Threatened Australian Sea Lions Unprotected in Proposed Government Sanctuaries Plan

Australian sea lions only live in southern Australia.  They are a threatened species with the total population in 2005 estimated to be only 11,200.

Populations were decimated by hunting in the 1800’s.  In one example approximately 3000 sea lion pelts were taken from the islands of the Recherche Archipelago in Western Australia.  This is roughly the current population estimate for the entire southern Western Australian coast.

The sea lion population has not recovered from sealing, and now there are concerning signs of decline. The entanglement in fishing equipment, particularly shark gill nets is a major concern.

According to the Environment Department website the reported annual kill rate is at least 1.3% of the population, the third highest for any pinniped (seals, sea lions, walruses) in the world.

Take action to increase protection of Australia Sea Lion habitat at Save Our Marine Life and Care2.

However, a report in April 2010 revealed that each breeding season 374 sea lions were being killed in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark fishery. A breeding season is 17.5 months, so this equates to around 256 seals per year. I think this would make the annual kill rate over 2.2% of population from this fishery alone.

I couldn’t find any data on kills in the South Coast (WA) and West Coast gill net fisheries.  The only estimate in the State of the Fisheries Report was from the ‘mid to late 1990s’ and stated that ‘marine mammals were caught at a rate of just over 1 per 10,000 km gillnet hours’.  I’m not sure how many 10,000km gillnet hours there were or if any of these were sea lions (dolphins are also taken). Will look into this more.  Also, there are no observers on these vessels and fishing locations have changed since the 1990’s, so it is also difficult to be sure of the accuracy of this number.

Offshore and deep water oil spills are also an increasing risk to many Australian sea lion colonies as the industry expands into the South West.

Despite these appalling statistics, the current proposed marine sanctuaries plan for the South West from the Federal Government fails to protect Australian sea lions.  Only 4% of Australian sea lion feeding areas are protected.

So where is protection required? Whilst the majority of Australian sea lions live in South Australia, there are four distinct populations that require protection.

The four broad populations are:

(i) South Australia,

(ii) WA South coast (Recherche Archipelago and west to Fitzgerald River National Park),

(iii) WA west coast (3 Breeding colonies, 2 in the Jurien Bay Marine Park and one at the Beagle Islands)

(iv) Abrolhos Islands.

The following table breaks down the lack of protection of Australian sea lions habitats in the Federal Government’s proposed plan.

Level of inclusion of important habitats for Australian sea lion within the proposed marine sanctuaries.

Region Number of Breeding Colonies Number of breeding colonies within 10 nautical miles of proposed marine sanctuaries Proportion of foraging grounds within the South-west planning region within proposed marine sanctuaries
South Australia








WA West Coast












Map of Australian sea lion colonies against proposed marine sanctuaries and oil leases

In addition to these four broad populations it is important to note that Female Australian sea lions will only breed at the colony where they were born, making every breeding location very important. Smaller colonies are particularly vulnerable to fishing related deaths because it will be a bigger overall impact on that colony.

It is also worth noting that the Abrolhos Islands and West Coast populations feed primarily in shallow state waters making commonwealth waters less important, but also noting that very little of their habitat is protected ion state waters either.

You can take action to ensure critical areas for Australian Sea Lions and other marine life in the South West are adequately protected in a network of marine sanctuaries via Save Our Marine Life ,  Care2 and CCWA.


WA Marine Sanctuaries Popular With Fishers: New Research

SOML / CCWA media release from June 3rd 2011

Six out of 10 West Australians who regularly fish believe marine life is in decline and an even greater number, 72 per cent, support the creation of marine sanctuaries off the cost to protect fish stocks and other marine life, new research provided to the state government has found.

Leading market research company Patterson Market Research also found that almost two-thirds of West Australians support protecting at least 30 per cent of the waters off the WA coast in marine sanctuaries.

The statewide research was commissioned by WA businessman Jock Clough in the lead up to the release of maps of proposed new marine parks off WA’s coast by the federal government in May.

Mr Clough said he was motivated by a desire to contribute to an unprecedented period of government decisions about the long-term health of WA’s oceans.

“Like any West Australian, I believe our coast, the lifestyle it supports and the health of our oceans are unique and worth looking after for everyone now and for the future,” Mr Clough said.

Patterson’s research sampled the opinions of 604 West Australians from across Perth metropolitan area and also country WA in mid April.

The results of the research, which was also supported by the Conservation Council of WA, were shared with the state government before being released publicly.

