As in the UK, do Australian marine reserves “serve their purpose”?

The Guardian reports, 25th February 2015: “The Jervis commonwealth marine reserve sprawls across 2,473 square kilometres of wild ocean, from depths of 120 metres to five kilometres. “It is far offshore, over the horizon from two of the nation’s oldest and most loved marine parks — the NSW-state-run Jervis Bay marine park and the commonwealth-managed Booderee marine park.

Looking over Jervis Bay marine park towards the open ocean. Photograph: James Woodford for the Guardian

Looking over Jervis Bay marine park towards the open ocean.
Photograph: James Woodford for the Guardian

“The entire park is a stunning ocean wilderness about which very little is known. In spite of its proximity to Sydney it might as well be another planet for the extent to which it has been explored by humans.

“Even going there in a boat is a difficult adventure because the seas off Jervis Bay are often rough and the distance makes the journey impossible for all but big ships and very well prepared boaties.

“Vast canyons incise the seafloor there, inhabited by entire ecosystems that science is yet to study, let alone understand. The east Australian current, which brings warm water down from the tropics moves through the reserve, which means that at its surface the area is rich in pelagicpelagic The ecological area consisting of the open sea away from the coast and the ocean bottom. The pelagic zone contains organisms such as surface seaweeds, many species of fish and sharks and some mammals, such as whales and dolphins. Pelagic animals may remain solely in the pelagic zone or may move among zones. species, such as marlin and tuna, that are highly sought after by both game and commercial fishers. It is also a whale thoroughfare, on the route of one of the world’s great mammal migrations — the journey of humped-backs from the Antarctic to far northern waters and back again.

“But none of these values are actually protected by the park because all of it is still zoned as open to business.

“There are two things obscuring the truth when it comes to the management of marine parks in Commonwealth waters — they are usually far out to sea, beyond the jurisdiction of state waters, which extends three nautical miles and, secondly, the technical details of their zoning is mind numbing.

“But there is much at stake because, right now, the management of around two million square kilometres of commonwealth marine reserves is being reviewed and the public only has until the end of March to make submissions.

“Given that these areas are some of the most extraordinary marine environments on Earth, the stakes for Australia’s oceans are high.

“One of the parks being reviewed is the Jervis commonwealth marine reserve, which is currently zoned into two huge blocks, both with the lowest possible levels of management controls, allowing everything other than a very small subset of some types of commercial fishing. All other commercial and recreational fishing and other mineral prospecting activities are permitted.

“And it is this that is upsetting scientists and environmentalists because the problems with the Jervis commonwealth marine reserve are a microcosm for what is happening everywhere.

“They say it just doesn’t make sense to call vast swathes of the sea around the Australian continent marine park if they are not managed to protect anything.

“The Jervis reserve is part of the federal government’s temperate east commonwealth marine reserves network which covers 383,352 square kilometres and includes eight separate commonwealth marine reserves.

“According to the federal government’s website on its marine reserves: “The Temperate East marine region is recognised as an area of global significance for a number of protected marine species. Several significant seamountseamount A mountain rising from the ocean sea floor that does not reach to the water's surface. They are an important habitat for fish, corals and shellfish. ridges run parallel to the coast in this region. Scientists have recently discovered that these features support hundreds of species, including some previously unknown to science. The seamountsseamount A mountain rising from the ocean sea floor that does not reach to the water's surface. They are an important habitat for fish, corals and shellfish. rise from seafloor depths of approximately 4,800 metres to up to 130 metres from the surface (more than twice the height of Mount Kosciuszko), and are home to deep water shark species that are only found in Australia.”

Southern Bluefin tuna

Southern Bluefin tuna. The warm waters of the east Australian current mean the Jervis Bay commonwealth reserve is rich in pelagic species, such as marlin and tuna, that are highly sought after by both game and commercial fishers.
Photograph: Kerstin Fritsches/AAP

“Dr Hugh Possingham is Professor of Ecology at the University of Queensland and one of the world’s leading experts on how to design protected areas.

“Professor Possingham has also just co-authored a submission from the centre of excellence for environmental decisions that has been submitted to the commonwealth marine reserve review, which was launched late last year.

“The submission says: “Marine reserves are an important strategy for conserving biodiversitybiodiversity Biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals. and ensuring resilient fisheries. The ecological benefits of marine reserves are extensively documented both internationally and in Australia. By prohibiting extractive uses, habitats and populations of targeted species can recover from damage and exploitation. Benefits range from improved species richness, greater fish biomassbiomass The amount of living matter. This is therefore a different measure to numbers of organisms. So, for example, there is much more biomass in 1 elephant than there is in 1000 fleas and there may be more biomass in 100 large cod than you would find in 150 small (because of over fishing) cod., and increased habitat complexity both inside and outside of reserves. Reserves often demonstrate substantial financial returns from tourism related revenue streams, and provide enhanced opportunities for community education and recreational activities.”

“The submission says the current commonwealth marine reserve system does not meet global best practice or even the federal government’s own policies.

“Nearly half of the nation’s 58 bioregions have no strictly protected areas whatsoever, the submission says. Only 3% of total shelf areas around the continent have adequate protection.

“If we do not have strict nature reserves in every bioregion then it will not be possible to scientifically evaluate the costs and benefits of marine reserves for biodiversity and fisheries. Failure to take advantage of the opportunity to learn and adaptively manage marine environments is essential to evidence based decision-making in the future.”

“At the recent World Parks Congress in Sydney the International Union for Conservation of Nature agreed that the global target for full protection of the marine environment should be a minimum of 30% no-take areas.

“What is the point of putting all these colours on the maps if areas are not being adequately protected?” Professor Possingham said. “They are not protecting the ecosystems that are under so much stress and there is an opportunity here to do a much better job. And if we don’t do a good enough job now we are just going to have to do this again properly in 15 or 20 years.”

“He also said that if there were not enough protected areas within the commonwealth marine reserve network then it would be impossible to assess whether they contributed to stronger ecosystems.

Source: The Guardian, 25th February 2015. For the full text, see:

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