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

Dugong Sanctuaries 'A World First'

15 August 1997

The Federal Government has welcomed the decision of the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council to establish Dugong Protected Areas in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill says the establishment of the sanctuaries is a major milestone in efforts to save the dugong.

"Dugongs occur in the waters of more than 40 countries, and all except Australia are developing nations.

"Dugong are recognised as one of the values for which the Great Barrier Reef was world heritage listed. Australia has a special responsibility to protect the dugong"

Senator Hill said that urgent action was required to protect dugong in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

"Dugong numbers in the Great Barrier Reef region have declined dramatically over the last decade - it is estimated there has been a decline of between 50-80% since the early 1980's.

"The decision of the Ministerial Council demonstrates the commitment of the Commonwealth and Queensland governments to protecting the dugong. This is an historic initiative - we have created the world's first chain of dugong sanctuaries.

"The decision of the Ministerial Council has been reached on the basis of the best available science, providing renewed confidence that the decline in dugong numbers can be reversed."

Dr Russ Reichelt, Director of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Chair of the Dugong Scientific Working Group, and Professor Helene Marsh, the world's leading dugong expert and member of the group commented:

"The initiatives take into account the best available scientist advice on dugongs and seagrass and represent a significant step towards halting the decline in dugong numbers over a huge length of coast from Hinchinbrook Island to Hervey Bay. We look forward to action on other causes of the decline especially the conservation of seagrass. "

Senator Hill said every effort had been made to minimise the impact of the decision on the fishing industry and that compensation would be provided for fishers affected by the decision.

The sanctuary strategy will also feature increased surveillance and enforcement efforts to ensure the measures decided upon are delivering a positive outcome for dugong survival.

Media contact: Matt Brown, 06 277 7640; 0419 693 515

Commonwealth of Australia