14th June was a landmark (or should that be ‘seamark’?) day for Australia’s seas with Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, announcing a national network of marine reserves. This process began in 1998 under the Howard Government and Mr Burke’s announcement is a giant step forward, making Australia a world leader in marine protection.
While there are some limitations and omissions, the announcement has pleased major conservation organisations, such as the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), which have long been campaigning for Australia to give the same level of protection to marine areas that is provided for terrestrial regions through our national parks. ACF claims that “the reserves will be home to 45 of the world’s 78 whale and dolphin species, six of the seven known species of marine turtle, and 4,000 fish species.”
For Queenslanders the protection of a large area of the Coral Sea, while it is still in a near-pristine condition, is of global significance. AMCS describes this area as “one of the last places on Earth where populations of large ocean fish and healthy coral reefs still thrive”. Thursday’s announcement means that what is sometimes referred to as “the Serengeti of the Seas” will be protected from mining, oil and gas exploration and seabed trawling.