Burke announces world’s largest marine reserve
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Environment Minister Tony Burke has announced that Australia will create the world’s largest network of marine parks.
The network is made up of five main zones in offshore waters surrounding every state and territory.
The maps the Minister will release closely resemble those revealed by the ABC on Monday.
But there is much more detail and new areas of protection right around the country.
“It’s time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans,” Mr Burke said.
“And Australia today is leading that next step.”
The proposed network places limits on oil and gas exploration off Western Australia and extends reef protection in the Coral Sea.
The fishing industry could be entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation if the plan is approved.
Mr Burke says commercial fishermen who will be affected will receive the same compensation as they did under Howard government buyouts.
Mr Burke says the plan will be akin to creating an ocean network of national parks.
“This is the largest network of marine reserves anywhere in the world,” he told AM.
“What we’ve done is effectively create a national parks estate in the ocean.
“The areas where you’ve got some of the most substantial outcomes are areas like the south-west of WA, areas like the Perth Canyon, which is an area as large as the Grand Canyon that would have been protected years ago had it been on land.”
He says the “jewel in the crown in the whole thing” is in the Coral Sea off Queensland.
“People were saying we’d protected a lot of the Coral Sea in our proposal but people are asking us to really push the boundaries and cover some more reefs,” he said.
“Well, in the final government position that comes out later today we’ve added Marion Reef, Bougainville Reef, Vema Reef, Shark Reef and Osprey Reef … one of the top dive sites in the world.”
The plan falls short of demands by environmental groups who wanted all commercial fishing in the Coral Sea banned.
And oil and gas exploration will still be allowed close to some protected areas.
When the ABC revealed some of these details on Monday Senator Ron Boswell said the Coalition would fight the plans every step of the way.
But Mr Burke has dismissed the Coalition concerns.
“Ron Boswell, you know, he’s opposed to any level of marine protection. He believes in fisheries management but he doesn’t believe in establishing a national parks estate in the ocean. And at that point, it is just a fundamental difference of opinion,” he said.
“There are some areas where the oil and gas industry is there quite close to some of the protected areas. Certainly wherever there is a marine national park established in those areas, there is a ban on oil and gas.
“Throughout the whole of the Coral Sea there is a ban on oil and gas and we’ve established a significant area around the Margaret River area where oil and gas will also be excluded.”
The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Chris Smyth says although the park declarations don’t go as far as he’d like, he’s still very happy with the announcement.
“There’s a lot of stakeholders involved in this: the oil and gas industry, the commercial and recreational fishermen, environment groups and so on.
“Obviously some of the areas we would have liked to have got are still being opened to oil and gas interests and commercial interests, but across the board we think it’s a major achievement in terms of oceans conservation.
A final consultation process is to be completed before the initiative goes ahead.