The world below the blue: conservation input closes today

The world’s rich marine resources are vastly under-protected, in the face of massive, growing exploitation, and increasing pollution, entanglement in nets, destruction of important habitat  and other impacts from various human activities, and the global changes that result. Australia risks joining the unprecedented global collapse of marine life where two-thirds of the world’s coral reefs are dead or dying and 90% of the world’s large fish have been fished-out¹. But Australia still has a lot that can be protected. This video shows a sequence of video footage captured off Perth, Western Australia by the Oceans institute, University of Western Australia.

According to Save our Marine Life, Australians claim the third largest area of ocean on Earth and have an international responsibility to conserve our oceans. The Commonwealth Government signed the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea to manage the oceans surrounding our continent for both economic benefit and conservation. However, only four per cent of our 16.5 million square kilometres of oceans around Australia are protected, despite many of our marine species being found nowhere else.

But this is changing. In response to calls for greater marine protection, Australia has been developing a system of marine reserves with input from across the nation and a wide variety of stakeholder groups. As would be expected, there were many debates about the implications of the approaches and solutions proposed, with strong voices heard from recreational fishers, fisheries industries, and conservation groups. I was saddened to see some attempts from recreational fisheries interests to paint bleak pictures of proposed sanctuaries with ads that showed kids dressed in bathers² and stuck behind a fence, unable to access the beach. This legislation is not about locking off all beaches from people – it is about ensuring that there is still something there for our kids to see (and eat, and gain a plenitude of benefits from in perpetuity).  However I don’t believe that this advertisement correctly reflects most recreational fishers, as most are aware that protected areas are highly beneficial for fish diversity and numbers, and fishing next to a protected area is much more fruitful than fishing next to an area decimated by unsustainable practices.

The debates surrounding the development of the new network of marine protected areas also saw historic engagement by people who think that marine protected areas are positive, and essential, with Save Our Marine Life and The Big Blue Army leading campaigns, including  40,000 submissions in support of marine sanctuaries (a new record for public consultation on a conservation issue).

The final proposal is currently up for comments, with comments closing tonight. While not perfect, this proposal offers unprecedented protection to our incredible marine ecosystems, and has proved to be the most popular decision made by the current government, according to Sky News.  It includes some of the most important areas for southern right, blue and humpback whales (including one of three humpback calving hotspots in the northwest), unique species of giant barracuda, marlin and sharks; endangered loggerhead turtles fish, and prevention of destructive gillnetting and sea floor trawling in many areas.

The final proposal is currently up for comment, and comments close tonight. Today you have a great opportunity to add strength to the push to protect our marine heritage. You needn’t be Australian to contribute either – Australia is simply the custodian of heritage that belongs to the whole world, that is valuable is its own right regardless of country borders, and that everyone in the world may benefit from in some way or another – whether it is by visiting Australia and enjoying it with your own eyes, seeing it in documentaries or learning about it in school, enjoying a climate that is partly stabilised by the contribution that these ecosystems make to carbon sequestration, using medicines or therapies that are derived from these ecosystems, or eating fish or other seafood from these areas – in this generation and in those to follow.

If you would like to sign the petition to approve the current plan for marine protected areas, simply go to: www.saveourmarinelife.org.au/sos and scroll down a little to where you can enter your details, and press SEND.

More information is available from the Government website at www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/reserves/ or from the Save Our Marine Life website.

¹ I have heavily referenced saveourmarinelife.org.au here.            ² ‘bathers’ is Australian English for ‘bathing suit’ or ‘swimming costume’.

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