South Australia’s marine life is amongst the most unique in the world. As part of the isolated southwest corner of Australia where up to 90% of marine life is unique to the region. The waters off South Australia are home to 80% of the world population of Australian sea lions and critical breeding and feeding areas for many species of whales, including southern right whales and blue whales.
However, the State Government’s recent moves to establish a network of marine parks to protect this unique marine life have met with some vitriolic and hysterical opposition in regional South Australia led by the fishing industry lobby. Whilst it is likely the reaction is skin deep across the general population (polling last year showed 75-80% support for an increase in marine protection), it has dominated media coverage in the state for the past month and threatens to undermine moves to protect marine life in the State.
Attacks are focused particularly on marine sanctuaries, or sanctuary zones, the fully protected parts of marine parks that bring the real conservation benefits. Whilst these areas only cover a bare minimum 10% of South Australia’s waters, far less than levels recommended by scientists to reverse declines in our ocean biodiversity, the attacks have been blistering.
Despite evidence from elsewhere in Australia – like the highly successful leading marine parks at the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef that have driven economic diversity and growth whilst also protecting the environment – opponents from South Australia’s well funded fishing lobby groups have attacked the sanctuaries on everything from their science basis, to ruining regional economies, to devastating housing prices, to even risking the lives of fishermen.
Despite there being no evidence to back up these increasingly extraordinary claims, the attacks have overwhelmed media coverage, with the strong science case and environmentalists having little opportunity to respond to the tide of increasingly exaggerated claims.
However, now The Wilderness Society South Australia is fighting back and reviving the two year campaign that got the Government to the point of declaring the draft park maps in the first place. They will need all the help they can get, so please sign up to their campaign online and petition SA Australia’s Environment Minister and Premier to stick to their guns and do the right thing by establishing a network of sanctuary zones to protect South Australia’s unique marine life.
For more information on the benefits and need for marine sanctuaries, see previous blog post “What is a marine sanctuary, and do they work?”.