The Australian Government plans to create the world’s largest marine reserve in the Coral Sea.
According to Environment Minister Tony Burke, the protected zone would cover an area more than one and a half times the size of France. In this zone, new fishing limits would be imposed and all oil and gas exploration would be banned.
“There is no other part of Australia’s territory where so much comes together – pristine oceans, magnificent coral, a military history which has helped define us and now a clear proposal for permanent protection,” he said.
The Coral Sea is located off the coast of Queensland in north-east Australia. It is home to a diverse array of marine life, and habitats, including both tropical reefs and deep-sea canyons. It is also the resting place of three US navy ships sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942.
The proposal is undergoing a 90-day consultation. If it is approved, the reserve would be approximately 989,849 square kilometers and would begin 60 km from the coast and extend out to 1,100 km. This is more than one and a half times the size of the current largest marine reserve located around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. That reserve was established by the UK and is 545,000 sq-km.
According to the plans, some fishing–both commercial and recreational–would be allowed in certain areas of the reserve. Although, the President of the Queensland Seafood Industry Association Geoff Titon said that commercial fishing requires a larger area.
“The proposed Coral Sea no-take area is hundreds of kilometers offshore, and will have no impact on recreational fishing. There is very, very little commercial fishing currently operating legally in the Coral Sea today,” said Professor Terry Hughes, director of coral reef studies at James Cook University.
Hughes called this proposal a “welcome step” that “cements Australia’s reputation as a world leader in marine resource management”.
Activists also agree that this proposal is a good start, but they worry that key reef and spawning grounds lay outside the protected area.
Copyright © 2011 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC