CANBERRA: Australia will create the largest network of marine parks in the world, protecting waters covering an area as large as India while banning oil and gas exploration and limiting commercial fishing in some of the most sensitive areas.
Australia’s marine reserves will increase from 27 to 60 under the new scheme, covering more than 3 million sq km, or one third of the island nation’s waters.
The announcement of the network was made a week before more than 130 heads of state and government will gather in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations’ sustainable development conference as part of global efforts to curb climate change, one of the biggest conferences in UN history.
New reserves will be established from the Perth Canyon in the southwest to Kangaroo Island off the southern coast, but the “jewel in the crown” will be the protection of the Coral Sea area which surrounds the Great Barrier Reef in the northeast, Environment Minister Tony Burke said on Thursday.
“The Coral Sea marine national park ... combined with the Great Barrier Reef area, becomes the largest marine protected area in the world,” Burke said.
The protection plan will ban oil and gas exploration in all marine national parks, including across the Coral Sea and off Margaret River, a popular tourist area in the southwest.
Burke acknowledged the plan would also have an impact on the fishing industry. The plan attracted immediate criticism from some environmental groups, as well as independent and opposition politicians and lobby groups.
“This is devastating and those that will suffer most will be coastal communities,” Dean Logan, chief executive of the Australian Marine Alliance, which represents commercial and recreational fishers, told Australian television.