Help is on the way for the Great Barrier Reef
A new report released in September illustrates the need for strong, decisive action to save one of the world's most important natural wonders - the Great Barrier Reef - from the impacts of climate change.
The Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2009, released by Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett, is the first comprehensive assessment of the health of the Great Barrier Reef and its outlook.
"The Outlook Report identifies that overall the reef remains one of the world's healthiest coral reef ecosystems, but that significant challenges need to be met to ensure this remains the case," Mr Garrett said.
"Comprehensive, effective and immediate action on climate change is critical. So too is action to help the reef withstand the impacts of the already changing climate."
Mr Garrett and Queensland Climate Change Minister Kate Jones also released a joint response to the Outlook Report, outlining a cooperative, re-energised, and whole-of-ecosystem approach to protecting the reef.
"The response accelerates existing efforts that make the reef already one of the best protected in the world and most able to withstand the effects of the changing climate," Ms Jones said.
These efforts include the 2004 comprehensive rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the recent overhauling of the 30 year old Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 and the June 2009 signing of a new Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental Agreement.
As a key part of the response to the Outlook Report, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and Mr Garrett launched a new Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.
"Under the Plan, the Queensland and the Commonwealth governments have committed to halving harmful runoff entering the Reef from agricultural land in the next five years," said Premier Bligh.
"Improving the quality of water flowing into the reef is one of the most important things we can do to help the Reef withstand the impacts of climate change."
The Outlook Report also highlights the importance of taking action to reduce our carbon pollution.
"We know that a failure to act on dangerous climate change puts at risk significant places like the Great Barrier Reef and this report confirms the scale of the challenge ahead," Mr Garrett said.
"The governments' response to the Outlook Report highlights key first steps in addressing key pressures on the reef," said Ms Jones.
"Both governments recognise the significant environmental and economic value of the reef, and are determined to protect it now and into the future."
The Outlook Report was prepared by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority based on the best available information.
The report identifies climate change, catchment runoff, loss of coastal habitats and fisheries management as key challenges facing the Reef.
Turtles in Townsville can now get help
Sick and injured turtles in North Queensland will now be cared for in a purpose built rehabilitation facility with the opening of a new Turtle Hospital at Reef HQ Aquarium in Townsville.
The federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett officially opened the facility said that the development of the Reef HQ Turtle Hospital was in response to an increasing number of turtles requiring care.
"For many years Reef HQ has been caring for sick and injured turtles on an ad hoc basis using a makeshift facility to rehabilitate these animals till they were well and fit enough to be released back into the Marine Park," Minister Garrett said.
"In recent years the number of turtles requiring treatment has continued to increase which moved the staff at Reef HQ to begin working towards the establishment of a purpose built turtle hospital."
Pygmy blue whale off southern Australia directly linked to Indonesian waters
An endangered pygmy blue whale has shown that we still have much to learn about the world's cetaceans and reinforced the importance of Australia's non-lethal whale research.
Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Indonesian Fisheries Minister Freddy Numberi announced that a pygmy blue whale, tagged with a satellite tracker off Perth, travelled as far north as the Banda Sea, in Indonesia.
"Not only is this the first successful long term tagging of this species in Australia, this is also the first confirmation of direct links between pygmy blue whales off southern Australia and Indonesian waters," Minister Garrett said.
Researchers from the Australian Marine Mammal Centre tagged the young male pygmy blue whale in the Perth Canyon, a seasonal feeding area for pygmy blue whales. Pygmy blue whales are a subspecies of the blue whale, the largest animal to ever live on earth.
IWC endorses SORP
The International Whaling Commission has endorsed a five-year non-lethal whale research proposal for the Australian-led Southern Ocean Research Partnership (SORP).
Environment Minister Peter Garrett said this is a major success for Australia and a ground-breaking agreement from the IWC that will direct future non-lethal research activities.
"The SORP is the first truly international, multidisciplinary research collaboration with a focus on improving the conservation of whales," Mr Garrett said.
"So-called 'scientific' whaling adds nothing to our knowledge of whales that cannot be obtained from non-lethal means. We do not need to kill whales to learn about them.
"The SORP will lead by example, and though the collective efforts of the many partnership countries that will research whales all around Antarctica we will demonstrate a new way of providing the priority research results needed by the IWC."
Non-lethal whale research techniques include visual surveys to assess abundance and distribution; satellite tracking to gather information on migration routes and feeding patterns, and biopsy sampling for genetic analysis and information on feeding ecology, nutritional condition and reproductive status.
The SORP forms part of the Australian Government's $32.5 million commitment to national and international non-lethal research and conservation initiatives for whales.
Dolphins: the forgotten cetacean?
Australia will contribute $1.5 million to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to support key conservation and scientific activities of the Commission, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said.
Speaking at a briefing on the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) report Small cetaceans: the forgotten whales at the 61st International Whaling Commission meeting in Madeira, Portugal, the Minister said this substantial financial contribution will enhance the capacity of the Commission to directly address the many threats faced by the world's whales and dolphins.
"What we know from the Global Cetacean Summary Report is that while some species have started to recover from severe overexploitation, including from commercial whaling, many populations face a growing number of threats to their long-term survival and recovery and over half of the world's cetacean species remain listed as 'Data Deficient'.
"Ship strikes, pollution and the impacts of climate change are just some of examples of the challenges our whale species face and we know that for many populations we simply do not have enough scientific information to ensure we're providing the best chance of recovery.
"As this WWF report highlights, while much of the world's attention is focused on larger, better known whale and cetacean species, small cetaceans are often 'forgotten'," Mr Garrett said.
Whale watching economically beneficial
Environment Minister Peter Garrett joined the International Fund for Animal Welfare to release the report Whale Watching Worldwide at the International Whaling Commission annual meeting in Portugal.
