Major New Collaboration Formed to Secure Future of Western Australia's Marine Life

Major New Collaboration Formed to Secure Future of Western Australia's Marine Life

A new collaboration of key Australian and international conservation groups today launched Save Our Marine Life to secure the future of Australia's south west marine environment. This globally significant region is home to a far greater proportion of unique marine life than the Great Barrier Reef.

At the launch in Perth, a new report was also released. It found that up to 9 out of 10 marine species found off Australia's south west coast are found nowhere else on Earth, but less than 1% of this region is protected.

Save Our Marine Life is seeking a new approach to secure WA's unique marine life – large marine sanctuaries. The new report – Protecting Western Australia's Big Blue Backyard - recommends the federal government create large sanctuaries to secure the future of Australia's south west marine region.

Save our Marine Life is a major new collaboration of Australian and international conservation groups - the Conservation Council of Western Australia, Australian Conservation Foundation, The Wilderness Society, WWF Australia, Australian Marine Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy and the Pew Environment Group.

The report, prepared for the collaboration by the Australian Conservation Foundation, found a series of globally significant ‘hotspots' for marine life in the waters off Australia's south west. These include the Perth Canyon (22km west off Rottnest Island), one of only two known sites in Australian waters where the endangered blue whale comes to feed, and the Diamantina Fracture Zone which is Australia's largest mountain range, submerged in its deepest stretch of water at 7400 metres and thought to host unique species not yet known to science.

Public support for marine protection is high. Public polling conducted by Essential Research late last year found that 75 per cent of West Australians believed there is not enough marine protection in place.

The report also identified the importance of creating large marine sanctuaries to boost Western Australia's $3 billion tourism industry and $45 million whale watching industry.

Michelle Grady from the Pew Environment Group said today at the launch in Perth, “Protection of the waters off the southern half of Western Australia is critically important to the economic development of the state and the nation. Less than 1% of this large and important region is protected even though up to 90% of its marine species are unique to these waters”.

Professor Jessica Meeuwig from the Centre for Marine Futures at the University of Western Australia speaking at the launch today said, “Many economically important marine species, such as rock lobster, dhufish and baldchin groper are under threat.  Large marine sanctuaries are critical to maintaining the health of the marine environment, helping fish stocks recover, and securing the future of commercial and recreational fishing in Western Australia.”

Jamie Waites, prominent local businessman and lifelong resident of Kalbarri, recreational fisher of over 40 years and former commercial fisher, supports marine sanctuaries. He has seen changes in his local fishing areas over the years and wants sustainable fish stocks into the future, “There has to be a percentage set aside for marine conservation. Seasonal or short term closures won't save our dhufish and snapper. Instead, areas need to be protected forever”.

Protecting Western Australia's big blue backyard
Summary of findings

The marine environment off the southern half of Western Australia's coastline covers almost 1 million square kilometres but less than 1% of its unique marine life is protected from threats such as overfishing, mining and climate change.

A new approach to marine conservation is needed to combat threats and allow fish stocks to recover. Large marine sanctuaries protecting the south west's international ‘hotspots' are needed urgently.

Large marine sanctuaries offshore would boost Western Australia's $3 billion tourism industry and $45 million whale watching industry.

Australia is required as signatory to the international UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to care for its oceans while it uses them for social and economic benefit.

The Save Our Marine Life collaboration includes international conservation organisations the Pew Environment Group and The Nature Conservancy, and Australian organisations WWF-Australia, Australian Conservation Foundation, The Wilderness Society, Australian Marine Conservation Society and the Conservation Council of Western Australia.

The south west marine life ‘hotspots' include:

  • The Houtman-Abrolhos Islands – 70km west of Geraldton, supports more than 400 species of fish and 184 species of coral;
  • The Perth Canyon – 22km west of Rottnest Island, is larger than the Grand Canyon, it is Australia's biggest marine canyon at 4000 metres deep and 100km long and is one of the only two known places in Australian waters that the endangered blue whale comes to feed;
  • The Naturaliste Plateau – the largest submerged plateau in Australia at 90,000 square kilometres off south west WA and up to 5000 metres deep;
  • The Diamantina Fracture Zone – also off Australia's south west marine region, is Australia's largest mountain range submerged in water up to 7400 metres deep.
  • The Recherche Archipelago - a collection of 105 islands off the coast from Esperance where almost 30 per cent of WA's endemic fish species - found nowhere else - are located.

Marine life under threat
In many areas off the WA coast overfishing has led to a sharp decline in particularly the large reef fish, known as the ‘Vulnerable 5' – the pink and red snappers, West Australian dhufish, baldchin groper and breaksea cod.

Overfishing has also led populations of queen snapper, western blue groper and the red emperor to plummet. By reducing threats, marine protected areas gives life in the ocean a greater resistance to climate change.

Still so little known
Less than five per cent of Australia's oceans have been explored. During 2005, CSIRO scientists exploring off Albany alone found 29 new marine species, 39 not previously seen in Australia and 77 never before known in WA.

The Leeuwin Current: Life force of the south west
The Leeuwin Current is the life force of the south west ocean region of WA. At 5500 kilometres long it is the world's longest continuous coastal current, bringing warm water together with tropical fish and corals further south than is found anywhere else in the Indian Ocean.

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Homepage photo credit: Copyright Gary Bell/ Populations of New Zealand fur seals are slowly recovering after being all but wiped out in the region by 19th century sealing.