Fish Boats Barred From One-Third of Great Barrier Reef

CANBERRA, Australia, July 1, 2004 (ENS) - Commercial and recreational fishing boats can no longer enter one-third of Australia's Great Barrier Reef marine park as a new zoning plan goes into effect today. The world's longest reef is now also officially the world's largest marine protected area.

Australian Environment Minister David Kemp said the new zoning plan increased the area of the marine park protected by “no take” zones from about 4.5 percent to 33.3 percent. The protected area is increased by some 42,000 square miles.


The Great Barrier Reef is the longest reef in the world. (Photo courtesy GBRMPA)
Extending 1,400 miles along the Queensland coast, the Great Barrier Reef encompasses over 2,900 reefs and 940 islands and cays. The most economically valuable coral reef in the world, worth more than $57 billion to the international economy, the reef is also ecologically valuable.

It is inhabited by 1,500 species of fish, 359 types of hard coral, 175 species of birds and more than 30 species of mammals, including dugongs and six of the world's seven threatened species of sea turtles.

Kemp said the Great Barrier Reef would now be the best protected reef system in the world. “This is an historic moment for the Great Barrier Reef and for Australia,” he said. “The Great Barrier Reef is not only a treasure for Australia but for the world. “The plan puts Australia at the cutting edge of reef protection worldwide.”

Conservationists say the increased and stricter protection of the Great Barrier Reef has set an example for other countries to follow.

"This win-win for fishermen and the environment is due to four years of hard work by the Australian government, coastal communities, industry leaders and WWF's Australia office," said Scott Burns, director of WWF's Marine Conservation program. "The Great Barrier Reef's network of protected areas is a global benchmark that sets a precedent for future marine conservation."

Other regions that may be protected by similar measures in the future include the Sulu-Sulawesi Sea in South-East Asia and the Meso-American reef in Central America, said Burns.

“Coral reefs around the world are under rapidly increasing pressure from various aspects of population pressure, and our Great Barrier Reef is no exception,” Kemp said. “Threats such as increased nutrients entering reef waters, and global warming, are placing reefs everywhere under great stress."

“The best scientific advice is that the most effective way to ensure that reefs are healthy enough to cope with these sorts of pressures is to protect at least one-fifth of all bioregions in no-take zones, and that is exactly what we have done,” Kemp said.

Australia's $4.5 billion tourism industry based on the Great Barrier Reef relies on the reef remaining healthy. Sustainable fisheries also rely on a healthy reef environment to protect breeding stocks of commercial species.

To help the commercial fishing industry affected by the new rezoning, the government has developed a structural adjustment package that includes a license buy out scheme to purchase fishing licences so that overall fishing effort is reduced in line with the closures.

“This is a great outcome for marine environment protection," said Kemp, "but we also recognize that there are fishers, related businesses and communities that will be impacted by these area closures and who should be assisted."

Business restructuring assistance of up to A$200,000 per eligible business will be offered to help businesses meet the cost of rearranging their operations, and the government also will provide business planning assistance of up to A$1,000 per business.


This fisherman unloads his catch after trawling for prawns on the Great Barrier Reef (Photo courtesy GBRMPA)
Employee assistance in the form of a one time payment of $5,000 to master ticket holders and $3,000 to other crew will help cover short term costs of dislocation, Kemp said.

A social package will be provided to give fishers and others impacted by the changes access to professional social support services, facilitated by industry organizations such as the Queensland Seafood Industry Association.

And communities impacted by the fishing industry restructuring will be assisted to develop new avenues of investment and employment through Area Consultative Committees under the Regional Partnerships Programme.

Fisheries Minister Senator Ian Macdonald said that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority had consulted widely in the development of the new zoning plan and every effort had been made to minimize the impact on fishers.

“However, it was never going to be possible to reduce the impact completely and we expect there will be some areas particularly significantly affected and some fisheries, such as the inshore net fishery, where the impact will be more pronounced,” Macdonald said.

But the benefits of environmental conservation are viewed as more important than maintaining the number of fishers who once made their living on the reef.

In May, the Howard Government allocated more than A$20 million over three years in additional funding to help ensure the ongoing protection of the reef.

“The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s gift to the world. We are very fortunate to have a federal government that has demonstrated its commitment by providing the highest level of protection seen on any reef system in the world,” said Virginia Chadwick, chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.


Underwater on the Great Barrier Reef (Photo courtesy Australian Department Foreign Affairs)
The additional funding includes $13 million for the implementation of the new zoning plan including education and enforcement.

“The additional funds will assist us with more sophisticated means of enforcement," Chadwick said. "We will build on and improve our relationships with other agencies including; Customs Coastwatch, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and State and Federal Police."

These government agencies may be able to protect against illegal anchoring and fishing, but they cannot protect the reef against all dangers.

One of the three main threats to the reef is destructive fishing, but the other two threats identified by scientists and conservationists are coral bleaching caused by global warming, and land-based sources of pollution.

"The amount of sediment flowing from the land into the marine park, from its catchment area, has quadrupled over the past 150 years," said Burns of the WWF.

The Great Barrier Reef has experienced two mass coral bleaching events: in 1998, during the largest worldwide mass coral bleaching event in recorded history and, more recently, in 2002.

Less than five percent of the Great Barrier Reef's coral cover will remain by the middle of the century unless heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions are reduced, according to a WWF report, "The Implications of Climate Change for Australia's Great Barrier Reef," published earlier this year.