Our Coral Sea, Our chance to make it happen!
The Coral Sea is home for more than 28 different species of whales and dolphins, 26 of which are on the IUCN Red-list of threatened species. It also provides an important migration corridor. Whales have been the accidental victims of bycatch in the longline fishery of the Coral Sea, so the removal of longline fishing from three-quarters of the reserve is a welcome step toward stopping this! The incredible sight of 400 strong pods of melon-headed and false killer whales have been documented in this area and recordings of thousands of toothed whale clicks around the steep slopes of seamounts indicate that they are important feeding grounds.
The Coral Sea Marine Reserve is an important step forward for our oceans. Show your support for it at: http://www.protectourcoralsea.org.au
In June the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, announced the Coral Sea could become the world’s largest marine park as part of a national system of marine reserves around Australia. The government is now asking the Australian public to show their support for the establishment of the Coral Sea Marine Reserve. This is necessary to ensure that its spectacular marine life, its coral reefs, sandy cays and underwater volcanoes are preserved for future generations.
One of the things that makes the Coral Sea Marine Reserve very important and special is that it is the first time Australia has setup a very large marine reserve in its waters that will protect the big animals (aka whales!!!) and fish in our oceans, over a large part of their range. Up to 90% of the big fish (sharks, tuna, trevally, etc.) have been taken (eaten) and we are yet to understand the knock-on effects to ocean food webs and ecosystems. What we do know if that the big fish play very key roles in ocean communities, and their removal can have significant consequences for coral reefs. We also know that research from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park shows that areas which are fished have much lower numbers of sharks, even if they are not a species which is targeted by anglers, and on some reefs the shark populations may be as low as 3%.
Here are some important facts on the Coral Sea:
- It is over 200km from the Australian coast, past the edge of the Great Barrier Reef in an area that has not yet been heavily impacted by human activities such as overfishing or water quality issues. This makes it quite unique, in fact one of only a handful of places in the world where you will find an intact tropical reef ecosystem that could be protected and managed effectively – and we have it here in Australia!
- There are two main areas that make up the marine reserve:
- The large marine national park zone a long way from the coast in the eastern half of the Coral Sea, is really an ‘oceanic green zone’ an area that will protect the large marine animals with big ranges such as turtles, sharks, dolphins and whales, that cannot be effectively protected in smaller protected areas.
- The western half which is still open to recreational and charter fishing plus some forms of commercial fishing (mainly hand collection) but for the most part is protected from long-line fishing.
Here are some facts in general on the new national network of marine reserves that are planned (which includes the Coral Sea):
- This has been planned since the process was initiated under the Howard government. It is part of Australia’s international commitments to preserve biodiversity and other countries will be following Australia in implementing a similar system.
- It protects underwater environments that would have been protected a long time ago if they were on land, due to their unique fauna, special landscapes and importance to our oceans.
- 96% of Commonwealth waters within 100km of the coast will remain open to recreational fishers (will let you make up your mind on whether this is a good thing) and anyone wanting to experience one of the new marine national parks will have to travel over 200km offshore (again will let you make up your mind on this point).
The good points about the Coral Sea Marine Reserve:
• Nearly 1 million km2 included in the marine reserve.
• Just over 500,000km2 to become marine national park zone.
• Oil and gas exploration is banned from reserve.
• Long line fishing – a threat to sharks, turtles and seabirds – is excluded from 3/4 of the reserve.
• Bottom-trawling which damages sea-floor habitat is restricted to one very small area on the continental slope.
• Increased protection for reefs.
What needs to be improved:
• Zoning needs to be simplified around Osprey and Shark Reefs to ensure protection of the important reef slopes.t This would provide protection for the reef-associated pelagic species, such as sharks, important to dive tourism and also for scientific research.
• Long-line fishing needs to be removed from the waters north of 22 degrees South, and around Wreck Reef. An extended marine national park would provide additional protection for the biologically important Townsville Trough and its canyons, and the beautiful Wreck Reef.
Key Ecological Features:
Reefs protected: Kenn, Mellish, Shark, Vema, Osprey, Bougainville, Marion, Lihou and the Coringa-Herald Complex.
Reefs left open to fishing: Diane, West Holmes, East Holmes, North Moore, South Moore, Cairns Seamount, Willis, Saumarez, Flinders Reefs, Ashmore, Boot, Flora, McDermott Bank, Herald Surprise, Malay, Abington, Tregosse, Frederick, Wreck, Cato Reef and several un-named reefs.
Queensland and Townsville Troughs: These deep areas are important migration pathways and the site of breeding and spawning aggregations. The Queensland Trough will be protected from long-line fishing & trawling. The Townsville Trough could be protected further if long-line effort is removed from this sensitive area.
Queensland Plateau: Home to most of the Coral Sea’s reefs, the Queensland Plateau is also the largest plateau in the world! Most of its reefs will not be protected from all fishing under the proposed Coral Sea Marine Reserve but they will be protected from long-line fishing and trawling.
Southern Seamounts: The Coral Sea is home to a series of underwater mountains (seamounts) which are the result of ancient volcanoes. They attract vast numbers of ocean predators like sharks and host an amazing diversity of marine life. Kenn Reef has been protected but others are still vulnerable to long-line fishing. Removing long-line effort north of 22 degrees South would give additional protection to Frederick Reef. Wreck Reef – a reef atop a seamount – should also be fully protected.
Deep Sea Ecosystems: Unexplored and yet to be discovered deep sea ecosystems protected from sea-floor trawling