The world's oceans are facing increasing challenges, with threats posed by climate change, pollution and overfishing. In the light of these challenges it is becoming increasingly important to set aside large areas of our ocean to allow ecosystems to operate in their natural state. Globally, more and more nations are relying on marine protected areas and reserves to give their regions of our blue planet a fighting chance.
Australia has a lot at stake as steward of the world's third-largest marine territory and some of the most diverse marine life on Earth. Our continent rises from the junction of three major oceans and contains tropical, temperate and subantarctic ecosystems, with much of our marine life found nowhere else. Historically, Australia has led the way in global marine conservation. In the 1980s, we created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and in 2012, we announced what would have become the world's largest representative national network of marine parks and sanctuaries. This network boasted 60 large marine parks around the nation's coastline, with the primary objective being biodiversity conservation.
The declaration of the formation of the marine reserve network was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Australian public. It followed 15 years of advocacy, scientific research and consultation, and more than a decade of work by consecutive Governments from both major parties. The marine reserve system went through six rounds of public consultations, with over three quarters of a million people providing submissions--95 per cent in favour of greater protection for Australian maritime zones.
The network includes about a third of Australian offshore Commonwealth waters, with 14 per cent designated as highly protected sanctuary zones. While still falling short of the World Parks Congress recommendation of protecting 20-30 per cent of marine and coastal areas in sanctuary zones, it was a significant increase from the previous 4 per cent.
Despite this progress, Australian marine reserves were suspended from operation by a newly instated Government that ordered a review within its first 100 days of office. (1) Leading research institutions, including the Australian Marine Science Association and The Ecology Centre at the University of Queensland, pointed to the lack of research behind the Government's decision to suspend the marine reserve network, (2) but those arguments fell on deaf ears.
The largest and most important park in the reserve system--the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve--lies adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. It is also the reserve that is most likely to be severely affected by the review.
THE CORAL SEA--A BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOT
The Coral Sea is located north-east of Australia's Queensland coast. It is bounded on the west by the Great Barrier Reef...