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Reserving the marine

By Lisa Singh - posted Wednesday, 19 November 2014


In September this year US President Barack Obama banned fishing and other commercial activities like deep-sea mining across huge tracts of the south-central Pacific Ocean. He recognised that the world's oceans are running out of time and in protecting 788 000 square kilometres he created the world's biggest oceanic marine reserve.

The White House was explicit in its reasoning for the expansion of the national park:

expanding the monument will more fully protect the deep coral reefs, seamounts, and marine ecosystems unique to this part of the world, which are also among the most vulnerable areas to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

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Of course, at just 788 000 square kilometres, this park, called the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, is only one third the combined area of the oceanic national parks the previous Labor Government added to the national system of Commonwealth marine reserves.

In protecting more than 2.3 million square kilometres, Labor delivered by far the largest representative network of marine protected areas in the world.

Proclamation of these reserves was a major achievement for the long-term conservation of Australia's oceans. It provided permanent protection to the diverse range of marine ecosystems and habitats in Commonwealth waters and the biodiversity they supported, while allowing for the sustainable use of natural resources in some areas.

Labor expanded the number of marine reserves from 27 (including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park) to 60, covering more than a third of Commonwealth waters and fulfilling the Australian Government's component of the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas.

President Obama, who has determined that ocean conservation will be a key legacy of his second term, was loudly and justifiably applauded around the world for his decision.

He received no congratulations, of course, from Australia's most redundant Government Minister, Greg Hunt, who perhaps was reflecting upon his decision in December last year to junk the comprehensive marine national park management plans that would have secured the enduring conservation and sustainable use of Australia's precious oceans.

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Those plans were the culmination of more than 20 years of work that began under the Keating Government. Labor's development of Marine Bioregional Plans and the identification of the Commonwealth marine reserve network were founded upon a strong scientific information base, detailed analysis of potential socio-economic impacts and rigorous stakeholder consultation.

By secretly scrapping the plans without Parliamentary scrutiny, the Abbott Government ignored expert scientific advice and the outcomes of extensive public consultation.

Without management plans, the marine reserves are meaningless. They are merely lines on a map, reserving nothing, useful only as proof that the Abbott Government never intended to protect our marine environment.

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About the Author

Senator Lisa Singh is Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Water and prior to this was Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Attorney General. She was also a Minister in the Tasmanian Labor Government.

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