Dec 6, 2012

Massive new marine reserves, but are they phoney?

The recent creation of massive marine reserves will barely help Australia's environment because of where they've been placed. Bob Pressey, an expert in coral reefs at James Cook University, takes a deeper look.

"Australia's precious marine environments have been permanently protected with the proclamation of the world's biggest network of marine reserves."
That's how the federal government describes the recent creation of marine reserves covering 2.3 million square kilometres of ocean, a decision which made the news worldwide. But is it accurate? What if the reserves were designed to minimise impact on commercial and recreational fishing and the oil and gas industries, and therefore minimise real protection for marine biodiversity? The government may be simply taking its policy of reserving also-ran, non-commercial tracts of land and applying it to the ocean. For the casual observer, the map of Australia's marine reserves might cause delight or alarm. People concerned about the future of marine biodiversity might feel the big new reserves will secure the future of species and ecosystems. Those interested in commercial or recreational fishing, or offshore oil and gas development, could be concerned about these reserves. But both reactions may be misplaced. With the planet’s, and Australia’s, biodiversity in decline, protected areas -- tracts of land or sea where extractive uses such as clearing, trawling, logging and long-lining are excluded or greatly reduced in impact -- are crucial. But not all protected areas are as effective as they should be. On land, most are in the wrong places. They are "residual" in being concentrated in areas with the least promise for commercial land uses, to minimise financial and political costs. This widespread tendency leaves those species and ecosystems most exposed to past and impending threats to languish outside reserves while formal "protection" is given to areas that were de facto protected by lack of suitability for commercial uses. The government is now repeating this pattern of residual reservation in Australia’s very extensive marine waters. It becomes apparent looking at the map:

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5 thoughts on “Massive new marine reserves, but are they phoney?

  1. Bo Gainsbourg

    Interesting analysis, so what’s the strategy for fixing it Prof? Just waiting till later or taking more time is no guarantee the political situation will be any more favourable, and its not more time that’s needed, as you point out we have the information now, its political will. What’s your answer?

  2. 81dvl

    The timing of this relatively meaningless declaration of marine reserves, was blatantly to offset the shit-storm that was developing re new mining ports inside of the reef in Qld.

    Allowing the de-classification of the reef (a ‘wonder’ of the world) is the proof of the sincerity.

    This is govt. sanctioned three-card-trick is wilfully, ecologically culpable and the “Marine Reserve” initiatives move is insultingly patronising.

    Surely everyone saw this coming!?

  3. Mark Duffett

    “scientists can only speculate on (the Montara oil spill) effects on species”

    Er, no. They can actually go and gather relevant data, analyse it, and draw conclusions as to whether there have been any. That’s generally how science works. It seems that Pressey could equally have written ‘There is no evidence of any effects on species’.

  4. JackAubrey

    I understood that this was meant to be a system representative of all major marine ecosystems (at least those that exist in Commonwealth waters). The lack of biodiversity data for these offshore areas is truly striking compared to areas like the Great Barrier Reef which has had hundred of millions of dollars of research and monitoring over the past thirty years. This system is clearly going to be inadequate on that comparison but it does appear to meet the representativeness criterion. With the current (improving and reasonably well managed) state of Australia’s offshore fisheries, I don’t really understand why the relatively low impact on commercial or recreational fisheries should be used as a measure of biodiversity conservation effectiveness. Perhaps some of the funding that goes to the reef (which we are told is doomed anyway) should be redirected to these offshore areas.

  5. AR

    MarkDuffer – is there any topic on which you do NOT ooze rabble soothing bromides? Nukes, fossil fuels,probablky a big fan of GM, insecticides & Agent Orange too…?

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