What’s happening, right now, with the politics of ocean protection in Australia?
So far, the federal Labor government has been sending all the right signals. We've got strong commitments under the Global Biodiversity Framework, and we're seeing our environment minister saying things like “ambition is our only option” on oceans. We've also had some great conservation outcomes, like the huge expansion of the Macquarie Island Marine Park. Our work to support the federal government to deliver strong conservation outcomes for our oceans is ongoing. Right now, I’m focused on the review of the South-east Marine Park Network, as we know that we will need at least a doubling of highly protected areas in that network. We're also engaging in the development of the management plans for the Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands Marine Parks. As for states and territories, it's a mixed bag. In Western Australia, for example, they've implemented the Great Kimberley Marine Park and they've got a process underway for the South Coast Marine Park. They have a lot of their waters protected, including Ningaloo. But there are other parts of the country which are lagging behind, such as the Northern Territory. Some states are doing quite well, but there’s others that certainly need to play catch up.
Could you explain the difference between state and Commonwealth waters?
State waters are the inshore waters. They go out to three nautical miles and that includes islands. For example, off Tasmania they've got a range of islands, so you travel out to that island and then go out another three nautical miles and then you're in Commonwealth waters which are managed by the federal government and where we see the Commonwealth Marine Park Network.
Tell us about the South-east Marine Park Network — where is it, why is it important and what’s the situation at the moment?
Right now, the South-east Marine Park Network is going through a statutory review. The marine park network is within the offshore Commonwealth waters of the South-east marine region, which runs from southern New South Wales, all the way along the Victorian coast across to South Australia, and all the way around Tasmania. It covers quite a large area and it's where a lot of people live. It was established in 2007 and is therefore well overdue for renewal. It's a unique area — there's three different oceans that merge here and cause a massive upwelling of nutrients. It's also home to a portion of the Great Southern Reef, and it supports a wide variety of animals, including whales, dolphins, and many kinds of seabirds. Right now, only 9 per cent of these waters are in highly protected marine sanctuary zones, which is completely inadequate to protect the unique values of the area. We're seeing this review as an opportunity to increase protections in this area. We know that we need to, at the very least, double the area protected within highly protected marine sanctuaries.
Are there threats to the health of these south-east marine ecosystems that are specific to this part of the world?
The south-east is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts. These waters are warming at a rate up to four times the global average. It's also a key commercial fishing area. The oil and gas sectors are active in the area and have proposals on the table to significantly expand, and even to conduct seismic testing inside marine parks. This is a matter for great concern. We're also seeing proposals for expansion in offshore renewable energies, and that's a new sector, which has the potential to have significant environmental impacts as well. Industrial scale activities should not be occurring inside marine parks.