enjoy. To simply restrict totally the usage of those areas doesn’t serve any useful purpose in terms of the economic benefits there are to the country.

–Marine Queensland Townsville representative Emmanuel Theodosiou

UNESCO, supported by experts in marine biology, sees the reserve plans as failing to address land-based sources of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef, such as coastal development, mining and agricultural run-off. The Great Barrier Reef has diminished by 50% over the last 50 years, with some marine species being decimated by agricultural pollution and climate change, the latter having been linked to coral bleaching.

Australia’s government has also allowed excessive dumping and dredging inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

From a piece in The Conversation:

UNESCO will soon release a detailed assessment of the Great Barrier Reef, which they warn could be downgraded to a World Heritage Site in Danger in the next year. If the in-Danger listing happens, it would be deeply embarrassing to the Queensland and Commonwealth governments, and the worldwide publicity would be an enormous blow to the Australian tourism industry. The comprehensive report expands on a summary released earlier this month, which has triggered a political storm  between the Queensland State and Commonwealth governments.

Both the fishing industries and conservationists are against the exploration and extraction of natural gas in Australian waters, albeit for different reasons.

For more information on how Australia’s government is addressing some of the above concerns, read or listen to this interview with Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke from ABC News.