Coalition seeks to change its own legislation on marine protection

Articles by AAP and the Australian today highlight a new private members bill about to go into Australia’s Parliament from a Nationals senator that seeks to change legislation for declaring marine parks, legislation that was enacted under the last Coalition Government and has shared bipartisan support for more than a decade.

Until now, the Coalition has previously been rightfully proud of their legacy of protecting the Great Barrier Reef and putting in place the legislation that is underpinning the role out of marine parks in Australia.

The new legislation would; however,  mean that the fisheries minister can veto new marine parks and that Parliament has to approve all new marine sanctuaries.  A similar veto in Western Australia has held up progress on marine parks to the point where WA has virtually no large marine sanctuaries outside of the Ningaloo marine park. So what has changed in Coalition ranks since the Howard years that these extra checks and balances are required?  We’ll have to wait for the Coalition to explain.

At the end of the day, we don’t need more checks and balances.  The science is in, our marine life needs more marine sanctuaries, not more delays.


Recfishwest Seeks to Mislead Fishers

Recfishwest, the self proclaimed peak lobby group for recreational fishermen in WA, has sought to  mislead its members in the lead up to the Federal Government marine planning process.  Big claim?  Yes it is, and not lightly made.  Lets have a look at their latest media release bit by bit.

Recfishwest warns greens groups are set to hijack Federal marine parks plan

Friday February 18, 2011

Western Australia’s recreational fishing peak body is calling on the Federal Government to consider carefully its zoning plans in establishing large Marine Parks covering up to 50 per cent of West Australian waters, saying our coastline is already adequately protected and the decision threatens an iconic way of life for some 600,000 West Australians.

Less than one percent of WA’s state and commonwealth waters are covered by marine sanctuaries.  Marine sanctuaries are the only form of marine protected areas that protect all fish and their habitat, and have been widely demonstrated by science (see previous blog post) to be highly effective in protecting threatened species, enhancing biodiversity, and helping to sustainably manage fishing.

The biggest threat to fishing in Western Australia is overfishing and the increasingly harsh fishing restrictions that necessarily flow from this. Marine sanctuaries are largely for conservation, but they could also be deployed to help insure against future overfishing, and to protect key feeding and breeding habitats that help to restock the surrounding fishing grounds.  In WA, sanctuaries may even be an essential fishing management tool – this was recommended to the state Fisheries Minister in 2009 in an independent report on how to best recover populations and sustainably manage demersal scalefish in WA (Fisheries Occasional Publication 65)

80% of Western Australians in a poll last year said they wanted to see much larger areas of our oceans protected. A question on fishing habits revealed many of these people went fishing.

Recfishwest Acting Executive Director Kane Moyle says well funded and highly organised environmental groups such as the Pew Environment Group and the World Wildlife Fund are applying significant pressure to Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to establish more “no-go” sanctuary zones.

“These groups openly advocate for up to half of all Australian waters to be declared sanctuary zones, but this is going way too far and there is no hard evidence to suggest it will have any impact on fish stocks.” Mr Moyle said.

These groups are advocating for a network of marine sanctuaries to cover important environmental areas, not an arbitrary percentage.

There is plenty of hard evidence to demonstrate (not just suggest) a positive impact for fish stocks and other marine life.  Recfishwest would be aware of this evidence.

“In particular, Recfishwest is concerned about an imminent decision on Commonwealth bioregional marine planning in waters between South Australia’s Kangaroo Island and along the west coast as far north as Western Australia’s Abrolhos Islands. The area is of vital importance to not just the recreational fishing industry, but also WA’s commercial fishers and tourism.” Mr Moyle said.

“Recreational fishers are also some of the strongest conservationists at heart. It is in everyone’s interests to fish responsibly for the future, and it’s time for some balance to be brought back into the debate.”

