It's good news week (for the marine environment)
Courtesy of Jim Grainger
Yesterday a friend complimented me on UNESCO to the rescue of the Reef (June 2012). She added, however, that I should report on some good environmental news in Australia. This got me thinking. It would be difficult, not necessarily because there isn't any, but because my idea of good news – Environmental Impact Statements having to be overseen by independent agencies rather than the mining companies themselves; more controlled tourist access to the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island; greater and lasting protection of nature reserves and refuges in the National Reserve System – wouldn't be the same as the mining industry's, or Tourism Queensland's, or those of many Australians who are conned into equating 'greenie' policy with fewer jobs.
But on Tuesday came environmental news you would expect, on the face of it, most people to welcome. Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke announced a network of marine parks around the coast of Australia that will be the largest in the world. The network consists of five main zones, each of which is subdivided into a complex patchwork including marine national parks, habitat protection zones, recreational use zones, special purpose zones and multiple use zones: 2.3 million sq km will be preserved in one form of reserve or another, and 85 million sq km fully protected in sanctuaries, the marine equivalent of national parks. Certain areas will be off-limits to oil and gas exploration and commercial fishing, and the protection of reefs in the Coral Sea will be extended.
For detailed maps of the marine reserves see here.
Despite a whiff of conspiracy theory on ABC Brisbane – this legislation is intended to thwart the new Queensland government's economic recovery plans for the state – such a policy has been in the making for years. Discussions about marine reserves first started under Paul Keating's government in the 1990s, continued under John Howard, and have come to fruition since Kevin Rudd's election in 2007. There has been much lobbying along the way by environmental groups who combined and co-ordinated expertise and effort in 'a shared vision of an Australia that is still wild and free' (The Wilderness Society).
There is no doubt in my mind that this announcement is good news for one of this nation's greatest natural assets and it sets a fine example globally. There are other marine areas that could and should be included, but this is an enormous first step. Fairly inevitably, there are those who are disgruntled, doom-and-gloomist and downright outraged. Step up fishers, commercial and recreational. According to the Prime Minister, who's been in Brisbane this week talking up Australian business prospects and was interviewed on local radio, only one per cent of commercial fishing will be affected, and about $100 million will be made available to assist those whose businesses are badly affected.
But this from Queensland National Party Senator Ron Boswell, on Tony Burke's plans:
'He will be leaving a devastated commercial fishing industry, charter boat industry and 5 million recreational fishermen in his wake... If these marine parks proceed the financial fallout will be widespread and will not only affect commercial and recreational fishermen, but the charter boat industry, tourism and on shore businesses like processors and bait and tackle shops.'
And from Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott:
'I am instinctively against anything that damages the rights of recreational fishing.'
There will now be 60 days of consultation. I daresay they will be filled with propaganda and misinformation from a variety of sources. As we all struggle over the next few decades to make our way of life sustainable and protect ecosystems from harm, there will be far worse: deprivation and hardship and the curtailment of creature comforts, hedonism and, ultimately, freedom.
Fish populations are crashing, not just in far-away oceans but all around Australia. You would never know it, to stand in line at the fishmonger's and listen to the orders for the weekend. If we don't of our own accord temper our appetite for, say, bottom-trawled prawns from the Gulf of Carpentaria, or limit our recreational pursuits to low-impact activities, or reduce our expectation of continuous economic growth, gradually but with urgency, then when drastic measures are finally required, debate and consultation will be largely a thing of the past. So, let's all welcome Australia's leadership in addressing the serious threat to our oceans.