Plan to lock up 30 per cent of Barrier Reef
By Stephanie Peatling,
Environment Reporter - smh.com.au
2nd June 2003
Nearly a third of the Great Barrier Reef will be protected from fishing and trawling under a new plan to be announced by the Federal Government today.
Less than 5 per cent of the reef has the equivalent status of a marine national park, which means no activity other than restricted research or tourism is allowed. Scientists have been warning this is not enough to guarantee the reef's long-term survival.
But environmentalists fear some of the most sensitive areas of the reef, including Princess Charlotte Bay and the channel between the Queensland coast and Hinchinbrook Island, have not been set aside for the highest level of protection.
The executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Don Henry, welcomed the announcement as a "good step in the right direction".
"But there are a couple of areas of particular concern, one of which is the weakening in protection for the coastal areas of Princess Charlotte Bay that will allow commercial netting in a place that is very important for the endangered dugong," Mr Henry said.
The Government received more than 10,000 submissions during the designation of the proposed new zones.
Under the plan, which will be released for a two-month public consultation period today, representative sections of each of the reef's 70 biological regions will be set aside for protection.
Only 4.5 per cent of the 2000 kilometre-long reef, much of it in the far north, now has green zone status, which means no fishing, netting or harvesting is allowed. This would be increased to nearly 30 per cent under the plan.
The federal Minister for the Environment, David Kemp, said: "This will provide the largest network of protected marine areas in the world and is the largest marine protection plan in the history of the Great Barrier Reef.
"Great care has been taken in drafting this proposed zoning plan to minimise impacts on existing users, particularly commercial and recreational fishers and the tourist industry."
The plan is only in draft form and a final decision is not expected until next year.
The Opposition environment spokesman, Kelvin Thomson, said he hoped the Government would move to finalise and implement a new zoning plan "sooner rather than later".
"I urge the Government to protect the Great Barrier Reef from other threats such as oil and gas exploration and coral bleaching caused by climate change," Mr Thomson said.
Mr Henry said the Government needed to deal with climate change, which he said was another big threat to the reef's long-term survival.
"They could ratify the Kyoto protocol and ensure that Australia becomes a world leader in efforts to tackle climate change, because that's the biggest threat to the reef in the future," Mr Henry said.
An opinion poll conducted as part of the drafting process revealed a majority of people believed the reef already had the status of a national park.
Nearly 80 per cent of those surveyed - all of whom lived along the coast of the reef - were willing to tolerate less access to the reef to give it more protection.
Three quarters of respondents believed the reef was under threat, and 91 per cent favoured increased protection.
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/06/01/1054406078334.html