Burke unveils marine reserves

Environment Minister Tony Burke released the final plan for 44 marine parks, including the Coral Sea and the southwest coast of Western Australia, this morning.

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“It’s time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans,” Burke said. “And Australia today is leading that next step.

“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.”

The network will increase the number of marine reserves from 27 to 60, expanding protection of creatures such as the blue whale, green turtle, critically endangered populations of grey nurse sharks, and dugongs.

Mr Burke told ABC radio the government’s created a national park system for the ocean with the Coral Sea as the “jewel in the crown”.

Commercial fishers will be compensated for losing access to the reserves, but Sunfish Queensland chief executive Judy Lynne believes the ban on commercial use will result in more foreigners fishing illegally.

Fishing, oil and gas exploration have been limited with the federal government introducing a world-first network of marine reserves around Australia.

Environment Minister Tony Burke released the final plan for 44 marine parks including the Coral Sea and the southwest coast of Western Australia on Thursday.

The new reserves will cover 3.1 million square kilometres, or a third of Australian waters.

The reserves will limit fishing and some oil and gas exploration.

Mr Burke unveiled the marine reserve maps at Sydney Aquarium on Thursday morning.

“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,” Mr Burke told The Australian Financial Review beforehand.

The marine reserve announcement comes on the eve of the United Nations Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Brazil and will give Prime Minister Julia Gillard a public relations boost.

Environment group Pew described the marine reserve plan as a “turning point” in marine protection.

Spokeswoman Michelle Grady said establishing large marine sanctuaries would lead to rapid growth in eco tourism and increased stocks of marine life.

“But critical areas remain vulnerable to the threat of oil spills, including the tourist mecca of Margaret River, the blue whale feeding grounds off South Australia’s Kangaroo Island and the extraordinary coral reefs at Rowley Shoals off the Kimberley coast,” she said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Don Henry said the plan would make Australia a “global leader” in ocean protection.

“Although the reserve network bans oil and gas exploration in the Coral Sea, the northwest region has been left vulnerable to these threats,” he said.

Commercial fishers are set to receive compensation from the federal government.

“We’ve got an adjustment policy where we will work case by case with the different companies involved,” Mr Burke told ABC Radio on Thursday.