Australia Designates Massive, Interim Conservation Zone in Coral Sea

MPA News

In May, the Australian government declared the area of the Coral Sea under its jurisdiction to be a "conservation zone". Under Australian environmental law, the declaration provides interim protection while the area is assessed for possible inclusion in one or more Commonwealth marine reserves. The 972,000-km2 Coral Sea Conservation Zone extends from the eastward boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to the edge of the Australian EEZ, where it borders the waters of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

The new conservation zone indicates the government's interest in the area and applies new permit requirements to some existing commercial activities and scientific research. Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the goal of the conservation zone is to protect the Coral Sea environment from increasing pressures while a detailed assessment of the region is undertaken. "The conservation zone will allow for extensive consultation with local communities and stakeholders before any permanent protection measures are proposed," said Garrett.

Area to be assessed in regional planning process

The Australian portion of the Coral Sea lies in the country's East Marine Region. There, Australia is conducting marine bioregional planning as part of a national marine planning effort. [Australia's first marine region to undergo such planning was the Southeast, whose process was described in the June 2004 and February 2006 issues of MPA News.] Assessment of potential permanent protection for the Coral Sea will be undertaken as part of the East regional process. In addition to consulting stakeholders, the assessment will analyze environmental, economic, and social values of the Coral Sea area, as well as existing and potential future uses. Marine bioregional planning is intended to provide the foundation for conservation and sustainable management of Australia's marine environment, including the development of new MPA networks.

Pew Environment Group, an NGO, has led a campaign for all of Australia's Coral Sea to be designated a permanent no-take area ("Huge No-Take Area Proposed for Australian Coral Sea", MPA News 10:4). The Coral Sea campaign includes other NGOs, several Australian marine scientists, and former Australian Navy officials. Imogen Zethoven, campaign director for Pew, calls the conservation zone declaration "a very significant step forward."

"Pew and other conservation groups are keen for a decision to be made about long-term protection of the Coral Sea in a no-take marine reserve by the end of next year [2010]," says Zethoven. "We are encouraged by Minister Garrett's recognition of the area as unique and environmentally significant."

"The Coral Sea is one of the last remaining places on Earth where populations of large ocean fish - sharks, tuna, and billfish - have not been drastically reduced," says Nicola Temple of the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS). "Consequently, AMCS welcomes the Australian Government's announcement of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone, but it is only a first step in fully recognizing and permanently safeguarding this unique and iconic region."

More details on the Coral Sea Conservation Zone are available at www.environment.gov.au/coasts/coral-sea.html.

For more information:

Ilse Kiessling, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage, and the Arts, Canberra, Australia. E-mail: Ilse.Kiessling [at] environment.gov.au

Imogen Zethoven, Pew Environment Group Australia, Sydney, Australia. E-mail: izethoven [at] pewtrusts.org

Nicola Temple, Australian Marine Conservation Society, Brisbane, Australia. E-mail: nicolatemple [at] amcs.org.au