David Wroe –
Australia is to establish the world’s largest network of marine reserves, which will ring the country and cover more than 3 million square kilometres of waters to protect reefs and marine life, the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, will announce today.
After years of consultation and planning, Mr Burke will release the final plan for the massive expansion of marine reserves, which include key waters such as the Coral Sea and pygmy blue whale habitats off the southern coast of Western Australia.
But the plan is likely to disappoint conservationists, who were pressing for more waters to be classed as sanctuaries or marine national parks, the highest levels of protection.
Instead, the final plan will be a patchwork of zones, some of which will still allow mining and certain types of commercial fishing.
Mr Burke said the plan would take the success of Australia’s national parks on land and apply them to the sea.
“Our oceans have been such a missing piece of that jigsaw and this now allows us to fill that in,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Burke will be able to take the announcement to the Rio+20 summit next week, where he and the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will be able to trumpet ocean protection and also the carbon tax.
Mr Burke recently said the “blue economy” and ocean protection would be key issues in Rio.