“Marine sanctuaries are the missing piece of the puzzle to manage and protect WA’s oceans. West Australians have wanted hotspots for unique marine life protected for many years and most fishers know now understand that the edge of large sanctuaries will be the best fishing spots in the future,” Tim Nicol from the Conservation Council of WA said.

WA Research Findings:

  • Six out of 10 people who frequently fish (fished more than 12 times in the past year) support protecting at least 30 per cent of the waters of WA’s coast in marine sanctuaries.
  • 63 per cent of West Australians believe that marine life in WA’s waters is in decline.
  • Eight out of 10 West Australians would like the state and federal governments to work together to establish marine sanctuaries off the WA coast.
  • 67 per cent of people support protecting at least 30 per cent of waters directly off the coast from Perth, such as the Perth Canyon, in a marine sanctuary.

Regional WA Research Findings:

  • The Kimberley: 73 per cent of West Australians support protecting at least 30 per cent of waters off the Kimberley coast in marine sanctuaries.
  • Perth to Geraldton: 70 per cent of West Australians support protecting at least 30 per cent of waters off the coast between Perth and Geraldton, such as at the Rottnest Shelf and Abrolhos Islands in marine sanctuaries.
  • Perth to Busselton: 69 per cent of West Australians support protecting at least 30 per cent of waters off the coast between Perth and Busselton, such as at Geographe Bay, in marine sanctuaries.
  • Busselton to Augusta: 72 per cent of people support protecting at least 30 per cent of waters off the coast between Busselton to Augusta, such as the Naturaliste Plateau, in marine sanctuaries.
  • East of Augusta: 72 per cent of people support protecting at least 30 per cent of waters off the coast east of Augusta at places, such as the Albany Canyons and Recherche Archipelago, in marine sanctuaries.

Post of the Month (May): Does Recreational Fishing Impact Fish Stocks and the Environment?

This month’s post of the month as decided by number of readers was for the first time: Does Recreational Fishing Impact Fish Stocks and the Environment.

Despite this article being published in March it was the most read in May, probably reflecting interest after the release of draft maps for new marine parks for the South West.

You can find out more about the campaign for marine sanctuaries in the South West, and take action online, at Save Our Marine Life.  We are now in the public consultation period for the marine sanctuary network for the South West and with only two of ten critical biodiversity hotspots proposed for protection, it is very important you help out by taking action online!

You can discover the amazing marine life and underwater world of the South West in the online flip book Atlantis Found.

Note you can subscribe to the blog by email via the box at the top of the right hand column of this page or follow me on Twitter (@Happy_Squid).

Welcome to month six of Australia’s ‘year of the oceans’ when a network of new marine reserves right around the country will be established, starting with the unique south west region.

Happy June!

Research Shows Marine Sanctuary Fishing Fears Unfounded

The conservation benefits of marine sanctuaries are very well established, and there is increasing evidence and acceptance of the important role they can play as the ‘missing piece of the puzzle’ in managing our fisheries.

However, the debate often then focused on what the impact might be on recreational fishermen. Fishing lobby groups raise the concern that fishers will no longer visit areas, and this will have devastating impacts.

See this media article from the rezoning of Ningaloo Marine Park when the level of marine sanctuary protection was raised to 34% of the park,

Recreational fishing lobby group Recfishwest expressed fears that local businesses would suffer because anglers would no longer visit the area.

So with the benefit of hindsight, what really happened?

Fortunately, research was undertaken to look into the issue. What researchers found was that although there was a level of perceived dissatisfaction about the sanctuaries amongst recreational fishing tourists in the years after they were created, this dissatisfaction was not affecting their visitor experience. In fact, visitor satisfaction ratings amongst these visitors were over 90%, nor did it affect their intent to visit again.

Also, in Exmouth there was dissatisfaction with the process of establishing sanctuaries, but not with the sanctuaries themselves and there was no drop in visitation of the marine parks by locals.

The research also showed that of the 90,000 visitors to the region each year, only about 30,000 fish. Of these, it is difficult to determine how many visit primarily to fish, and for how many it is one of a number of reasons to visit the region. There is lots more information in the report including an analysis of the experience for ‘wilderness campers’.

Visitor numbers at Ningaloo continue to grow each year, and people still fish.

The research at Ningaloo is repeated elsewhere where world class marine sanctuaries have been created. Studies since the Great Barrier Reef was zoned to 33% marine sanctuaries show similar results. Whilst some specific user groups did face change, 70% of recreational fishermen interviewed reported no change or an increase in the fishing experience after the rezoning to 33% marine sanctuaries.

