Marine campaign update Spring 2023

Danielle Ryan, NPA NSW Conservation Campaigner

A new policy era for marine — growing appetite for marine advocacy  

NPA NSW is keen to seize on the incumbent government’s objectives to deliver the 30×30 target and growing community aspirations for the creation of more marine sanctuaries. This campaign update details the rise of Ocean Legend and filmmaker Valerie Taylor’s String of Pearls campaign and the newly created Friends of Bongin Bongin, a collective of swimmer groups who formed earlier in the year to create a proposal for a marine sanctuary in Mona Vale, after witnessing a decline in fish in the area.  

Australia’s marine environments are suffering from compounding pressure from both fishing and rising temperatures, with a study earlier this year finding that 500 of Australia’s common species of fish, seaweed, coral, and invertebrates that live on reefs have declined in the past decade. The study, led by Professor of Marine Conservation and Ecology, Graham Edgar, found that larger fish were declining faster than smaller ones. In particular, the authors found greater conservation efforts are required in temperature ecosystems.  

In response, NPA’s Dr Jonathon Howard is in the process of drafting a Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) policy for NPA NSW. The policy will detail NPA’s goals and objectives for MPAs, including the 30×30 goal and ensuring that best-practice marine protected area planning principles are aspired for. If you are interested in sharing input into the process building and delivering an MPA policy for NPA NSW, please write to  

Get involved in Val Taylor’s String of Pearls campaign   

The koalas of the sea — a species in need of urgent habitat protection  

The placid critically endangered Grey Nurse Shark has been pushed to the brink of extinction due to historical fishing pressure. Scientists estimate there are only about 400 breeding animals left in the wild. The Grey Nurse was protected under NSW legislation in 1984, thanks to efforts by Ocean Legend and filmmaker Valerie Taylor AM. Today, it is Valerie Taylor’s vision to protect key habitat sites along the East Coast, from Wolf Rock to Montague Island, known as a grey nurse highway. She is calling her new campaign the ‘String of Pearls’ to highlight the value of these special areas.  

In March this year, friends of Val Taylor came together on one day to conduct a Grey Nurse Shark Census along the East Coast to help raise awareness about the need to protect critical Grey Nurse habitat. It is a citizen science project being conducted in partnership with local dive shops. The census found that 80% of this migratory species’ population were residing at Wolf Rock at the time, the only known gestation site for the Grey Nurse.  

Queensland announces increased protection for grey nurse habitat  

The great news is that on the 13 July 2023, our neighbouring state government in Queensland announced increased sanctuary protection (as a fishing free site) for this special site. The Grey Nurse has the lowest production rate of any shark, with a gestation period of 8-12 months, and births occurring every second or third year, meaning this new announcement could be a lifeline for the survival of ‘the koalas of the sea’. Let’s hope the news of greater protection for Wolf Rock inspires the NSW Government to respond to Val’s String of Pearls campaign and ensure all grey nurse critical habitat is protected.  

The next Grey Nurse Census   

What this next census will likely show is the Grey Nurse sharks don’t just stay in one spot, they migrate up and done the coast, providing the NSW community with an opportunity to highlight the importance of Val’s campaign.  

You can support her campaign efforts by either participating in the next Grey Nurse Census, or if you don’t dive, encourage your diving friends or local dive shop to get involved.  The next census will happen 27 August 2023. If you are interested in helping out, please write to Captain Gordon Scott  

Bongin Bongin sanctuary proposal under attack by Shooters and Fishers  

Mass local support for ‘no take’ sanctuary challenged, despite proven benefits of sanctuaries 

Thousands of Northern Beaches locals recently signed a petition in support for the establishment of a marine sanctuary at Bongin Bongin. In support, a Council Motion was passed in favour of ‘a’ Aquatic Reserve for Bongin Bongin (13-1 vote to progress to State Government). However, the integrity of the proposal is at stake, as the words ‘no take’ were removed from the council motion, due to pressure from anti-sanctuary advocates. It is critical any declaration of new Aquatic Reserves are ‘no take’ sanctuary, reflecting the gold standard of marine protection. 

