The Australian government is planning to establish a new management plan for marine reserves and it does not look good. The new management plans, have been heavily criticized for removing conservation status from regions of the Great Barrier Reef that have long been protected and are some of the iconic reefs in the world.
The new plans are a rollback of the current marine park that was announced in 2012. At the time, the environmental minister announced the plan of marine parks in what they called the “biggest step the globe has ever seen” in ocean conservation. The parks cover a third of Australia’s ocean territories but the impact of the protection was questioned on the basis that commercial fishing would be allowed in 80 percent of them.
When the plans were established in 2012, critics argued that that the government was trying to have it both ways, impressing voters concerned about marine conservation with the size of the territory, while keeping the fishing industry happy by doing little to limit their effect on the relevant areas.
Marine reserves protect the ecology of the protected zones and evidence has been found that these zones help marine species grow back to numbers that are considered healthy.
Although evidence does show the importance of the areas, there are no universal rules on what is limited or allowed in Australia’s marine reserves. Different reserves abide by different rules, allowing some forms of fishing while others do not allow any. The only thing that is not allowed is oil drilling.
In the new plans that have been proposed, the revised arrangements open up 97% of commonwealth waters within 100km of the coast for recreational fishing, and 80% of marine parks.
Australia’s environment minister Tony Burke says they will move to disallow the new plans, branding them “the largest removal of marine area from conservation, ever, from any government in the world”.
“The worst area affected is the Coral Sea,” Mr Burke said.
The previous plans were enforced to only allow some sorts of commercial fishing, but this new plan will allow for just about anything to go. If passed, the plans will allow for super-trawlers who are known for huge quantities of bycatch of all species, and will potentially open waters up to mining practices.
With coral already facing a multitude of threats due to climate change, overfishing and oil drilling is the last thing that is needed to completely decimate the reefs. The so called marine park would not offer any protection at all to the one of world’s natural wonders. To implement the plans, the Australian government will need support within the Senate from smaller parties and independents.