Less than 1% protected – balance Kane?  True, the area is of vital importance to fishing, tourism, and with 90% unique marine life, also for conservation of species.  The impacts of historical and current overfishing is a huge threat to all of the livelihoods that depend on the sea, marine sanctuaries will underpin the future management that is required to protect this for the future.  For demersal reef fish, recfishers now take about half the current catch.  The Fisheries Department is trying to reduce this by half to stop the decline in populations of these fish, particularly the Western Australian Dhufish.

“These organisations take an “anti-fishing” approach and purport to be the voice of marine conservation. This is neither realistic nor necessary.“WA’s recreational fishers need to know that a pastime they consider to be a way of life is under serious threat.”

All organisation campaigning for marine sanctuaries in WA have no official position on fishing continuing outside of marine sanctuaries.  There are no ‘anti-fishing’ groups campaigning for marine sanctuaries in Australia.  Most groups actively argue that sanctuaries will also be good for fishing – that is hardly an ‘anti-fishing’ stance.  Recfishwest has dealt with most of these groups in the past. This is blatant scaremongering.

“What these environmental groups fail to recognise is that WA waters are already heavily controlled in terms of where, when and what type of fishing can occur. The State Government has already flexed its legislative muscle on marine conservation, with almost 40 per cent of our waters currently designated or proposed to be designated as Marine Parks.

40% of state waters are not in marine parks. Designated marine parks have no meaning or impact on fishing or conservation.  More importantly, marine Parks are not the same as marine sanctuaries.  Marine Parks, other than sanctuary zones, allow for fishing and do not have the benefits that marine sanctuaries bring.  This is misleading at best.

Many managed fish species are in decline, and are certainly not anywhere near historical levels. That is why there are heavy and increasing fishing restrictions in WA, and why the western rock lobster fleet has been slashed in the last few years.

“To add weight to their claims, these environmental groups are presenting data from severely over-exploited tropical systems in developing countries that bear little resemblance to Australia’s marine environment.”

This is not true. Many examples from Australia and NZ are presented.  I think these are not third world countries, and I think they bear some resemblance to Australia’s marine environment.  See some at my previous blog already linked, but here it is again.

Mr Moyle and several high profile recreational fishers are calling on the Federal Minister to ensure that recreational fishing interests, which are so much a way of life for many West Australians, are well considered before any decisions are made.

This bit is true.

See CCWA’s media release on this topic:

What is a marine sanctuary, and do they work?

What is a marine sanctuary?

A marine sanctuary is an area of ocean set aside for conservation.  Marine life, including fish, and habitat is fully protected.  Mining and fishing is not permitted.  It is similar to a National Park on land.

What are the benefits of marine sanctuaries?

Marine sanctuaries are the best way to protect marine life and threatened marine species:

“With 32% of GBR reef area in no-take reefs, and fish densities about two times greater on those reefs, fish populations across the ecosystem have increased considerably…the reserve network is also helping the plight of threatened species like dugongs and marine turtles.”

Comment from authors of the paper, Adaptive Management of the Great Barrier Reef: a globally significant demonstration of the benefits of a network of marine reserves, (Feb 2010), a paper written by 21 of Australia’s leading marine scientists.

Marine sanctuaries underpin sustainable fishing, and can help reverse declining catches and help support food production:

“Global evidence, including from the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Marine Parks, shows that fish abundance and biomass are 2 to 5 times greater within sanctuary zones than areas that are open to fishing. .. sanctuary zones enhance fishing through the spill-over of adults into fished areas … increasing evidence suggests that commercial fishing yields are highest near marine park boundaries.”

Open letter from 10 leading Western Australian marine scientists, Camden Sound – the perfect candidate for a large marine sanctuary, Published in The West Australian 22nd March 2010

Marine sanctuaries are good for tourism and long term sustainable fisheries, they can help supporting regional economic growth:

“The results of the study indicate that even without the non-market benefits of marine protection, the combination of fishery buffer benefits, spillovers for commercial and recreational fishers and increased ecotourism benefits are likely to outweigh the displacement costs.”

