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In a world first, the federal government has announced a national network of marine reserves that will help safeguard the coastal lifestyles many Australians hold dear.
The national network protects environmentally significant areas off the coasts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia.
“Being girt by sea, the ocean makes up a big part of our way of life here in Australia. And now, with the world’s largest ocean reserve covering 40 per cent of our big blue backyard, we can take comfort in knowing we should be able to share our love of the ocean with many more generations to come,” ACF Healthy Oceans Campaigner Chris Smyth said.
“Many of our iconic ocean treasures, including colourful reefs in the Coral Sea, majestic seamounts off the east coast, the mysterious deep waters of the Diamantina Fracture Zone and the waters of the Great Australian Bight, will enjoy greater protection status”.
The reserves also alleviate many fragile ocean ecosystems from the pressures associated with commercial fishing and oil and gas exploration.
Covering 40 per cent of Australia’s waters, 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
Almost all of the reserve areas will be free of bottom trawling, a commercial fishing method that destroys seabed habitat, and the federal government has committed financial support to help the fishing industry adapt to this much needed protection.
“The reserves mean that oil and gas exploration will be banned from the Coral Sea, however, the north west region will be left vulnerable to these threats,” Mr Smyth said.
Although there is room for improvement, Mr Smyth says the network is an historic conservation achievement that should be celebrated worldwide.
“The Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke will undoubtedly be very happy to share the good news with the rest of the world at the UN sustainable development conference, Rio+20, next week.
“As a developed country with an incredible endowment of marine biodiversity, we’re acting as a leader here and encouraging other countries to take their own steps forward in oceans protection,” Mr Smyth said.