With the Rio Earth Summit around the corner and the world’s oceans in serious peril, Australia has recently announced the creation of the world’s largest ocean reserve. In many ways, it is appropriate that Australia, which is home to the largest coral reef in the world, should take this special initiative.
According to The Daily Telegraph, Australia’s Environment Minister Tony Burke was quoted saying, “For generations Australians have understood the need to preserve precious areas on land as national parks. Our oceans contain unique marine life which needs protection too.”
Under the government’s plan, an additional 44 large areas of marine reserve will be added to the existing areas which are under protection. Together, this will encompass the nation’s most important aquatic ecosystems. This plan will be implemented by the end of the year and when completed, one-third of Australia’s territorial waters will be under legal protection. This is a massive 1.2 million square miles of ocean.
This move has been widely applauded by ocean conservationists, mostly because vast areas of the marine reserve will be off limits to commercial fishing as well as oil exploration. The protected areas have been separated into zones and include several features:
The Coral Sea region will support nesting sites for the green turtle and is renowned for its diversity of predatory fish and sharks.
The Southwest Marine region has global significance because it is a breeding ground for a number of protected marine species, including southern white whales, blue whales and the Australian sea lion.
The Temperate East Marine region is home to the critically endangered east coast population of grey nurse sharks, the vulnerable white shark and has an important offshore reef habitat that supports the threatened black cod.
The Northwest Marine region is home to the whale shark which is the world’s largest fish and provides protection to the world’s largest population of humpback whales that migrate annually from Antarctica to give birth in the water off the Kimberely.
The most protected zones within the reserve ban all activities except for diving. The secondary zones allow some low impact activities like some form of commercial and recreational fishing and tourism. The outer areas allow for the greatest range of activities but destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling and gillnet fishing are banned.
Australia already has a commendable commercial fishing policy and it is only natural that they follow it up with this remarkable plan to ensure that species of both national and international importance are offered protection. This move is also bound to increase the availability of commercially fished species in the future, giving seafood companies a much needed boost.