Speaking on the release of the significant report, Mr Garrett said that in the decade since the previous report the whale watching industry has grown substantially around the globe.
"In 2008 alone, more than 13 million people enjoyed whale watching in 119 countries resulting in more than $2 billion in expenditure," Mr Garrett said.
"It proves that whale watching is an internationally dynamic industry that is not only offers significant commercial benefits for local communities, creating jobs and new businesses but also offers a terrific opportunity to educate the public about whales and the marine environment.
"The release of this report here at the IWC is timely because the Commission is in an ideal position to provide the practical tools and advice for countries developing their whale watching industries that minimize the impacts on whales and their environment.
"And it further reinforces the point that whales are worth more to nations alive than dead, with the economic benefits of whales extending far beyond hunting them."
Mr Garrett released the Global Cetacean Summary Report
Environment Minister Peter Garrett released the Global Cetacean Summary Report ahead of the 61st International Whaling Commission meeting at which Australia continued its strong leadership in the push to bring an end to so-called 'scientific' whaling.
Mr Garrett said the report found that cetaceans - whales, dolphins and porpoises - are increasingly threatened by human activities including hunting, habitat degradation and climate change impacts.
"What this report shows is that while some species and populations have started to recover, many continue to be threatened, with the risk some could be driven to extinction in the near future," Mr Garrett said.
The report brings together all available global data to identify 'hot spot' areas that provide habitats for threatened species. These 'hot spots' are found in the oceans around each of the world's continents.
The report also highlights the need for more scientific information on cetacean species. There is inadequate information on distribution and abundance to assess the risk of extinction for half of all cetacean species.
First Antarctic SORP whale expedition
Australia and New Zealand announced the first Antarctic whale research expedition as part of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership.
Australian Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, and New Zealand Minister for Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, said the announcement strengthens their close relationship and commitment to non-lethal scientific research.
The Antarctic Whale Expedition will involve six weeks of research in early 2010 aboard the New Zealand vessel R/V Tangaroa in the Antarctic waters to the south of Australia and New Zealand.
"This expedition supports our joint position that non-lethal whale research can provide all the information needed to understand and conserve whales and so called 'scientific whaling' is unnecessary," Mr Garrett said.
Marine parks will protect areas of conservation value
Marine bioregional planning provides the foundation for conservation and sustainable management of Australia's marine environment, including the development of new networks of marine protected areas.
"The Australian Government is committed to protecting Australia's marine biodiversity and is currently in the process of developing marine bioregional plans under national environment law for the South-east, South-west, North-west, North and East Marine Regions," said Peter Garrett, Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts.
Marine Bioregional Plans will identify regional priorities for action, provide strategic guidance for decision makers and greater certainty for industry.
"A key part of the bioregional planning process is developing a representative system of marine protected areas in Commonwealth waters by 2012," said Mr Garrett.
"The establishment of a network of marine protected areas in the Commonwealth waters will provide long-term protection for the range of ecosystems and species that live in each region."
"The network of marine protected areas will be an enduring legacy to Australia's future generations, ensuring they are able to enjoy all the benefits and resources that arise from a healthy and diverse marine environment," Mr Garrett added.
"Draft Marine Bioregional Plans will soon be released for stakeholder and public comment and I encourage input from everyone with an interest in the marine environment."
Consultation is critical to ascertain the potential impacts that the establishment of new marine protected areas will have on activities in the region.
"I am determined to see good and robust conservation outcomes arising from the establishment of the marine protected areas and to minimise the impact on existing users."
The bioregional planning process is well underway.
Areas for Further Assessment
The department has completed the first round of consultations on Areas for Further Assessment in the North and North-west marine regions. Identifying areas for further assessment are the first step in a comprehensive analysis of the marine environment and are a way of helping the department collect information on human uses and socio-economic values before any marine reserves are identified.
The Government's objective is to achieve good conservation outcomes while minimising socio-economic impacts.
Areas for Further Assessment are NOT proposed marine reserves.
Areas for Further Assessment are the areas within which future marine reserves will be established. The proposed networks of new marine reserves for the North-west and North marine regions will be released for public comment early next year as part of the draft Marine Bioregional Plans.
The marine reserves are part of an international commitment the Australian Government has made to establish a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas by 2012.
The draft plans
Draft plans for South-west, North-west and North are expected to be released in early 2010. The release of each draft plan will be followed by a stakeholder consultation period of a minimum of 60 days.
The release of the draft East Bioregional Plan, including the Coral Sea Conservation Zone, has been extended by six months by Minister Garrett in response to requests from stakeholders providing additional time for input into the planning process.
The final plans
The final Bioregional Plans for the North, North-west and South-west regions are due to be completed in mid 2010. The East and the South-east Marine Bioregional Plans will be released in late 2010.
For more information on bioregional planning go to http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/index.html
More time for public opinion to be heard
Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett has approved a six month extension for the development of the East Marine Bioregional Plan.
The extension is in response to requests from stakeholders that additional time be available for the assessment of the East Marine Region including the Coral Sea. The extension will allow additional time for stakeholder engagement in the process.
The revised timings will see a draft plan released in mid 2010 and a final plan released in late 2010.
Marine biologist monitoring birds on Ashmore Island
To make sure the longer term environmental impacts from Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea are understood and appropriately addressed, the Federal Government's environment department has locked in an agreement with the company responsible for the spill PTTEP for a robust long-term monitoring plan.
The program is additional to the operational monitoring, surveillance and oiled wildlife response program already underway in the region and will include marine life surveys, water quality testing, assessments of affected shorelines and assessment of potential impacts on fish and other species in the Timor Sea. It will provide vital information necessary for a longer term understanding of the impacts of the spill on the marine environment.