Dr Martin Van Bueren, Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers (formerly Allen Consulting), The Economics of Marine Protected Areas: Application of Principles to Australia’s Southwest Marine Region, Nov 2009

There is a national and international science consensus that high levels of marine sanctuary protection will protect marine life, and marine sanctuaries are supported by Australia’s leading marine science organisations:

“A figure of 10% under no-take protection would slow but not prevent loss of biodiversity: the current no-take level in the GBRMP of 33% is more likely to achieve substantial and sustained biodiversity benefits… Rare and vulnerable ecosystems or communities should be provided with greater protection – up to 100% where an isolated ecosystem or habitat type is endangered”

Statement from the Australian Marine Science Association (AMSA), “Position statement on marine protected areas” (2008) (note: AMSA is Australia’s leading marine science association)

“The final MPA network should consist of a minimum of 30% of the area of each Bioregion… Individual conservation features should all be represented in high protection zones at a minimum of 30%… Conservation features that are known to be significant, threatened, or in a degraded state will normally require greater proportional representation”

Scientific Principles for Design of Marine Protected Areas in Australia: A Guidance Statement, (2009), produced by University of Queensland and endorsed by 60 of Australia’s top marine scientists.

“Creating a worldwide system of very large marine no-take areas is an essential and long-overdue contribution to improving stewardship of the global marine environment.”

Statement from the PEW Global Ocean Legacy, 8th June 2010, signed by over 245 leading marine scientists from more than 35 countries.

Is there evidence they work in the real world?

Numerous case studies from around Australia and the world demonstrate that marine sanctuaries are a highly effective tool for protecting threatened species, enhancing biodiversity and helping improve fishing.

Poor Knights Islands Snapper, NZ

In 1999 the marine reserve was closed to recreational fishing after a previous closure to commercial fishing had little effect.  In 2009, after 10 years of full no-take protection there were 14 times more large snapper in the reserve.

Poor Knights Islands  Marine Reserve and Mimiwhangata Marine Park fish monitoring 2009, DOC, NZ

Rottnest Island Crayfish, WA

Density of lobsters was ~34 times higher in the sanctuary, and density of lobsters above minimum legal size around 50 times higher than in other areas around the island where recreational fishing is allowed. Mean carapace length (CL), total biomass and egg production of lobsters in the sanctuary zone were significantly higher than in adjacent fished areas.

Increased density, biomass and egg production in an unfished population of Western Rock Lobster (Panulirus cygnus) at Rottnest Island, Western Australia, Babcock et al, 2007

Leigh Marine Reserve, Rodney, NZ

The Total Output in Rodney dependent on the existence of the marine reserve is estimated to be $18.6 million per year. Some $12.1 million of this is direct spend by visitors and the balance is the result of flow-on effect through the district economy. Associated with this output is Total Value Added of $8.2 million per year and employment for 173 FTE’s (full time equivalents) in Rodney, including 10 jobs in marine reserve-related activities.The majority of day visitors (54 %) said that if the marine reserve did not exist then they would not visit, or would be unlikely to visit, the district on the day they were interviewed.

Economic Impact Analysis of the Cape Rodney Okakari Point (Leigh) Marine Reserve on the Rodney District, L Hunt, 2008

More examples can be found all over the internet.  This is another recent one published a few months ago – More than Fishy Business: A Literature Review of Marine Parks, Dr Nancy Bray, University of Adelaide



Do fish stay in marine sanctuaries?

A simple question, a simple answer – yes! There have been claims that sanctuaries won’t work because fish will just swim out of them.  This is as ludicrous as saying that National Parks won’t work because animals can walk or fly out of them.

Two things.  Firstly, sedentary species.  Many many species of fish and other marine life, including species as large as some dolphins, spend their whole life within a few kilometers, or even a few meters.  A decent sized marine sanctuary will protect them happily all their lives.  You wouldn’t expect a blue wren, or a quokka, or a bilby, or a tree, or a numbat to stray out of a National Park.  So why any different for a clown fish, a goby, a prawn, a starfish, a seahorse, or a harlequin fish, or a blue groper.

