Australian Government scraps management plans for new national system of marine reserves

MPA News

In separate decision, Government approves major coal terminal along Great Barrier Reef

The new Coalition Government in Australia, elected by national vote in September, has scrapped management plans developed by the prior Labor Government for most of the nation's representative system of MPAs. The impacted MPAs are the 33 sites that were designated in 2012 by the Labor Government. The dropped management plans would have taken effect in July 2014.

The impacted sites increased the national MPA system last year from 27 sites to 60, expanding the system to a total of 3 million km2 (MPA News 14:3 and 14:1). The sites include the 1-million km2 Coral Sea Marine Reserve, of which roughly half would have been no-take under its now-dropped management plan.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt told MPA News in October that the new reserves were "imposed without fair or adequate consultation" of industry, and would unfairly lock out recreational fishermen from large areas of the ocean (MPA News 15:2). He said the sites' management must be reviewed and redeveloped before final management plans are adopted by Parliament.

The management plans for the 33 sites were passed by the Australian House of Representatives - one half of Parliament - earlier this year. Some conservationists anticipated the Senate - the other half of Parliament - would pass the plans, too, in coming months, thus making the plans law. But the Coalition Government scrapped the plans on 16 December by having the nation's Governor-General re-proclaim the reserves, effectively restarting the management plan development process.

However, the Coalition Government stopped short of calling for a review of the sites' boundaries. The boundaries will remain as designated under the Labor Government, although for the time being they are simply lines on a map. Their designation one year ago followed a series of six phases of public consultation conducted by the Labor Government, with strong support from conservation organizations and opposition from several fishing industry groups, including commercial and recreational ones.

A review of the management plans, expected to last about six months, will now begin. The Government will appoint a scientific panel and several Bioregional Advisory Panels to facilitate and improve consultation with stakeholders. The make-up of the panels will be announced in early 2014.

Coal terminal expansion; will GBRMPA permit it?

On 10 December, the nation's Coalition Government approved the plan for a significant expansion of a coal export terminal at Abbot Point, adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The plan will involve dredging three million cubic meters of seabed and disposing of the spoils inside the park boundaries. The project will create one of the world's largest coal terminals.

The expansion plan has drawn concern from conservationists and from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, which lists the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage site. The Centre has said that any expansion of ports near the reef - particularly outside of existing port areas - would negatively impact the "outstanding universal value" of the site and could result in the park being added to the World Heritage in Danger list (MPA News 14:1 and 15:1). The World Heritage Centre and IUCN will issue a report on the state of conservation of the Great Barrier Reef prior to the next World Heritage Committee meeting in June 2014.

Because the dredging could impact the natural and cultural values of the marine park, it is now up to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to decide whether to permit the dredging to take place as planned or not. The Authority, whose decision is expected by 31 January 2014, is under heavy pressure from conservationists against the expansion and coal industry interests for it.

For more information:

Environment Minister Greg Hunt's statement on the MPA management plans:
http://www.greghunt.com.au/Media/MediaReleases/tabid/86/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/2692/Supporting-recreational-fishing-while-protecting-our-marine-parks.aspx

Statement by Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation on scrapping of MPA management plans:
www.recreationalfishing.com.au/index.php/rss/31-coalition-government-delivers-on-marine-park-promise-to-australia-s-5-million-recreational-fishers

Statement by Australian Marine Conservation Society on scrapping of MPA management plans:
www.marineconservation.org.au/news.php/153/uncertain-future-for-worlds-largest-network-of-marine-reserves

Environment Minister Greg Hunt's statement on the Abbot Point terminal expansion:
http://greghunt.com.au/Media/MediaReleases/tabid/86/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/2687/Abbot-Point-and-Curtis-Island-projects-approved--new-safeguards-to-protect-the-long-term-future-of-the-Great-Barrier-Reef.aspx

GBRMPA webpage on Abbot Point terminal expansion
www.gbrmpa.gov.au/about-us/consultation/current-proposals/abbot-point-coal-export-terminal-expansion