16 November 2012.
The Australian Government has set in law the largest network of marine reserves on earth and shown the world that Australia means business when it comes to protecting our oceans, says Australia's peak marine conservation group, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS). The government today formally proclaimed 44 marine reserves in a network now covering a third of Australia's ocean territory.
Today we have witnessed one of the most significant days in Australia's environmental history," said Fiona Maxwell, AMCS Marine Campaigner.
The government has bequeathed a legacy by setting in law the world's largest network of marine reserves. Future generations will thank us for our foresight in taking the action needed to protect the richest oceans on the planet.
Australia has an ocean territory twice the size of our land. We are islanders, coastal people. We love the beach, are proud of our coral reefs, and love to get out on the water, boating, swimming, surfing, diving and fishing. It's a part of our lifestyle. Our oceans provide us with food, oxygen and a place to work and play. Today's announcement will help us keep it that way,"
continued Ms Maxwell.
Places like the Coral Sea - the 'jewel in crown of the reserve network' - will now be safeguarded from damaging activities such as oil and gas exploration.
The Coral Sea is a global biodiversity hot spot, recognised for the number and diversity of large ocean predators such as sharks, tunas, marlin, swordfish and sailfish. Protecting this special part of Australia will provide a safe haven for marine life and a globally significant ocean legacy for generations to come.
Maxwell continued, "A national network of marine reserves has been in the making since the 1990s but the process is not quite over. The Government will soon be determining how they will manage these important marine areas and AMCS will be advocating improvements to zoning in a number of critical areas, adequate resources and best practices management and surveillance activities. In now developing management plans for the newly proclaimed reserves, the government needs to fully protect critical areas that have been left vulnerable to the impacts of mining and unsustainable fishing practises,"
This is not only an important day for ocean conservation but also the future of our fisheries. We know that marine reserves help manage and protect marine wildlife and their habitats but they also provide significant benefits to fisheries," concluded Maxwell.
The public has overwhelmingly supported this process. Over 500,000 people have expressed their support for the creation of a network of marine reserves in Australia.
Our oceans - worth protecting
Oceans cover over 70% of our planet and contain a richer diversity of life than on land.
Our oceans connect every continent and shape every coast. They control our climate and produce half of the breathable oxygen on Earth.
85% of all global fish stocks are overfished, recovering from historic depletion or fished to their limit (UN FAO, 2010).
A quarter of the world's coral reefs are destroyed and two thirds are in serious trouble.
Australia has the third largest marine jurisdiction on Earth, giving us a duty to manage our seas responsibly.
The Global Census of Marine Life has demonstrated that Australia's oceans hold the greatest diversity of marine life in the world.
While Australia claims to manage our fisheries better than most, we still have a poor track record, with 13 Commonwealth-managed fish stocks either overfished or subject to overfishing.
Oil and gas exploration remain a major threat to precious marine areas like Ningaloo and the Rowley Shoals off the Western Australian coast.
The science is proven
The science supporting the effectiveness and benefits of marine reserves is clear. In 2010 over 150 Australian scientists wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister outlining the vital role that marine reserves can play in restoring the health of our oceans and their wildlife. The proposed reserve network would also provide long-term benefits to tourism and recreation.
AMCS supports the Australian government's policy of providing fair financial assistance to fishing businesses directly affected by the creation of marine reserves.
This is great news for everyone, not just Aussies!