New Proposal Aims to Protect One-Third of Australia’s Waters

The Australian government has plans to turn one-third of the country’s waters (approximately 1.2 million square miles) into protected marine reserves, more than doubling the number of marine parks already in existence. What is more, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef—the country’s most notable marine reserve, located off the northeastern coast—will be afforded even greater protection as the Coral Sea which surrounds it will be under greater protection as well. Once the plan is implemented, explained Tony Burke, Australia’s Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population, and Communities, “The Coral Sea Marine national park…combined with the Great Barrier Reef area, becomes the largest marine protected area in the world.”

Timing could not have been any more perfect for the plan to make its debut. The announcement arrived merely a week before more than 130 government representatives from around the world were set to meet in Rio de Janeiro for the Rio+20 summit, a meeting hosted by the United Nations in order to discuss sustainable development around the world. A follow up to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the goal of Rio+20 has been to map out global progress in the way of sustainable development while pushing for even more future improvements.

Coming into the meeting, there is no doubt that Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard will have some valuable talking points when in Brazil. And skeptics believe to the dismay of the Australian government that the plan is simply all about bragging right.  “It’s time for the world to turn a corner of our oceans. And Australia today is leading that next step,” said Burke. “This network of marine reserves will help ensure that Australia’s diverse marine environment, and the life it supports, remain healthy, productive and resilient for future generations.” A powerful statement that when handled correctly can make a huge impact on the rest of the world.

Despite the excitement surrounding the news, many activists and laborers are not completely sold on the idea. Environmental activists believe that the amount of proposed marine sanctuaries is just not enough. Furthermore, that the additional marine expansions purposefully avoid areas that would impede on oil and gas companies—and thus, gets on the wrong side of sustainability. “The boundaries the minister has determined have been very strongly determined on oil and gas prospectivity [sic], and clearly determined by lobbying from the oil and gas sector,” said Rachel Siewert of the Australian’s Greens Party—a minority party dedicated to green politics.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the issue the fishing industry is crying foul against these new marine reserves, claiming that it is actually too much—that these reserves will severely affect and restrict businesses in the area. According to Dean Logan of the Australian Marine Alliance, a group that acts on behalf of commercial and recreational fisheries, the expansion of protected areas is “devastating and those that will suffer most will be coastal communities.” To help alleviate these financial worries, the Australian government has proposed compensation package of $100 million—an amount the fishing industry considers no more than a drop in the ocean.

With the push and pull over the matter, it is clear that the proposed plan could use some work. Even so, such a progressive plan as this is it should not be ignored, but rather be seen as a benchmark to the world’s stepping in the right direction. To encourage Tony Burke, Australia’s Minister of the Environment, to keep up the good work sign the petition here.


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