The Gillard Government risks its election promise to establish a network of marine parks that properly protects marine life unless it increases the number and size of sanctuary areas in its Draft Plan for the south west waters of Australia, a new analysis has found.
In a report delivered to Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke this week, the Centre for Conservation Geography in their analysis commissioned by Save Our Marine Life, found 176 out of 181 areas identified by the federal environment department and the country's leading scientists as important for marine life; remain unprotected in the proposed plan.
Before last year's federal election the Gillard Government's Environment Policy promised to establish “a representative network of marine parks by 2012.”
Critical feeding and breeding areas for the southern right whale, the Australian sea lion, white shark, and the world's largest animal the blue whale remain unprotected and vulnerable to the threats of over fishing, damage from oil and gas drilling and marine pollution such as oil spills, the report identified.
The report also found the Federal Government proposes to protect only 2.5% of the continental shelf and upper slope areas of the south west where marine life is most diverse and most threatened by fishing and by mining for oil and gas.
The Director of the Centre for Conservation Geography Daniel Beaver said the most important feeding and breeding areas for marine life in the south west were also areas close to shore where oil and gas leases had been granted and the worst examples of overfishing were taking place.
The vulnerable areas for marine life include the Perth Canyon, Rottnest Shelf near Jurien, Abrolhos Islands, Geographe Bay and offshore from Margaret River, the Great Australian Bight and near Kangaroo Island.
“Scientists at the University of Queensland, who two years ago submitted to the government a blueprint of science evidence for new marine protected areas in the south west, identified the need for sanctuaries in critical areas for unique marine life along the coast”, said Daniel Beaver.
“The most diverse range of marine life is found in these areas and would need to be protected if the government is going to deliver on its promise of a representative network of marine protected areas”, said Daniel Beaver.
Tim Nicol from the Save Our Marine Life alliance urged Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to act before it was too late.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create sanctuaries for marine life that will also make the south west an icon for tourism and generate new economic opportunities.
“However, the risk of oil spills are increasing in the region, threatening critical feeding, breeding and nursery areas of our unique marine life.”
A PDF of the report can be downloaded here.