National Marine Reserve Network: Dawn of a New Age of Scientific Discovery

Today the Federal Government has officially proclaimed Australia’s new marine reserve network, making our oceans among the best protected in the world. It will be a boon for our coastal lifestyle and herald a new era of scientific discovery that will help reveal the multitude of treasures hidden beneath our waves.

Australia has the third largest ocean jurisdiction in the world and is home to some of the world’s most unique marine life. Whilst the Great Barrier Reef and adjacent Coral Sea are well known marine life icons, other lesser-known regions such as the South West are home to up to an amazing 90% unique marine life and half the world’s whale and dolphin species.

These diverse but fragile ecosystems support our unique diving and fishing experiences, our seafood and tourism industries, and some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

Today’s decision will add 33 new marine parks to the 27 currently in our waters.

You can view all maps and details on the Government web site here.

Many of these are vast, such as the Coral Sea Marine Park protecting this Serengeti of the seas, home to a near pristine population of threatened whales, dolphins, sharks and tuna.  Or the Diamantina Fracture Zone, protecting Australia’s largest mountain range that sits in 7 kilometres of our southern coasts.

Others protect important areas closer to shore, such as a new marine park in Geographe Bay, Western Australia. This park stops damaging gillnet and trawl fishing in this critical fish breeding and whale resting area, and also provides new marine sanctuaries throughout the Bay that will allow us to study the effects of historical overfishing and see what a pristine near shore ecosystem really looks like in WA.  Local divers, fishers and tourism operations alike will benefit.

In the Northwest of the country, a new marine sanctuary will complement new state marine parks in adding much needed protection to the Camden Sound area of the Kimberley humpback whale nursery.

Professor Jessica Meeuwig from the University of WA’s Oceans Institute also praised the new marine reserve network and said science discovery is now likely to flourish as Australia’s status as a world leader in marine conservation takes effect.

“So little is still known about our oceans and new discoveries occur regularly. New knowledge will only increase as science research expands to take advantage of the opportunities for discovery in the new national system of marine sanctuaries,” said Professor Meeuwig.

The first comprehensive Census of Marine Life, published in 2010, revealed that as much as 80 per cent of marine life in Australia’s oceans is yet to be named.

The creation of the national network of marine parks is the product of a 14-year-long journey that began in 1998 as a Howard government initiative.  Since then a vast effort of scientific discovery and community consultation has culminated in the new marine parks.  In total, half a million pieces of correspondence were sent to Government supporting the network, including 80,000 people supporting the final network during consultation.  Today we congratulate Tony Burke and the Gillard Government for completing the mammoth task of bringing all the information together and creating our national marine reserve network.

Science and our lifestyle will not be the only winners, with the tourism industry also likely to benefit. Marine parks have been proven to be economically successful. The success of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which generates in excess of $1 billion in revenue for local communities and the Queensland economy, is testament to the tourism appeal of marine parks.

This couldn’t have happened without the community. The Save Our Marine Life Alliance would like to thank all the thousands of people who have supported the campaign over the last four years.

However, no one is under any illusion that the job of protecting our oceans has been resolved overnight. Despite the important contribution the new marine parks will make, much remains to be done to address over fishing and threats such as oil spills. We must look for ways to address these threats and improve on the protection we’ve won.

And the great news is that we have an immediate and easy opportunity to do just that. The door has been left open for a few months to make small but extremely important improvements on top of what we have just secured. We’ll tell you more about this opportunity next week.

But for now we should appreciate and celebrate what we have achieved together for our planet and its people. This weekend go to the beach, go snorkeling or diving, catch a wave or wet a line. Enjoy what you have helped to protect and feel inspired that there is nothing that can stand in the way when a committed community takes action together.

See media coverage of the proclamation here.

Join us on Facebook to share your thoughts here.

View maps of the new marine reserves here.


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