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Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Marine Protected Areas by Tom Edwards

The oceans under Australian jurisdiction contain all temperature zones from tropical to polar, and this explains why they support a tremendous diversity of fish species and aquatic life. They are thought to contain many as yet undiscovered species.(Section 1)

Under international law Australia has jurisdiction over a vast area of sea, the third largest in the world. The vast majority of this is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. Under the Offshore Constitutional Settlement, States have jurisdiction out to 3 nautical miles from the coastline. (Section 2)

New South Wales’ marine environment is of importance both economically, recreationally and culturally. There are a number of competing uses of the marine environment. Marine based tourism in New South Wales for the year 2002-03 was valued at $4.5 billion, and was estimated to account for 82% of all jobs in marine related activities in the State. Landings from the NSW commercial fishing fleet were worth over $30m in 2006. New South Wales has over 1 million recreational anglers, who spend over half a billion dollars annually on their sport. Aquaculture production in NSW is worth almost $50m annually, and is dominated by oyster growing. New South Wales has 3 of Australia’s top ten ports: Newcastle, Sydney and Port Kembla, and trade through these ports was worth over $60 billion in 2005-06. Energy production from NSW seas is limited – there is no oil or gas production, although limited reserves are known to exist, and renewable energy production is limited to one wave generator at Port Kembla. No offshore mineral production takes place, although there are known to be reserves of sand, manganese and phosphates. Three strategically important communications cables run offshore of NSW, linking Australia to New Zealand, the United States and Japan. There are prospects for discovering novel uses for marine organisms, and some uses are already being developed by scientists, including a treatment for chronic pain. (Section 3)

The way we use the sea and its living resources clearly affects the marine environment. Threats to the marine environment include coastal development, introduction of invasive species, fisheries, pollution, and climate change. The proportion of NSW coast that has been developed increased by over 4% between 1980 and 2004, to 27% of the total coastline. Australia’s State of the Environment Report 2001 identified maintaining and restoring water quality as being the most critical marine environmental issue. The most recent assessment of NSW fish stocks shows that although only a small proportion are known to be overfished, fishing pressure on most commercially important species is high. Besides the direct impact on fish stocks, fishing can have an impact on the marine environment through bycatch of other species, or by disturbance or damage to the sea-bed from fishing gear. The introduction of new species to the marine environment can pose a threat to native flora and fauna. Shipping is the main means by which exotic species are introduced, there is also a risk of damage from oil spills or spilled cargo. Climate change is expected to result in the warming of the seas around NSW, and a southwards shift in the distribution of some marine organisms has already been observed. (Section 4)

One way to protect the marine environment is to designate marine protected areas where the use of the environment is controlled. Alternative approaches include regulating activities which impact on the marine environment, for example, regulating fishing through the use of quotas or regulating discharges to the marine environment to prevent pollution. Australian marine scientists support the creation of marine protected areas, although the lack of robust evidence for the benefits of some marine protected areas has led to calls for greater rigour in assessing candidate areas. The designation of marine protected areas is often controversial because of the impact it has on other uses of the marine environment. (Section 5)

Australian Governments are committed to completing a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas by 2012. As part of this work, NSW state waters have been divided into six bioregions within which assessments are being carried out to identify the need for additional marine protected areas. There are two main types of marine protected area (MPA) within NSW state waters: marine parks and aquatic reserves. NSW has six marine parks, which together cover over a third of state waters. It has 12 aquatic reserves, which cover much smaller areas than marine parks. Additionally, 62 national parks and nature reserves include a marine component. (Section 5.1)

In the seas under Commonwealth jurisdiction, there are currently 26 Commonwealth Marine Reserves, and an additional five reserves which include land and marine components. The Commonwealth Government is implementing a system of Marine Regional Planning. So far a plan has been prepared for the South East Marine Region, and within it a network of 13 Commonwealth Marine Reserves has been proclaimed, the first example of such a network in the world. The world-renowned Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is also within Commonwealth jurisdiction. The revision of the Park’s zoning plan in 2004 saw over a third of the Park being designated as no-take areas, a move which has been recognized as setting a new standard in world best practice. (Section 6.1)

New Zealand’s marine environment is more than 15 times larger than its land area, and its Exclusive Economic Zone is the fourth largest in the world. However, only a small percentage of this environment is currently protected. The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (2000) includes a target of having 10% of the marine environment in a network of Marine Protected Areas by 2010. (Section 6.2)

The United States has the world’s largest Exclusive Economic Zone. The US inventory records almost 1700 MPAs, ranging in size from fractions of a hectare to hundreds of thousands of square kilometres. The large number of sites, the number of bodies involved and the lack of a coordinated strategy for their management led to a Presidential request in 2000 to develop a national system of marine protected areas. (Section 6.3)

The United Kingdom has only three marine nature reserves. Implementation of European Habitats legislation has led to the creation of over a hundred marine protected areas. The UK also plans to designate a national network of marine protected areas to comply with international commitments it has made to conserve the marine environment. (Section 6.4)