THE Australian Government last week announced the creation of the world's largest network of marine reserves, with Environment Minister Tony Burke releasing maps showing the government's final network of marine reserves.
Once proclaimed under national environmental law, the new network will increase the number of marine reserves from 27 to 60 and expand the national network to cover more than a third of the nation's waters.
Mr Burke said the maps represent the most comprehensive network of marine protected areas in the world and represent the largest addition to the conservation estate in Australia's history.
"This new 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," he said.
According to the government, the new marine reserves take the overall size of the Commonwealth marine reserves network to 3.1 million square kilometres – the largest representative network of marine protected areas in the world.
Mr Burke said that following the "huge" number of submissions received, protection has been increased for a number of iconic reefs in the Coral Sea Marine Reserve that are important for marine turtles and large ocean predators.
The national marine network features:
- The Coral Sea Region, which covers an area of more than half the size of Queensland and includes protection for all reefs in the Coral Sea.
- The South-West Marine Region, which extends from the eastern end of Kangaroo Island in South Australia to Shark Bay in Western Australia.
- The Temperate East Marine Region, which runs from the southern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to Bermagui in southern New South Wales, and includes the waters surrounding Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands.
- The North Marine Region, which includes only the Commonwealth waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Arafura Sea and the Timor Sea extending as far west as the Northern Territory - Western Australian border.
- The North-west Marine Region, which stretches from the Western Australian - Northern Territory border through to Kalbarri, south of Shark Bay in Western Australia.
Mr Burke said over the past 12 months, the government has consulted with marine and tourism business representatives, environmental groups and members of the public through 250 meetings across the country.
"Our aim is to protect our unique marine environment, while supporting coastal communities and marine industries around the country," he said.
"Over the coming months, the Government will consult the fishing industry and fisheries management agencies on the design and implementation of a fisheries adjustment assistance package."
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) applauded the move, saying the Australian Government's decision to establish the world's largest national network of marine reserves is a historic conservation achievement that makes the nation a global leader in ocean protection.
"These marine reserves will protect a diversity of Australia's ocean ecosystems, including reefs and waters in the Coral Sea, majestic seamounts off the east coast, the mysterious deep waters of the Diamantina Fracture Zone and the waters of the Great Australian Bight," said ACF CEO Don Henry.
The ACF said the reserves will cover 40 per cent of Australia's waters, which are home to 45 of the world's 78 whale and dolphin species, six of the seven known species of marine turtle and 4,000 fish species.
"The establishment of the national marine reserves follows a long process, which was started by the Howard government in 1998 with the release of its Oceans Policy and the creation of the south-east marine reserve network in 2007," Mr Henry said.
"We congratulate the Coalition for starting this process and the Government for this historic step forward with a world class network of marine reserves, supported by strong assistance for transition in the commercial fishing sector."