Today’s announcement of the marine parks is a significant step forward in the conservation of the southern oceans. Australia is now the world leader in the protection of marine environments, but the decision has not come without controversy and quite a bit of emotion.
Not all areas with the marine parks will have the same restrictions. Some areas within the park will ban oil and gas exploitation, others will have restrictions on the type of fishing gear that can be used, and about 13% of the total 2.3 million kms will be no take zones, setting up sanctuaries where all forms of fishing or extraction are banned.
Recreational and commercial fishing groups have been vocal opponents of the marine parks, despite the promise of $100 million worth of compensation for the commercial fishery and the relatively small number of areas where recreational fishing will be banned.
Certainly some fishers will be negatively impacted, and I hope they get a fair price for the loss of business, but in the long term most of them are likely to benefit. There is strong evidence that setting aside sanctuaries increases the numbers of fish. Coral trout, in particular, have benefited from no take zones in the Great Barrier Reef, and because fish do not stay within the sanctuary, fish numbers increase in adjacent areas. A recent study showed that only 28% of a reef can produce 50% of the larval recruitment. This is because fish in sanctuaries are not only more abundant, they are able to grow to a larger size, producing more offspring per individual.
In other words, marine reserves are effective in increasing fish stocks.
The fisheries minister in Queensland has complained that the reserves will destroy local business and not produce any environmental benefits, saying the initiative will be lose-lose. I think he is wrong and that in a few years people will acknowledge that the decision to establish a network of marine parks is win-win.
Taking a good look at the environmental challenges facing our oceans is depressing; we face some daunting statistics of decline and there are few obvious solutions. But when others have done the research they come to the same conclusion as Tony Burke and our federal government: a system of National Parks in the oceans is a good idea.