If You Love the Ocean, Now is the Time…

An opinion piece by the Squid recently published in the Fremantle Herald’s ‘Thinking Allowed’ column…

I recently received a letter from an 87 year old grandfather talking about the joy of living with coastal waters full of large fish in his youth, and the sadness at seeing them so rapidly disappear within his life.

He urged us to keep fighting for the same thing that scientists around the country are calling for – a network of large marine sanctuaries to protect the critical feeding, breeding and resting areas of our marine life. Through this, he wished that his grandchildren might see our waters as abundantly populated with life as he once did.

This is the promise that should have been delivered when Environment Minister Tony Burke handed down his proposal for new marine parks federal waters of WA’s South West region on the 5th May. But it was not. 

Under the plan places Western Australian’s know and love most, like the fish nurseries and whale resting grounds of Geographe Bay, the blue whale feeding grounds of the Perth Canyon, and the coral reefs of the Abrolhos Islands remain completely unprotected by marine sanctuaries.

Marine sanctuaries, like National Parks on land, are fully protected from fishing and mining. These areas have been proven to deliver remarkable increases in the abundance and size of fish and other marine life.  There are many documented cases of this abundance spilling over into surrounding waters where fishing has improved and been made more sustainable. No other form of ocean management comes close to providing this comprehensive package of benefits, yet currently less than 1% of WA’s waters are protected in this way.

The Government’s plan comes from an election commitment to conserve marine life in federal waters of the South West, which stretch 5.5 kilometres from land right out to the limits of the Economic Exclusion Zone 370 kilometres from shore.  It is one of the most significant conservation decisions in Australia’s history given that up to 90% of marine life in the massive region (Shark Bay to Kangaroo Island) is unique, and one third of the world’s whale and dolphin species call the area home.

However, in a damning twist, the Government’s draft plan managed to propose the third largest marine sanctuary in the world whilst still only providing protection to two of the ten critical hotspots for marine life around our coasts.

In a sop to the oil industry, controversial oil leases offshore from Margaret River and Rottnest Island have also been left in place meaning our biodiversity hotspots also remain at risk from oil spills and pollution.

In his attempts to avoid impacting on fishing and the oil industry, the Minister’s plan has also managed to avoid protecting anything on the West Coast from Margaret River to Geraldton.

This mistake could not only cost WA environmentally, but economically as well.  You only need look as far as Ningaloo Reef to see the success that marine protection can bring. At Ningaloo Reef one third of the park is protected in a mosaic of marine sanctuary zones nestled amongst areas open to fishing. World class conservation goes hand in hand with world class fishing and a thriving ecotourism industry.

Research shows people still travel to Ningaloo to fish, but the bonus is tens of thousands of additional visitors coming to see the abundant marine life, now protected in sanctuaries.  These ecotourists have been shown to spend twice as much per visit as all other tourists.

The consequences of not acting are dire. Life in the ocean is intimately tied to our own.  The ocean provides us with material things, food, oxygen and the absorption of carbon pollution.  But it also inspires us, and supports our unique coastal lifestyle.

It is indefensible scientifically, economically and morally for the Government to create multiple-use marine parks with no fully-protected marine sanctuaries in this day and age.

The good news is that the Government’s proposal is only that, a proposal.  Western Australians now have a three month period in which to change the outcome for the better. 

If you love the ocean, good fishing, seafood or care about our environment, now is the time to write to the Government and let them know they must respect the science and protect our marine environment with a network of marine sanctuaries.

The future of our marine life depends on it.

For more information on how to have your say, visit www.saveourmarinelife.org.au

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