A major study published in 2010 into the environmental, social and economic effects of rezoning the Great Barrier Reef found significant conservation benefits but also net-economic benefits, and that boat registrations had been unaffected by the rezoning – suggesting fears of impacts on boat sales to fishermen were not realised.

As a final example, one from a 30 year old marine reserve in New Zealand. Some would argue that Ningaloo and GBR are anomalies because they were already tourism destination. However, Rodney in NZ was not a tourism destination prior to the establishment of the Goat Island Marine Sanctuary. When the marine reserve was established in 1975 the headlines read “Nothing to do at Goat Island Bay Anymore”. However, a recent study found that the sanctuary now brings in around $18.6m per annum in additional income to the local region and supports a number of full time jobs.

Fishing continues as a major industry, but the large snapper and crayfish that can be seen from the rocks, or snorkeling, bring in thousands of tourists a year. It is a success story of economic diversification through marine conservation.

So I think we can conclude that available evidence shows that fears about the economic impacts of marine sanctuaries, and their impact on recreational fishing experiences, are largely unfounded.

Beyond that, it is worth considering the economic and social impact of overfishing, or even of declining fish populations within the bounds of what is considered acceptable exploitation by fisheries managers.

The recent cuts to the Western Rock Lobster industry in Western Australia where the fleet has been halved have had serious consequence, but the reason was not marine sanctuaries but an unexplained drop in larval recruitment, but probably due to widespread overfishing of breeding adults as the fishery was allowed to maintain catch levels by fishing into deeper waters.

Similarly, the scale fish wetline fisheries on the west coast have all but disappeared from many areas, and the recreational experience is being reduced by seasonal bans and reducing availability of large fish. Not to mention the impacts on dive tourism of not having the experience of seeing these fish available. I don’t know of any studies into these impacts.

Letter to the West: Re Paul Murray’s attack on Sanctuaries Science

Published Monday 13th June in The West Australian…

Paul Murray’s editorial claiming no science case for marine sanctuaries was an offense to the thousands of scientists who have spent countless hours at sea and in the lab meticulously building the vast scientific literature that now backs the calls for more protection.

 His argument in itself is flawed, the primary science case for marine sanctuaries is for conservation and is not about how our fishing is managed. No one would argue now that we should have no National Parks on land because kangaroos are hunted sustainably, or our old growth forest should be logged because they might grow back.  Fully protected marine sanctuaries have been proven to protect marine life and restore degraded habitats, often with benefits for fishing too.

 However, Murray’s assertion that fishing is having no impact on the environment because of one report released by the Fisheries Department deserves answering.  In short, he has fallen for a propaganda exercise. The good news in the report has been dramatically oversold, whilst the recognition of the decline in some large top of food chain species like the Dhufish and concerns about the lack of information on our fisheries have been ignored.

 Critically, the report brief meant it only looked at catch data over 30 years up to 2006, before the collapse in the ‘Vulnerable Five’ large fish stocks and Western Rock Lobster larval counts was identified.

 A network of marine sanctuaries will protect and conserve our marine life, and might just also help to ensure we can still catch a dhufish in the future.

Marine Sanctuaries Attack Ends in Red Faces

Last week the Fisheries Department released an independent report from Murdoch University that said some good things about the state of fish populations in Western Australia and management of our fisheries (although also raised some questions about data).  However, the release of the report was quickly jumped upon by anti-sanctuaries campaigners.

State Fisheries Minister Norman Moore was the most cautious in his comment on the report, but still using it as a platform to question the need for sanctuaries and ask the Federal Environment Minister to provide more science.

Fishing lobby groups Recfishwest and WAFIC eagerly followed and went much further, putting out press statements (linked on org names) claiming the report called into question the science behind marine parks.  Fortunately the media wasn’t so quick to pick up on propaganda and they had very little coverage.

However, Paul Murray from 6PR and The West Australian did jump on the band wagon, with a lengthy segment on his radio show on the 3rd of June where long term anti-sanctuaries campaigner Scott Coghlan of Western Angler joined in. (note you can hear a debate between Scott Coghlan and The Squid here).

The following week, Murray wrote a stinging editorial timed for World Ocean’s Day on the 8th June that claimed that now, because of this report, there was no science behind calls for sanctuaries.

Unfortunately for them, the people who wrote the report disagreed, and were pretty annoyed at how badly it had been misrepresented.  Murdoch University releasing a press release on the 10th June that you can read for yourself:

A little story that shows how hard it is to make a case that there is no science behind marine sanctuaries when there is, and perhaps that people should read reports before they go to the media.

You can have a look at the report for yourself here:




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