On July 20, 2017, the federal government released plans to reduce protection of Australia’s marine environment. 40 million hectares of highly protected sanctuary areas could be removed from the country’s network of Commonwealth marine parks, an area twice the size of Victoria.
In the Coral Sea, the government proposes to remove 53% of the region’s sanctuaries for marine life; 57% of sanctuaries off the northern coast of Australia; 49% of sanctuary protection off the north west coast of Western Australia, and; 40% of sanctuaries in the south west region, stretching from Perth around to Kangaroo Island.
38 of the country’s 44 marine parks could be opened to fishing practices that the government’s own assessments found were incompatible with conservation, such as trawling, gillnetting and longlining.
The government is justifying it proposed plans to remove marine protections by arguing that they have an adverse effect on the fishing industry. However, there is little evidence of any significant negative impact of marine protection measures. In fact, the there is ample evidence available to government of the ‘spill over’ benefits created by marine protected areas for the fishing sector.
Overall, government data shows that any socio-economic impacts of marine conservation changes are likely to be minimal. Even this analysis is likely to be overstated as benefits of marine protection, such as for other fisheries, tourism and recreational fishing are not considered. Marine tourism generated $28 billion in gross value of production in 2013, representing $15 billion in value added.
Yet economic impacts are the justification for a huge reduction in marine protection at a time when other countries are moving in the opposite direction. In recent years the United States, the United Kingdom, Chile, and New Zealand have all moved to increase or establish huge, fully protected, no-take marine protection areas.