3 October 2008
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett has commissioned an independent review of proposed new management arrangements for Queensland's East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery to assist in his upcoming assessment of the fishery under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act).
Mr Garrett said the review of the fishery, which operates off the coast of Queensland, including in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, would be completed by the end of October 2008. It will look at the proposed management arrangements for the fishery, providing recommendations to ensure compliance with the EPBC Act.
The review follows discussions between Mr Garrett and Queensland's Minister for Primary Industries and Fisheries Tim Mulherin over the fishery's impacts on shark stocks and the potential for interactions with protected species, particularly dugongs, whales and sawfish.
"I expect this review will also provide the Queensland Government with additional support and information in their decision making process in regards to the East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery," Mr Garrett said.
Dugong at Shark Bay. Image courtesy of Paul Anderson.
"Concerns have been raised by a variety of groups, including the scientific community, about shark fishing and about species protected under the EPBC Act, including dugong.
"I want to be assured that the World Heritage Values of the Great Barrier Reef are adequately protected.
"I look forward to the outcomes of this important and timely investigation so we can be confident that the fishery has the appropriate conditions in place for accreditation under the EPBC Act."
The review will be conducted by a panel chaired by Mr John Gunn, Deputy Chief, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, who has 25 years of experience in marine ecology and fisheries science, and including Dr John Stevens, a globally respected shark scientist and Mr Frank Meere, who has extensive experience in fisheries management and qualifications in economics.
Coral Sea - soft coral and diver. Image courtesy of Mike Ball.
A group of scientists have called for the Coral Sea to be declared the world's largest marine protected area.
Marine researchers said the Coral Sea, which covers one million square kilometres bordering the Great Barrier Reef, should become a non-fishing area to protect its immense environmental and heritage values from the threats of overfishing and climate change.
Prof. Terry Hughes, of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said there was overwhelming evidence the world's marine ecosystems had been seriously degraded by overfishing, pollution and global warming.
"These trends call for urgent, practical solutions" Prof. Hughes said.
"Eleven per cent of land habitats have been designated as parks to conserve their biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide to people. In contrast, less than 0.1 per cent of the world's oceans are fully protected."
The researchers said the Coral Sea provided critical habitats for many species, including critically endangered hawksbill and endangered green turtles, 25 species of whales and dolphins and 27 species of sea bird.
Prof. Hugh Possingham, director of the Ecology Centre at the University of Queensland said at least 13 species of seabird breed on islands in the area and the Coral Sea was one of the few places remaining on earth where large pelagic fishes (tuna, billfish and sharks) have not yet been severely depleted.
The researchers said fishing pressure in the Coral Sea had grown rapidly in the past 20 years, and catches already were in decline relative to the fishing effort put in.
"Fishing activities in the Coral Sea contribute to significant declines of sharks, turtles and seabirds on the adjoining Great Barrier Reef," said Prof. John Pandolfi of the University of Queensland.
"A single large no-take zone is the best approach for protecting these pelagic and migratory species because they cannot be protected inside small reserves," Prof. Pandolfi said.
Great Barrier Reef reef slope. Image courtesy of GBRMPA.
The Great Barrier Reef will benefit from an additional $7.5 million in funding through the Australian Government's Caring for our Country initiative, Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Agriculture Minister Tony Burke said last month.
"The $7.5 million in funding we have announced is on top of the $23 million we announced in August for Reef Rescue, and will provide a further boost to efforts to protect the health of the Reef particularly as it battles the impacts of a changing climate," Mr Garrett said in Cairns.
Mr Garrett said up to $4.5 million would go towards monitoring water quality in rivers and wetlands, monitoring and encouraging improvements in land management and land condition throughout the catchment, and looking at marine water quality and ecosystem health.
"A further $2 million will go to trialling new technologies that improve water quality in the catchment and for developing and applying new water quality monitoring techniques for nutrients, chemicals and sediments," Mr Garrett said.
"Partnerships with traditional owners will see up to $1 million over this financial year go towards improving sea country management, helping to conserve such species as turtle and dugong."
Minister Burke said the Australian Government was working to improve the quality of water flowing into the Reef lagoon, which is critical to its capacity to resist coral bleaching.
"Farmers are already leading the way in sustainable land management across Australia and this funding will help to continue that good work," Mr Burke said.
"Works to be funded in the reef catchment range from improving nutrient and chemical application on farms, using controlled traffic farming and machinery conversions, fencing off waterways, and improving management and community understanding of habitats on the coast and in the waters of the reef lagoon."
