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Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2001-2004

The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP



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Media Release
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

7 June 2004

Australia takes lead on World Oceans Day

The Australian Government has taken the lead in promoting the sustainability of the high seas during debate in the United Nations today.

In an important debate that coincides with World Oceans Day tomorrow, Australia aims to win agreement from other nations to work towards more sustainable management of the high seas by ensuring biodiversity conservation and management was included in the United Nations General Assembly's resolution later this year on oceans and the international Law of the Sea.

"All nations have a combined responsibility to ensure that the international ocean territory beyond national jurisdictions are sustainability managed," Dr Kemp said.

"Our high-seas oceans are vulnerable because they are not governed with the same controls that are in place in domestic waters. This has the potential to lead to a classic tale of the tragedy of the commons unless we can put in place sustainability structures to ensure the oceans wealth is there for future generations as well as for today.

"Australia hopes to lead by example and is already working with New Zealand on measures to protect the ocean 'commons' between our island nations."

Australia has much to celebrate on World Oceans day this year following the Howard Government's visionary plan to increase the level of highly protected zones on the Great Barrier Reef seven times and the launch of the world's-first fully integrated across uses regional marine plan covering two million square kilometres of ocean around the South-east of our continent.

Since 1996, the Australian Government has also increased marine protected areas in Commonwealth waters by a factor of ten to around 60 million hectares (see attached chart) and been awarded two gifts to the Earth by the World Wide Fund for Nature for marine reserves and South Pacific whale sanctuaries.

"The Australian Government hopes these actions can demonstrate to the world what can be achieved with political will and by building partnerships with other nations, industry, the conservation sector and the scientific and legal communities. Our approach recognises that it is in everyone's long-term interest to have a sustainable marine environment," Dr Kemp said.

Australia first raised the importance of high seas biodiversity conservation and sustainable management during the Commission on Sustainable Development in 1999. It was again pursued through the world summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, the World Parks Congress, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, in which the Australian delegation is currently involved.

"It is said we know less about our deep oceans than we do about the surface of Mars but as the nation with the world's largest ocean jurisdiction, Australia has a special interest in this issue," Dr Kemp said.

Fact sheet: Australia's Marine Protected Areas

As Australia has the world's largest area of ocean territory of some 14 million square kilometres, marine protection has been one of the Australian Government's key environmental priorities.

Australia is fortunate in that our ocean waters have not seen the scale of marine ecosystem collapse we have witnessed in other parts of the world such as the Grand Banks of the North Atlantic, where, for example, 90 per cent of the Newfoundland fishery has been wiped out.

That's why Australia is regarded internationally as a world leader in oceans management since the release of Australia's Oceans Policy in 1998.

A key feature of this Policy is the development of marine protected areas (MPAs).

Since the Howard Government came into power, the process to identify and declare MPAs where they are needed has been pursued in earnest (see graph below).

Commonwealth Marine Protected Areas - total area managed under the EPBC Act

During this period new MPAs included the Great Australian Bight Marine Park, the Tasman Sea Mounts Marine Reserve, Macquarie Island Marine Reserve, Lord Howe Island Marine Park, Cartier Island Marine Reserve and the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve.

The first of Australia's regional marine plans is the South-east Regional Marine Plan. This Plan already contains two Marine Protected Area candidate options covering some 40,000 square kilometres - roughly two-thirds the size of Tasmania or twice the size of Kakadu National Park. In addition, there are another nine MPA proposals to be developed which are described the status report on Marine Protected Areas in the body of the Plan.

These achievements mean that internationally, we are increasingly being regarded as the banner bearer on marine issues - be it the sustainable development of our fisheries and petroleum industries or in our quest to protect whales and other migratory species.

Just recently the Australian Government was awarded Gifts to the Earth from the World Wide Fund for Nature for our efforts in creating whale sanctuaries as well as creating some of the worlds largest and most important marine protection zones such as the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve in Australia's remote Sub Antarctic waters.

Commonwealth of Australia