Sharnie Connell, Senior Campaigns Officer
NPA is pleased to announce our campaigns team will be spending more time on our less visible but no less important marine conservation issues. Just like our terrestrial environment, the unrelenting attacks on our underwater conservation networks are continuing. At this time, when we know we need to be protecting more of our natural world than ever before, the pressure to open up remaining pockets of sanctuary to allow them to be exploited has never been greater.
Just before Christmas the NSW Government decided to open up some of the Batemans Marine Park sanctuaries to recreational fishing without any stakeholder consultation at all. They did this without consulting with the expert knowledge panel that had been set up in order to ensure the advice and recommendations are firmly grounded in science. They did this without consulting the independent Marine Estate Management Authority they had put in place who advise Ministers on best practices for managing our coastal waters. They did this despite almost a decade of marine estate management reforms and legislation created that were supposed to protect and grow the incredible marine biodiversity we are so lucky to have on our doorstep. Without any consultation at all, a couple of Ministers made a decision that benefitted a very small group, to the exclusion of all other stakeholders. The marine park management process has become derailed and it’s up to us to get this back on track.
Currently all six of our marine parks in NSW are multi-use (Byron Bay, Solitary Islands, Lord Howe Island, Port Stephens & Great Lakes, Jervis Bay and Batemans Marine Park) which means they are zoned to allow different types of activity. Just like our National Parks on land, the sanctuary zones within marine parks protect the entire ecosystem whilst allowing passive recreation by nature lovers. This level of protection is vital to ensure our marine environment can be as resilient as possible in the face of rapidly evolving climate change. The “no take” sanctuary zones which offer the highest level of protection for our marine environment comprise only 7% of our NSW coastal waters. Ecosystem based protection allows the area to return to its natural thriving and balanced state and hopefully, if they are large enough, to be able to restock surrounding areas with marine life. Other zones within the marine park allow recreational fishing, and in some instances specific types of low impact commercial fishing such as oyster farming.
Right now, more than ever before, we need to protect our conservation reserves from being slowly eroded away, and to add more to fill in the identified gaps, such as the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion located between Sydney and Newcastle. If we are to truly build an interconnected network of marine protected areas that allow flow through and consistency with all levels of the ecosystem, we need more protection not less.
We have been working alongside other environmental organisations to defend our NSW Marine estate, and our six established NSW marine parks within it, by holding our political decision makers to account. We have the opportunity to contribute to the management plan pilot process for the upcoming Solitary Islands and Batemans Marine Park reviews. This is an opportunity to steer things back to the direction they should be headed.
Community support for marine parks, and sanctuary zones within them, is extremely high across all sectors of the community, as shown in the Government’s own research. Support for sanctuary zones in most marine parks is at 80% or higher. Healthy marine parks and sanctuary zones also support nature-based tourism, one of the biggest drawcards to the South Coast, which now needs government support and promotion more than ever. We will update you on how you can engage with this exciting campaign over the coming months.