"We've asked the regional Natural Resource Management groups, in partnership with agricultural industry groups and the World Wildlife Fund in the Reef catchment, to come up with projects for the current financial year based on an indicative budget for their region. "
The funding will benefit the Mackay Whitsunday region, Terrain region, Burdekin Dry Tropics region, Fitzroy Basin region, Burnett region and Cape York region.
"Other Australian Government projects funded in the reef catchment through Caring for our Country include catchment improvement works on farms and their associated catchment areas," Mr Burke said.
"These works will see land managers from all areas including primary producers from the sugar, grazing, horticulture and dairy sectors working with industry groups, regional natural resource management groups and conservation organisations to improve water quality flowing into the reef.
"They range from improving grazing management on farms through enhancing wetlands functionality and improving waterway health, to raising community understanding and use of coastal fish habitats and other coastal environmental assets."
The Rudd Government has earmarked $200 million for Reef Rescue, out of the $2.25 billion it has committed over five years for Caring for our Country.
For more information visit www.nrm.gov.au
Humpback whale at Hervey Bay. Image courtesy of Mark Farrell.
Australia and New Zealand's leadership in whale conservation has been strengthened following talks between the two governments in New Zealand in early September.
Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett and New Zealand Conservation Minister Steve Chadwick said a focus of their talks was the development of a research initiative in the Southern Ocean.
"Whaling over the last two centuries has seen a dramatic reduction in whale numbers in our region and whale populations now also face increased environmental threats, particularly the impacts of climate change," the Ministers said.
"Just recently the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (the IUCN) reassessed the South Pacific humpback whale as endangered, thanks in part to research undertaken by Australian and New Zealand experts," Ms Chadwick said.
"We are seeking to increase the global commitment to non-lethal research to better manage the recovery of whales," Mr Garrett said.
Ms Chadwick said a new, non-lethal research initiative in the Southern Ocean would build on the innovative and collaborative approach Australia and New Zealand have always brought to this area.
"These new research efforts will provide further science on which to build strategies, to ensure that future generations are able to experience these magnificent creatures," Ms Chadwick said.
"Australia proposed the creation of research partnerships across the globe at the recent International Whaling Commission meeting in Chile. This is part of our plan, widely supported at the Commission, to modernise the IWC and make it into a 21st Century conservation-focused organisation,'' Mr Garrett said.
"I welcome New Zealand's commitment to being part of this new approach, joining Chile, with whom we signed a Statement of Intent in June."
Ms Chadwick said it was a pleasure to host Mr Garrett on a whale-watch at Kaikoura, where the whale-watching industry is thriving after sperm whales there were recognised by the Crown as a taonga (a Maori treasure).
"Reliable science is extremely important to inform the sustainable management of whale-watching, and to securing the ongoing economic benefits which Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific Island countries experience," Ms Chadwick said.
Mr Garrett said Australia would host a gathering of international whale scientists in February 2009 to draft a five-year research plan for whales in the Southern Ocean.
Yellowfin tuna off Cairns, Queensland. Image courtesy of Gavin Leese and Queensland DPIF Fishery Observer program.
Environment Minister, Peter Garrett has suspended approval of the Reef Cove Resort development at Queensland's False Cape and has ordered the developer to carry out an environmental audit of the site.
It is the first time a federal environment minister has suspended a project's approval or directed an environmental audit under the EPBC Act.
"Following a preliminary investigation by my department, I've decided to suspend approval of the False Cape project for a 12-month period because I am concerned about the threat of sediment run-off into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area," Mr Garrett said.
"This suspension means there can be no construction at the site until I am satisfied that the developer has completed the appropriate remediation work and can complete construction in a responsible manner and in full compliance with the approval conditions, without impacting on the marine environment.
"If I am not satisfied by the end of this suspension period that appropriate remediation measures have been implemented in accordance with the outcomes of the compliance audit, I have the option under the EPBC Act of suspending the approval for a further period, or revoking it altogether.
"If revoked, any proposal for a new development at the site may need to undergo a new assessment process under the EPBC Act. This would be likely to require a new public assessment."
Mr Garrett said the directed environmental audit would provide important information that the federal Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts could include in its ongoing investigation.
"In the meantime, my department will continue to work with the Cairns Regional Council to address the immediate concerns at the site and to make the site stable before the coming wet season."