Secondly, species that migrate or do swim around.  Some species like Tuna and migratory sharks and whales do spend most of their lives migrating.  Evidence from the Great Barrier Reef shows they will tend to stick around in a sanctuary longer (densities of these species are higher in the sanctuaries) – it makes good commonsense if the going is good stay a bit longer.  They will eventually leave, but not before having benefited from a good feed or rest, and the sanctuary having benefited from their contribution to the nutrient cycle.  It isn’t that different from land either, some species like say American Buffalo in the old days, or migratory birds today,  travel, but they also stop over for a rest where there is a decent wetland, or a good feed of grass.  And they also have important areas for feeding and breeding that they can’t do without.

Then there is another class of migratory fish – fish like snapper that are known to locally migrate to breed and feed. These are an even more interesting group. A bit like kangaroos or emus, preliminary evidence from sanctuaries in New Zealand has shown that they might be preferential migrators.  In other words, when times are good they tend to stay put, whereas when they are not, they tend to migrate.  Tracker work at the Poor Knights Islands showed that snapper, which were also thought to be local migrators in New Zealand, tended to stay primarily in the sanctuary, with a few migrating out to surrounding reefs every now and again (with 14 times more large snapper in the sanctuary, and some swimming out from time to time, that is a good scenario for fishing).  It is likely the same could happen with snapper, rock lobsters, and other demersal fish in WA waters. As so often happens when you put in place a marine sanctuary you learn something new.  Fish behavior can be, and is, changed by fishing, and the safer and more productive waters of a marine sanctuary are a pretty good place for a big fish to hang out.

So, to fishos and scientists like Ben Diggles and Bob Kearney who of late seem to be quick to claim that fish just swim around randomly in the ocean so sanctuaries won’t work (at least thats how I’m understanding their comments) – I think a little more thinking and digging is required.  I’m a bit confused by these two, and would love if someone can send me some information on which working marine sanctuaries they have been involved in studying that has informed their view on the matter.

Especially given there are a number of high profile marine science consensus statements, high profile scientists from major universities such as University of WA, SA and Queensland and the Australian Marine Science Authority who all support establishing a network of sanctuaries in Australia’s waters.

It seems to me that the areas of Australia’s waters with the most marine sanctuaries, Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef, remain some of the best fishing spots in Australia, alongside world class conservation.  That is what I’d think of as a win-win for fishing, conservation, and Australia in general.

And so,  yes, fish do stay in marine sanctuaries. At least enough to make them by far the most effective conservation tool, and in many circumstances an excellent fishing management tool too.

Ian Kiernan Supports Marine Sanctuaries for WA

Ian Kiernan with CCWA President Nicole Hodgson and The Squid

Over the last two days I had the good fortune of spending some time with Aussie legend Ian Kiernan AO, round the world solo sailor and inspirational founder of Clean Up Australia Day.

Ian was in WA to promote Clean Up Australia Day (6th March) and lend his support to efforts for a network of marine sanctuaries in WA’s waters, where despite high levels of unique marine life, less than 1% of the oceans are protected.

He also lent his support to our President at CCWA – Nicole Hodgson – who is swimming to Rottnest Island solo in support of marine sanctuaries for WA.  She is swimming to raise money for Save Our Marine Life, you can donate at the Everyday Heroes website.

Ian recently wrote an opinion piece describing his support for marine sanctuaries.  Read the whole piece here, and extract is below:

It was pollution of our oceans that motivated me to create Clean Up Australia. When I sailed solo around the world in 1986-87, I looked forward to visiting the fabled Sargasso Sea at the heart of the Bermuda Triangle. Famous for being a “golden rain forest of the sea”, covered by seaweed, I instead found a fading legend carpeted by rubbish.

