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Establishing a national network of marine reserves, as the federal government last week announced it would, gives Australia a real chance to safeguard our coastal way of life.
Most Australians love spending time at the beach and on the water. But pollution, overfishing, introduced marine pests and climate change are all endangering this lifestyle.
For more than a century, special places on our land have been protected as national parks. These rainforests, bushlands, wetlands and mountains ensure we will always be able to go camping, bushwalking and even skiing with family and friends. It is about time our oceans were properly protected, too.
The government's proposal would protect 40 per cent of our oceans in the world's biggest and best marine reserve network. When these marine reserves are declared it will complete a process begun by the Howard government, which also had the foresight to establish a reserve network in the southeast marine region.
Recreational fishing and various types of commercial fishing and aquaculture will still be allowed in about three quarters of the marine reserves. The only areas that will not allow fishing, the marine national park zones, make up the remaining quarter of the network. These zones support fish breeding and preserve irreplaceable tourism assets.
Overwhelming scientific evidence from here and overseas shows marine national park zones help ocean life recover. These pockets allow fish stocks to replenish, ensuring recreational and commercial fishing can continue well into the future
The great majority are too far offshore to affect even the keenest fisherman.
Off Sydney, recreational fishers would have to travel northeast for 600km to find the nearest reserve where they could not fish, an area that contains magnificent underwater mountain peaks. That's a long way in a tinny.
Overwhelming scientific evidence from here and overseas shows marine national park zones help ocean life recover. These pockets allow fish stocks to replenish, ensuring recreational and commercial fishing can continue well into the future.
There is also evidence that marine national park protection boosts tourism. The Great Barrier Reef supports a tourism industry worth more than $5 billion a year.
It is no surprise tour operators are thrilled with the new marine national park zone that will protect such special places as Osprey Reef, considered by some to be the best diving site in the world.
However, some commercial fishers will be affected and may have to adjust to other locations or different types of fishing. The government has committed to funding in the order of $100 million to help fishers make these changes. Although there will be changes in the commercial fishing industry, they will not cause the level of seafood imports to jump. Seafood imports are high because Australia does not catch or farm the imported species here or produce them in the volume or at the price demanded by the local market.
The network will build up fish stocks for the future of the industry, protect places of value to tourism operators and keep our coasts healthy.