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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Coral Sea conservation zone announcement

Doorstop interview, Sydney Aquarium, Sydney
19 May 2009

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GARRET: I'll take the opportunity just to welcome you to the Sydney Aquarium on a really important day for the Government as we declare a conservation zone for the Coral Sea and release the East Marine Bioregional Plan, which sees us taking an important step in the protection of one of the most pristine marine environments in the world.

And this is a recognition of the importance that the Government places on ensuring that we have good marine environment protection, sustainable management of the marine resource. And it comes on the back of some significant bioregional planning exercises that have been undertaken by the Department right around Australia.

By releasing the East Marine Bioregional Profile today and by declaring a conservation zone for the Coral Sea, this will enable a period of thorough assessment of the values of this marine environment. And we will welcome, very much, the involvement from all stakeholders and the Government in inputting into that assessment process.

By declaring a conservation zone for the Coral Sea over nearly one million square kilometres of our marine environment, we're saying that we recognise that this particular marine environment has very special values, important environmental values. It's an interim measure and it will not impose any regulatory burdens on existing use. It's designed to make sure that we have no additional pressures coming into the Coral Sea whilst we conduct this assessment.

I'm delighted that we have Dr Peter Doherty here from AIMS to provide you with some additional information in relation to the environmental values of the Coral Sea. Can I just note that it is an area which has an extraordinary array of coral reefs, it's a distinct region of significant environmental high value, an area which is very important to marine turtles, to humpback whales and an area that's been identified, quite consistently, as being amongst the most pristine marine environments in the world.

So this is a really important day. Under national environment legislation, the Rudd Government shows its strong commitment to the marine environment by declaring a conservation zone over nearly one million square kilometres of the Coral Sea. And we do this knowing that the existing uses that are in place will continue whilst we go through a process of thorough and very careful evaluation of the values of this really special marine environment. I can show you here the East Marine Bioregional Plan, Bioregional Profile. And, again, we invite stakeholders and the public to contribute to the assessment process and the feedback process. Happy to take any questions.

When you say this doesn't affect existing uses, does it restrict any expansion of those existing uses?

GARRET: What this means is that, in the case of commercial activities, they will be able to continue if they are being undertaken at the moment under the appropriate legislation, State legislation. It will be a requirement that people do seek a permit with some commercial activities, such as charter boat operations, scientific operations. That'll be a free permit. There will be a period of three months grace which will enable people to be aware of the requirement for a permit. In the case of recreational fishing, no permits will be required and recreational fishing activities will continue as they have up to this point in time.

JOURNALIST How long will the assessment process go for? When will the [inaudible]?

GARRET: I'd expect that assessment process to go through the remainder of this year and into 2010. My expectation would be that by mid point 2010 - towards the second half of 2010 - that assessment process will be concluded. And then the Government will be in a position to determine what, if any, additional measures need to be considered in relation, not only to the Coral Sea conservation zone itself, but also the East Marine Profile.

JOURNALIST Are you expecting much opposition to taking this step? Like, is there a pressing need to do this now?

GARRET: Well, I think this is a really important step that we've taken today and I'm confident that existing users will recognise that they have every opportunity to continue with the activities that they've been undertaking up to this point in time, so long as it's done in accordance with appropriate legislation.

I think, on the part of the scientific community, there will be, I think, a recognition that we can see how important it is that we fully understand the range of values that an area like the Coral Sea has. I'm very confident that the way in which we've made this decision enables us to properly and prudently assess the values of this area, whilst at the same time enabling those that have had activities in that area up to this point in time to continue them.

JOURNALIST Were there pressing [inaudible]?

GARRET: Well, I think one of the things that we can say about our marine environment is that they are under significant threats generally. Just to give you but one example, increasing acidification that we see in the ocean as a consequence of the storage of carbon that's come about as a consequence of climate change. Again, this is an area which is virtually pristine and it's very high environmental values mean that it needs a thorough assessment at this point in time. By declaring a conservation zone in this way, we enable the assessment and understanding of the region to start immediately. That's important work. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the progress of that work. But it also means that those people who have been using this area, whether it's for scientific purposes, whether it's for rec fishing or for commercial activities, will be able to continue to do that.

JOURNALIST There have been calls for a number of years for an end to [inaudible] oil exploration and commercial fishing on the Coral Sea. Some would say that this doesn't go far enough and those need to be ended already.

GARRET: Well, I think the fact of the matter is that by declaring a conservation zone we provide the opportunity for us to have a really thorough and very full assessment of the values of the area. If there are to be additional applications for activity, then they would have to be undertaken through the normal regulatory process.

And what we're saying here is that we recognise how important these marine environments are for Australia and Australians. We recognise that good protection of our marine environment and sustainable environment management of our marine environment are the twin goals that we set ourselves as a government. And this is a process that will help us deliver those goals.

Okay, thanks very much everybody.


Commonwealth of Australia