Australia is set to create the largest network of marine parks in the world which will give protection to waters covering an area as big as India. This is great news for Australia diving enthusiasts! All oil and gas exploration will be banned and commercial fishing will be limited in some of the most sensitive areas.
The project will increase the number of Australia’s marine reserves from 27 to 60, covering more than 3 million sq km, or one third of the country’s waters. New reserves will be established from the Perth Canyon in the southwest to Kangaroo Island off the southern coast, but the highlight will be the protection of the Coral Sea area which surrounds the Great Barrier Reef in the northeast.
“The Coral Sea marine national park … combined with the Great Barrier Reef area, becomes the largest marine protected area in the world,” said Environment Minister Tony Burke. The protection plan will ban oil and gas exploration in all of the marine national parks, including the Coral Sea. Earlier this month, a United Nations report said Australia’s world-famous Great Barrier Reef was under threat from industrial development and may be considered for listing as a world heritage site “in danger” within the next year, so this protection plan is a much-needed one.
However the plan has attracted criticism from some environmental groups, as well as opposition politicians. Rachel Siewert, marine spokeswoman for the minority Greens party said the government had been bowing to oil and gas interests in drawing up the boundaries for non-exploration areas. “The boundaries the minister has determined have been very strongly determined on oil and gas prospectivity, and clearly determined by lobbying from the oil and gas sector,” she told reporters.
Wildlife and environmental groups also said the steps did not go far enough to protect marine mammals from the impact of oil and gas exploration in many areas. “Offshore petroleum exploration hasn’t been addressed properly by this process,” said Matthew Collis, a campaigner for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “This is bad news for whales and dolphins because many of the areas where industry operates or wants to operate are also important habitats for whales and dolphins,” he said.
So while the creation of the world’s biggest marine park is a step in the right direction for protecting Australia’s diverse marine life, the issues of industry still need to be addressed in the long-term. You can show your support by taking a Australia liveboard cruise, which demonstrates to the government how important Australia’s underwater world is to you.
Watch our Australia diving video footage.
Ensure you are kept up-to-date with the latest diving news and special offers subscribe to our e-news now!