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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

26 September 2001

New Marine Areas to be Assessed for Conservation


Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill today announced plans to assess the conservation values of 11 unique marine areas in Commonwealth waters.

"Each area is unique in its own right - it may be particularly rich in marine life, or contain a unique shoal, bank, channel system, a large canyon, range of sea mountains or boast impressive deep-water plateaus and terraces," Senator Hill said.

"Most are characterised by unique geological formations or high levels of biological diversity. Some areas to be assessed contain critical seagrass and sponge bed habitat."

Senator Hill said that in Australia's Oceans Policy the Government made the commitment to accelerate the establishment of the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas and identified five areas for declaration as marine protected areas. Reserves already have been established at Macquarie, Lord Howe and Cartier Islands and the Tasmanian Seamounts. A fifth reserve in the region of Heard Island and McDonald Islands is also nearing completion.

"Work in the initial areas is now nearing completion and it is time to turn our attention to addressing remaining gaps in the national system of Marine Protected Areas," Senator Hill said.

The conservation assessments will provide valuable information as to whether the Government should proceed with declaring any of the 11 key areas as new marine protected reserves. Each assessment will identify the conservation values of the area; the threatening processes impacting on these values; and issues for consideration in a potential reserve design.

"The priority areas were identified using expert scientific advice along with information from key representatives from commercial fishing, petroleum industry and conservation sectors. This rigorous assessment process will now involve extensive consultation with all interested parties," Senator Hill said.

The assessments are likely to take from six to 24 months to complete - variations may occur due to the availability of biological information. Two areas which fall within the South East region will be subject to the regional marine planning process under the National Oceans Office.

September 26, 2001

Media contact:
Belinda Huppatz 02 6277 7640 or 0419 258 364


TABLE OF CONSERVATION ASSESSMENT AREAS

Area to be assessed

Description of known values

Expected timing for completion *

Gulf of Carpentaria seagrass beds

(Northern Territory/ Queensland)

Extensive seagrass habitat that is unique to the northern region. Water depths in the region average 50m. Important breeding area for the Northern Prawn Fishery.

6 months

Heywood Shoals

(North Western Australia)

Unique carbonate build ups that rise steeply from 250-300m to near sea surface and forming over active hydrocarbon seeps. Appear to be biologically rich and likely to support a range of unique hydrocarbon-oxidising communities, ranging from microbiological to macro-communities.

9 months

Pea Shoals

(North Western Australia)

Unique carbonate build ups that rise steeply from 250-300m to near sea surface and forming over active hydrocarbon seeps. Appear to be biologically rich and likely to support a range of unique hydrocarbon-oxidising communities, ranging from microbiological to macro-communities.

9 months

Sea Angel Bank

(North Western Australia)

Major low relief bank of about 10-20m high and 15km wide, stretching in a north-easterly direction for 300km. Unique geological feature composed entirely of shelled pterapods.

6-9 months

Wallaby Plateau

(Western Australia)

Discrete deep water plateau (2500-5000m) and terraces. Complex topography and rugged terrain make the topographic complexity amenable to hosting significant diversity of fauna unique to this water depth. In pristine condition with benthic biotopes expected to be undisturbed.

24 months

Naturaliste Plateau

(South Western Australia)

Discrete deep water plateau (2500-5000m) and terraces. Complex topography and rugged terrain make the topographic complexity amenable to hosting significant diversity of fauna unique to this water depth. In pristine condition with benthic biotopes expected to be undisturbed.

24 months

Swan Canyon

(South Western Australia)

Located off Rottnest Island. Sinuous canyon on edge of the continental shelf, extending down the slope. Provides a link between shallow temperate faunas on shelf near the Island and deep-water faunas influenced by oceanic circulation.

12 months

Eucla Canyon

(Western/South Australia)

Located in the Great Australian Bight in 1000-3500m of water 200km offshore. Steep and complex canyon system separating the Eyre and Ceduna Terraces. Possible deep water upwelling events that may be significant for whale feeding and calving grounds.

6 months

Blue whale aggregation site

(South Australia/Victoria)

Shelf break at approx. 200m water depth extending between Port MacDonnell and Warrnambool. The site of a combination of unique biota, seafloor topography and oceanic processes. Unique upwellings associated with blue whale aggregations and other significant marine species.

6 months

Bass Strait Sponge Beds

(Victoria/Tasmania)

The deeper reef areas of Bass Strait (>20m) support a diverse range of sessile invertebrates such as sponges, bryozoans and gorgonians that flourish in low light conditions. The large sponge "gardens" are largely unexplored but are likely to be extremely species rich, high in endemism and likely to include many species new to science.

12 months

Norfolk Seamounts

(Norfolk Island region)

Large seamounts, including one 50km long, rising from 3000m to a 700m below sea level. Expected to support a high diversity of endemic fauna.

18 months

* Timing from project/survey commencement

Commonwealth of Australia