Australian Waters Get Long Overdue Lifeline
Many Australians have an affinity for the ocean. You might even go as far to say that a coastal connection is entwined in our national identity; how the world sees us and how we see ourselves.
Earlier this year, we witnessed some welcome respect for the big blue that encircles our island home, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison committing $100 million to ocean conservation. While it clearly pales in comparison to the $600 million for Kurri Kurri, this allocation is to be designated across four key areas: support for Australian Marine Parks, expanding Indigenous Protected Areas in the Sea Country, restoring blue carbon ecosystems, and protecting marine species.
“The climate and the planet’s oceans are inextricably linked. This investment is a major contribution to domestic and international efforts to build healthier oceans and combat climate change,” Morrison announced.
He then followed up, by last month by sharing his plan to add a France-sized area of Indian Ocean to Australia’s network of Marine Parks. This aims to support scientific research and local island economies, as well as keep out international fishing boats. Two new parks around Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Island have been promised. The areas are seen as biodiversity hotspots and are stepping-stones across the wider ocean, attracting much marine life including critically endangered southern bluefin tuna and endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks. Spanning 740,000-square-kilometres the parks would become the second largest protected area in Australian waters.
Conservationists are wary that Morrison is yet to announce the level of protection these parks will receive and how commercial activities will be limited once they are declared. Divisively, Australia’s Marine Parks are afforded varying levels of protection, from sanctuary zones with heavily restricted access to areas that allow destructive activities like fossil fuel exploration. And, as we saw with the Great Barrier Reef funding gaffe, dollar-loaded announcements don’t seamlessly translate to effective action on the ‘ground’.
A step in the right direction; it is a cause for hope, among a slurry of distressing projections for our blue backyard. The real crux, however, will come as we observe Morrison’s roll-out of these latest conservation commitments.
Banner image – Aerial view of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Photo: Jarrah Lynch.