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Media Release
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon. Dr David Kemp

3 December 2003

Reef Protection Increased Six-Fold


An historic and visionary plan to further protect and manage the Great Barrier Reef was tabled today in Federal Parliament by the Minister for Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp.

"The new Zoning Plan for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park - a Howard Government election promise - will provide the largest network of protected marine areas in the world and is the largest marine protection plan in the history of the Great Barrier Reef," Dr Kemp said.

"It is based on the best science from Australia and internationally and will become an important insurance policy for the Reef, offering environmental protection as well as security for industries and communities that depend on the Reef.

"This Plan is also based on one of the most extensive and comprehensive formal community consultations in Australia's history, extending over two years, with over 31,000 submissions from individuals, community groups and industry bodies.

"By closely involving communities, advisory committees, industry groups, local governments, state and federal representatives and literally thousands of individuals, we have been able to gain a wide cross-section of views to assist with the rezoning."

The consultation process has ensured social and economic impacts from the new Plan are minimised and every community along the GBR coast will see obvious and substantial adjustments to the Draft Zoning Plan which was distributed mid-year.

"Only 4.5% of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is currently protected from extractive practices such as fishing and collecting under current management arrangements. The vast weight of scientific evidence indicates this is not enough," Dr Kemp said.

"The new Zoning Plan will significantly increase protection of the Park to 33.3%, offering a network of new `Green Zones' to provide greater protection for the Reef's unique and precious biodiversity by prohibiting extractive activity.

"As careful as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has been to minimise impacts on all communities, there will always be unavoidable impacts with a program of this scale. This is why the Australian Government agreed in principle recently to a structural adjustment package for commercial fishers and others who may be adversely impacted by the implementation of the Plan.

"This decision of Cabinet has provided welcome reassurance and will ensure fair treatment for those adversely affected."

Dr Kemp has lodged the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan with the clerks of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

"The new Zoning Plan is only one of the Howard Government environmental initiatives underway to ensure the future protection of the Great Barrier Reef," he said. "In concert with the Queensland Government, we have released the draft Water Quality Protection Plan to protect the Reef from land-based pollution. We are also funding community-based water improvement projects through the Natural Heritage Trust and have significantly strengthened law enforcement on the Reef.


Fact Sheet - The Great Barrier Reef and the Zoning Plan


The Reef

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (the Reef) is the largest marine park in the world, covering more than 348,000 sq km - that's larger than England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales combined and slightly smaller than Germany and Japan.

It is also the only living thing that you can see from space with the naked eye.

The Reef is more than 2000 km long and comprises more than 2900 reefs and about 940 islands. There are 1500 types of fish, 360 types of hard corals, 4000 types of molluscs (eg. shells), 1500 types of sponge, 800 types of echinoderms (sea stars, sea urchins etc), 500 types of seaweed, over 30 types of marine mammals and six types of marine turtles.

Threats

There are fewer fish in a number of areas and between 70 and 80 per cent of coastal wetlands have been lost in most of the major river catchments adjacent to the Reef. Nutrients such as phosphate and nitrogen have increased by 200 to 1500 per cent in river discharges.

Coastal development, fishing and farming have all contributed to the increase in pollution. This has also led to worrying trends threatening the animals and plants on the Reef.

For example, the Queensland population of loggerhead turtles has suffered a 90 per cent decline in the annual number of nesting females - now an estimated 200 - since the 1970s. Dugongs have also suffered a 90 per cent decline - now an estimated 4000 south of Cooktown since the 1960s.

An iconic powerhouse

The Reef is an economic powerhouse for northern Australia, responsible for tens of thousands of jobs and nearly five billion dollars worth of economic activity. A recent Yale University study showed the Reef is the most valuable coral reef in the world and that it is one of the world's most popular ecotourism sites.

In fact, the Great Barrier Reef islands were voted the second best islands in the world, after Bali, by 200,000 subscribers to the influential American travel magazine, Travel and Leisure. Diving in the Great Barrier Reef was also rated as number 2 in the BBC's The 50 Things To Do Before You Die survey.

The Plan

The new Zoning Plan tabled today will ensure the protection of the Reef for future generations - a six-fold increase in protected zones and marine sanctuaries (from 4.5 to 33.3 per cent) within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park that will create the largest network of protected marine areas in the world.

This is an historic and visionary plan to further protect and manage the Reef for all Australians. This is a plan based on the best science from Australia and internationally, and on one of the most extensive and comprehensive community consultations in Australia's history - over 31,000 public submissions from involved and interested Australians.

It is a plan owned by the Australian community.

Protecting Green Zones

By ensuring a reasonable amount of each of the 70 bioregions is in a protected zone (known locally as a Green Zone) where extractive activities are banned, we can retain for future generations the unique and iconic status of the Reef.

By providing protection for these bioregions, it will help marine species recover. This will ultimately lead to an increase in both the number and size of fish and other marine species.

Supporting industry and community

This historic increase in protection for the Reef will help to ensure it remains a national and international icon, and will also help to guarantee the lifestyles and livelihoods of the many thousands of Australians who depend on the reef for income or recreation.

The consultation process has ensured that impacts from the new Plan on existing users of the Reef within the Park are minimised and every community along the Reef coast will see obvious and substantial adjustments from the Draft Zoning Plan which was distributed mid-year.

As careful as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has been to minimise impacts on all communities, with a program of this scale there will always be unavoidable impacts.

That's why Cabinet recently announced an in-principle agreement for a structural adjustment package for those who may be adversely impacted by the implementation of the Plan.

Ongoing initiatives

This new Plan is just one of the Howard Government's environmental initiatives to ensure the future protection of the Reef.

In concert with the Queensland Government, we have released the draft Water Quality Protection Plan to protect the Reef from land-based pollution.

We are also funding community-based water improvement projects through the Natural Heritage Trust and have significantly strengthened law enforcement on the Reef, which has seen a record number of people arrested for illegal activity.

These initiatives are part of the Howard Government's world leading Oceans Policy to protect and sustainably manage Australia's 16 million square kilometres of oceans.

The next step

The implementation of the Plan will be preceded by a comprehensive public education campaign to ensure that all reef users understand and appreciate the changes on the water.

Commonwealth of Australia