National Marine Reserves network: Important step for Northern Tropical Sealife, but more needed

The Australian Government’s national network of marine reserves announced today is a crucial first step to ensuring our extraordinary marine life is better protected. Further work is still needed to protect our Northern marine environment, according to the Environment Centre NT (ECNT), Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and The Wilderness Society Inc (TWS).

“The Government’s new proposed marine reserves have turned the tide on marine conservation, lifting overall protection from less than 1% in most regions around Australia. Whilst some important areas have been left vulnerable to overfishing, oil and gas drilling and seabed mining, the proposed national reserves network is a significant step forward for marine conservation in Australia and on the world stage,” said Darren Kindleysides, AMCS.

“Good progress has been made in proposing sanctuaries (marine national park zones) off Western Cape York, near the Wellesley Islands and in the Wessel group north of Nhulunbuy. These will fully protect some of the Top End’s extraordinary sealife including important dugong habitat, seagrass beds and reefs.”

“Additionally the exclusion of bottom trawling (multiple use zones) in Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, the oceanic shoals west of the Tiwis and the Arafura Canyons will reduce pressure on these areas.”

“Stepping up protection for Limmen Bight – an internationally significant site for dugong and important sea turtle breeding and feeding area – is also an important addition and we look forward to further progress to permanently protect that region from seabed mining” said Darren Kindleysides, AMCS.

“The progress made today in protecting these areas of the northern tropical seas is tempered though. The offshore waters of the Northern Territory contain some of the most pristine tropical seas left on the planet and are a haven for turtles, dugong, reef fish and dolphins. The decision of the Federal Government to create such limited areas for full protection is a major disappointment stated Dr Stuart Blanch, Director, Environment Centre NT.

“The North has been treated as a poor cousin despite increasing pressures from oil and gas, and damaging fishing. Opportunities have been missed to protect many remote marine areas which are too far away from boat ramps for anglers to reach, hold no oil or gas, and are little fished by commercial fishermen”, said Dr Blanch.

“The opportunities for Indigenous saltwater communities to have greater control over the management of their traditional Sea Country have not fully been seized,” added Dr Blanch.

“Thousands of Australians including many from the North have supported calls for a network of large marine sanctuaries in our tropical seas. We ask the minister to heed the call and ensure the North is better represented in the nationwide reserves network. It is clear that further marine sanctuaries will need to be put in place to protect critical areas like the marine nurseries adjacent to Cape York’s wild rivers and we will continue to work with our membership to lift the level of protection for our tropical sea life,” said Gavan McFadzean from TWS.

“The modest level of reserves is expected to have very limited impacts on the commercial fishing industry. We acknowledge and support the Federal government policy to fair financial assistance to fishers and businesses directly affected by the creation of marine reserves” concluded Gavan McFadzean from TWS.

For further information:

Stuart Blanch, Director, Environment Centre NT, 0448 887 303.

Darren Kindleysides, Director,  Australian Marine Conservation Society, 0422 396 077

Gavan McFadzean, Northern Australia Campaigner, The Wilderness Society, 0414 754 023

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