Since the first clean-up of Sydney Harbour in 1989, the Australian public has demonstrated its overwhelming interest and concern about the health of our waterways and rugged landscapes by taking action to conserve our natural environment.

But this is not enough to secure the long-term health of our oceans and waterways. Almost a quarter of a century after I started Clean Up Australia, I believe the efforts of the Australian community have been let down by successive governments, which have failed to act to safeguard our waters and marine life for future generations

Hope to have a video to camera from Ian up at Save Our Marine Life soon…

Montara Oil Spill Company Seeks New Licences

Just ten days after getting permission to continue operations at their Kimberley Oil Spill site, the Montara spill company is seeking permission for new oil fields off Australia’s North West coast.

It also comes just weeks after BP was given permission by the Government to open new deepwater oil fields offshore from South Australia for exploration, despite the damning results of the inquiry into the Gulf Oil Spill.

The company claims they have a ‘satisfactoy record of environmental performance’, and that their response to Montara is evidence of that!  This is the spill that leaked oil into the ocean for 10 weeks in the pristine oceans off Australia’s remote Kimberley region.  A Goverment inquiry found they had ‘failed to observe sensible oilfield practices.’

More via The Age here…

It is amazing that an oil company in Australia could be  so confident of approvals that they can claim one of Australia’s biggest ever oil spills as evidence of their environmental credentials.  This looks like a big test of the Australian Government’s commitment to protecting our oceans and regulating the oil industry.

It is also a strong demonstration of why our most special marine areas need to be protected from irresponsible operators by a network of marine sanctuaries.

Currently oil leases already cover one quarter of Western Australia’s oceans – including sensitive areas like Exmouth Gulf, offshore from Ningaloo Reef, Jurien Bay Marine Park and offshore from Margaret River – yet less than one percent of our waters are protected from drilling.



Help ensure Stumpy Stingray’s Death Not in Vain

Stumpy stingray was an icon at Hamelin Bay, the giant old stingray recognised by his missing barb had frequented the beach for at least 20 years to be patted by local children and fed by the local campground staff.  The stingray experience is even marketed as a tourism attraction for the south west.

I was there this summer and even as an experienced diver couldn’t help but marvel at the number of giant stingrays and eagle rays at the beach, and get caught up in the excitement of the crowd of children, locals and tourists alike.

Yet Stumpy’s life came to a tragic end just two weeks ago, speared and hacked to death whilst still alive in front of screaming children, before being packed in an esky and taken away – as reported by the Sunday Times. At time of writing this blog, there were 350 comments on the story, mostly expressing rage.

The locals, however, under leadership of the local camping ground, have banded together to ensure Stumpy’s death will not be in vain.  They have started a petition, which will be delivered to the Fisheries and Environment Ministers at the end of February, calling for a new special marine sanctuary to protect the rays of Hamelin Bay.  Stumpy’s tragic death was completely legal under WA laws, and a marine sanctuary is the best way to provide protection to the rays in the bay.

You can help too!  Stingray petition Document, get some friends to sign it, and send it back to the Hamelin Bay Caravan Park –

Hamelin Bay Holiday Park
PO Box 4, Karridale WA 6288

It’s also available for signing at the Augusta Newsagency.

The petition text says:

This is a petition to the minister for fisheries to help protect the iconic stingrays of Hamelin bay by declaring the area from the Hamelin Bay Headland to 100mteres to the East of the Hamelin Bay boat ramp a Stingray sanctuary zone.

This will prevent a repeat of a recent event in which “STUMPY” a large Smooth Ray without a tail and a  regular visitor to the area for the past 15 years at least being killed in front of families and children, if you wish to see the Stingrays of Hamelin bay protected for future generations then please sign this petition.”

Less than 1% of WA’s unique waters are protected, and it means there are no safe places for big old fish like Stumpy to grow old and give joy to our children.  It is something that needs to be fixed, hopefully Stumpy will be an example to us all of why we need to better value, and protect, our ocean wildlife.  That way, his death will not be in vain.