NSW Marine Parks Forum – my ocean journey as an NPA member

Nicole McMahon, NPA Member

It is an overwhelming experience when you begin your journey into becoming environmentally conscious. You discover the human impact on our environment is a polarising topic. So, for those wanting to make simple steps in the right direction, it can be difficult to gauge where to begin. I believe public forums, such as the NSW Marine Parks Forum, are a great place to start.

On July 1, I had the privilege of attending the NSW Marine Parks Forum, University of Technology Sydney, co-hosted by NPA NSW. The co-hosts included UTS’s School of Life Sciences, The Australian Marine Conservation Society, Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Ocean Youth, WWF-Australia and The Wilderness Society.

I heard from some incredible speakers making waves (pun intended) on our environment from Byron to Batemans Bay, as well as learning the shocking ways in which our Marine Parks are being impacted by higher officials neglecting, what is to many Australians, our backyard. I also learned that highly protected marine sanctuaries can thrive when they are supported by strong, connected communities like in Manly. 

Marine Parks should not be a ‘set and forget’ model

Professor of Marine Ecology, David Booth raised eye-opening points during his presentation, highlighting that since the establishment of Marine Parks in 1994, marine park design has become a “set and forget” model.

In the almost 30 years since establishment, an accumulation of threats has arisen – marine extinction, sedimentation, marine heat waves, and microplastics infecting our waterways. Yet, we are failing to use the tools we have available to tackle these challenges.

Professor Booth illuminated the importance of preserving marine biodiversity. Preserving our terrestrial landscapes and wildlife has been a long-serving model, which we prioritise and recognise as fundamental, yet our waterways and oceans have not been seen through the same lens.

These forums are so important, addressing the concerns of who is making the decisions in the reduction to Marine Sanctuaries and potential removal of restricted areas. The areas having limited monitoring, patrolled and protected, due to the lack of current resources provided, leaving it to the communities these are in. It would be great to understand the decision makers more clearly,  ensuring the 30% by 2030 is being echoed by our elected parties.

Only 10 per cent of NSW land is protected and less than 7 per cent of the ocean is protected. And, since 2013, ocean protection has been on the decline.

The environmental community welcome

Danielle Ryan (NPA NSW) and Peta Morton (Nature Conservation Council of NSW) spoke on behalf of the 1.5 million NGO supporters represented at the Forum, who care about protecting nature in their backyard. To me, this is a lot of people who care, which is good news. They also reminded us that the ocean is owned by all of us. All the community deserve a voice, men and women, addressing the concerns with the measure of how the oceans are being managed by all stakeholders and all sectors.

They highlighted that the ocean is like the wild west. About a third of Australian fish stocks are classified as “overfished” and over a ten-year period, researchers1 have found global fish stocks cannot be revived without ‘no take’ or sanctuary areas.

Jarmbi’s powerful message — when we are emotionally and spiritually connected, we are more connected to the planet 

I was excited that technology (via Zoom) was able to bring people together along the coast, but I was also disheartened in regard to its limitations. Jarmbi, a free diver and Custodian of the Northern Rivers, tried several times to dial in, but was cut off due to bad reception. He recorded his message on his phone and shared it with organisers.

Jarmbi said “the expansion of the marine world, extension of everything, restoration of plankton, algae, means a lot on a great scale. However, without a spiritual and emotional connection, we are removing ourselves from the story. When we are emotionally, spiritually, and energetically connected, we become much more connected to the planet and humanity.”  

I want Jarmbi to know that his words had a profound impact on me.

Listening to the next generation of National Parks advocates

I feel the whole community should be engaged on this pressing issue of marine parks and that it is important that a diverse range of voices are heard. Opening a public forum for the scientific community is key, yet these voices are so often ignored and neglected by our higher officials.

This is why I enjoyed listening to the perspectives of the next generation — Sophie, Cecelia, Alisha and Tamanna from Ocean Youth (NPA’s newest partners).

They said “The fish size is shrinking. More mammal injuries, being maimed and killed by unregulated practices.” They called on our politicians to meet the 30% by 2030 global target for Protected Areas. They said the way in which to do so is to be “Bold, Brave, and Proactive.”

Ocean Youth called for more open forums, providing more open space for young people to have opportunities to be involved in discussions. Interactive events during the evening and on weekends are appealing to those who study and work, and they also felt it would be great to see more NGO members offer affordable prices for young people.

It’s time to open-up more public spaces, including to all who want to make a difference, so I encourage all NPA Branches to think about what activities they can help create, targeting young people. I know there is a generational gap. It is often difficult to find ways to bridge social differences. However, bridging this gap is essential if we are to reach the 30×30 target for Protected Areas. The deadline, 2030, is just seven and a half years from now, yet the government is failing to meet the Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) goal of Protected Areas. For example, it is yet to establish a marine park for Sydney.

I envision a stronger and more unified voice around a common goal for Protected Areas – a voice which includes young people. Who knows, the young advocates at the NSW Marine Parks Forum may be the ones to rise-up and one day become leaders on the global stage. Let’s ensure we reach out to more young people and nurture their enthusiasm.

I will end with a message from Jarmbi to all of us: “Stand and speak up. Share knowledge. Be involved in conversations. Respect Aussie wildlife and consider the future generation.”


  1. Edgar, G. J., Ward, T. J., and Stuart-Smith, R. D. (in press) Rapid declines across Australian fishery stocks indicate global sustainability targets will not be achieved without expanded network of ‘no-fishing’ reserves. Accessed 13 July 2022. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/am-pdf/10.1002/aqc.2934

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