Research on the benefits of NSW’s network of small ‘no take’ marine sanctuaries clearly demonstrate the enormous benefits they deliver to conservation. For example, five years after the creation of the park, research showed that fish abundance was 38% higher inside the marine sanctuaries than in partially protected areas (Kelaher et al. 2014). Meanwhile, recreational fishers are some of the biggest beneficiaries of sanctuaries with targeted species, such as Snapper, Morwong, Pearl Perch and Venus Tuskfish, having greater abundance and being larger within sanctuaries than outside. These fish are valuable breeding populations, helping to replenish areas beyond sanctuary borders.  

Parliamentary privilege causes local community grief  

Shooters and Fishers Mark Banasiak has put up a state parliament notice of motion against the Bongin Bongin proposal. It is unclear if, or when, the motion will be put up in the lower house. The local community is deeply dismayed by Banasiak’s comments attached to the motion which they feel unfairly accuse them (under parliamentary privilege) of ‘hostile behaviour’, including ‘spiked vehicle tires, keyed car panels, intimidation of young children, theft of fish caught by fishermen, verbal abuse including derogatory comments regarding race and ethnicity, and attempts to physical violence.’ Parliamentary privilege allows for the freedom of speech whereby parliamentarians are immune from general law and can speak as they please.  

The local swimmer groups, who argue they have peacefully advocated for the sanctuary, include ‘the Buckets’, a group of old ladies who swim throughout winter and pour hot water over their head after a swim to warm up. They would like to protect their local environment for generations to come.  

You can help support the Buckets — tell our officials ‘no take’ fishing free sanctuaries are vital to save unique marine life and habitats  

We encourage you to write a letter of support to the relevant state Ministers and department about the value of supporting ‘no take’ sanctuary proposals. It is an opportunity to share NPA NSW’s broader ambition to save NSW’s unique marine life and habitats. We encourage you to write a personal letter (i.e. stating why you love the ocean) and to also include in your own words why Bongin Bongin should be protected. 

A letter should at least include a vision along the lines of: 

  1. The Labor Government has an immediate opportunity to create a world class Marine Protected Area system; 
  2. To do this, it must deliver on the global and national 30×30 target, interpreted to mean 30% marine sanctuary (No take areas) for NSW waters, using the Marine Protected Area planning goal of Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR); 
  3. This would pave the way for marine parks in missing bioregions, including for a Sydney Marine Park (Hawkesbury Shelf Bioregion) where only about 1% is currently protected as sanctuary; 
  4. By applying CAR principles, 30% sanctuary must be aspired for in the Hawkesbury Shelf Bioregion; 
  5. Considering this framework, Bongin Bongin, part of the Hawkesbury Shelf, is an excellent candidate for sanctuary protection for its social and natural values: 
  • It is a high-use area for recreational users, including swimmers, surfers, and surf life savers, who highly value the marine life in the area, including blue gropers, dolphins, sharks, octopus, cuttlefish, and many other species, including the occasional sea turtle and penguin. 
  • In just 16 weeks, a petition for Bongin Bongin amassed 3,230 paper signatures, plus 2,933 online in support, demonstrating just how loved and valued this area is. 
  • The value of small, well protected ‘no take’ Marine Sanctuary zones is immense, as seen from recent scientific research on the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic reserve. Bongin Bongin would form part of an essential connected string of Sanctuaries. 
  1. Unfortunately, NSW has gone backwards, rather than forwards when it comes to marine protection. Now is the time to save our unique marine life and habitats by restoring and creating new ‘no take’ sanctuaries for NSW. 
  2. Considering Bongin Bongin’s recreational popularity, a No Take Aquatic Reserve for Bongin Bongin would become another local community enforcement and ‘education classroom’ success story, inspired by Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve. 
  3. The NSW’s Government’s own research demonstrates the immense value of marine sanctuaries for increasing biomass and fish size, which is why any new Aquatic Reserve announcements should be ‘no take’.  


Please send your letter to the following:  

The Department of Primary Industries - 

Minister Tara Moriarty – via contact page form

Minister Penny Sharpe – via contact page form


Kelaher, B et al. (2014). Changes in Fish Assemblages following the Establishment of a Network of No-Take Marine Reserves and Partially-Protected Areas. PloS one. 9. e85825. 10.1371/journal.pone.0085825.  

AMSA Position Statement on Marine Protected Areas October 2019. 

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