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20 March 2003
The Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Heritage is calling for public comment on a discussion paper on how to protect the critically endangered grey nurse sharks in the Cod Grounds area, in Commonwealth waters off the New South Wales coast.
Located about four nautical miles off the NSW coastline near Port Macquarie, the Cod Grounds area features three pinnacles 18 metres high, 30 metres apart and in 40 metres of water. This provides shelter for a large number of female grey nurse sharks found to consistently congregate in the area, particularly during the mating season.
A Grey Nurse Shark Recovery Plan - initiated by the Federal Government in response to declining numbers - identifies the Cod Grounds area and nearby site, Pimpernel Rock, as two of the 19 critical habitats for grey nurse sharks. Cod Grounds and Pimpernel Rock are located in Commonwealth waters and the remaining 17 sites are in state waters.
NSW Fisheries surveys conducted state-wide show the Cod Grounds area and Pimpernel Rock account for 16.4 per cent of the observed grey nurse shark population. The surveys recorded up to 75 sharks at the Cod Grounds site alone, which is substantial given the entire east coast population is estimated at only 500.
The Grey Nurse Shark Recovery Plan identifies ways to help the grey nurse shark recover to a level where they are no longer threatened. Limited scientific information is available to help determine what exactly this level should be, or the rate at which numbers have declined. It is hoped the expertise and knowledge of those participating in this project will help establish these important details.
The recovery plan, led by a team of scientists, government and user group representatives, was released in June last year and recommended a number of actions to conserve important grey nurse shark habitat, particularly the Cod Grounds area. The Federal Government has already provided high-level protection for Pimpernel Rock as a critical habitat for the grey nurse shark and will continue to do so.
The discussion paper will determine, in consultation with stakeholders and other interested parties, the best way to conserve these areas that are critical to the shark's long-term survival and will consider measures to minimise the risk of incidental injury and potential disturbance to breeding and feeding activities.
Input is sought by 11 April 2003 from all stakeholders and interested parties, including scuba divers and commercial and recreational fishers, on protection and management measures. The recovery plan is available on the internet at www.ea.gov.au/coasts/species/sharks/greynurse/plan/index.html. Submission details can be found at: www.ea.gov.au/coasts/species/sharks/greynurse/cod.html
Jo Alston (02) 6274 2894