Australia Attempts Sustainable Management of Southeast Oceans

CANBERRA, Australia, July 21, 2003 (ENS) - A new era in oceans management was introduced Friday with the release of the first regional marine plan under Australia's Oceans Policy. Launching the draft Southeast Regional Marine Plan (SERMP) in Melbourne, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage Dr. David Kemp said that nowhere else in the world had ocean planning and management been attempted on such a scale and in such an integrated manner.

The government has brought ministers together onto a National Oceans Ministerial Board that includes the portfolios of industry, science, transport, tourism and environment.

"For the first time this integrated system of oceans management takes all uses of our oceans into account rather than the sector-by-sector approach that was used previously," said Kemp. "In this way, we take account of the cumulative effects of these ocean uses, on each other as well as on ecosystems, upon which regional marine planning is based."

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Waves curl on an Australian beach. (Photo courtesy National Oceans Office)
The plan takes in more than two million square kilometres of Australia's ocean territory around Victoria, Tasmania, eastern South Australia and southern New South Wales, as well as the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.

"This regional marine plan is the first of a series that will cover Australia's 16 million square kilometres of ocean territory," said Kemp.

"It will put in place for the first time a whole of government framework for decision making on oceans issues in Commonwealth waters. This will ensure that key ecosystems are protected, providing for the sustainable development of marine industries currently values at more than $30 billion a year.

"Future generations of Australians will recognize the importance of this milestone, which marks a new era of respect for the value of our oceans and their resources.''

Environmental groups said the new plan will be an important first test of the Commonwealth's commitment to the protection of Australia's oceans and sustainable management of the industries that depend on them.

"Australia is responsible for one of the largest and diverse ocean expanses in the world. With increasing pressure on our oceans, we have to get the management right and avoid the mistakes we've made on land," says Michelle Grady of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the country's largest environmental organization.

The ACF expects the final Southeast Regional Marine Plan to deliver a system of Marine National Parks which highly protect at least 20 to 50 percent of each habitat type in the southeast region, as well as strict environment standards enforced by a National Oceans Authority and enshrined in a National Oceans Act.

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Sunset over the ocean near Tasmania (Photo credit unknown)
The environmental groups say the plan must produce ecosystem based management and ecologically sustainable marine industries through integrated management.

They are also seeking a significant increase in funds for scientific research to underpin decisions.

Kemp said that the new system of oceans management contained in Australia's Oceans Policy will indeed equip Australia to avoid the resource management mistakes that have occurred in marine environments in other parts of the world.

"In the Northern hemisphere some of the most productive fisheries, such as the North Atlantic cod and pilchard fisheries have virtually collapsed, resulting in the devastation of ecosystems and the economies that depend upon them," Kemp said.

"These are the types of disasters that we hope to prevent with the strong institutional arrangements at the heart of the Howard Government's Oceans Policy. The government has invested more than A$50 million in the development and implementation of Australia's Oceans Policy since it was announced in 1998."

"Government surveys of the public in the Southeast have shown strong support for marine conservation," said Chris Smyth of the Victorian National Parks Association. "Our challenge to the government is for the SERMP to prescribe real mechanisms for reform of marine management, as laid down in our Oceans Eleven blueprint. Anything less will be a major back down by government."

"The southeast region is globally significant in conservation terms, with many threatened species, including the endangered Blue and Southern Right Whales. Over 85 percent of the plants and animals in this region are unique - found nowhere else in the world", said Margi Prideaux, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

"The unique feature of Australia's approach is its recognition of all users of our ocean, from commercial and recreational fishers, indigenous Australians, the conservation sector, industries such as oil and gas, shipping and tourism and our coastal communities," Kemp said.

More than 270,000 people work in marine related industries in the Southeast Marine Region, and their contribution is valued at A$19 billion annually.

"Following rapid improvements in our understanding of the deep ocean and with world leading marine management arrangements established, we will be well placed to develop our ocean resources for future generations,'' Kemp said.

"But there is mounting pressure on this important marine heritage, warned Kate Davey of the Australian Marine Conservation Society. "The southeast region hosts Australia's busiest shipping lanes, the largest fishing fleet, and some of Australia's largest oil producing areas with new frontier areas opening up in sensitive ecosystems."