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

HOWARD GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES NEW EFFORT TO PROTECT AUSTRALIAN SEALS


20 June 1999

The Howard government has released a new plan to protect Australia's seal populations, Federal Environment and Heritage Minister Robert Hill announced today.

"I am also pleased to be able to announce that the government is moving to immediately to declare a massive new marine park, three quarters the size of Victoria, around the World Heritage listed Macquarie Island," Senator Hill said.

"The Action Plan for Australian Seals has been prepared by Australia's leading seals expert, CSIRO scientist Dr Peter Shaughnessy.

"Australia is home for ten species of seals, including one that is classified in the action plan as endangered and another that is regarded as vulnerable.

"While populations have increased since the end of the commercial harvesting of seals, the species inhabiting Australian waters still face a range of threats including competition with fishermen for fish; entanglement in nets; oil spills and chemical contaminants; tourism; climate change; disturbance by aircraft and boats and deliberate killing.

"The plan identifies the importance of protecting the breeding and foraging grounds of seal colonies.

"This week the government will be issuing a Notice of Intent to establish a marine park on the eastern side of Macquarie Island, which lies 1500 kilometres south-east of Tasmania.

"The sea around Macquarie Island is a major breeding ground for both the subantarctic fur-seal and the southern elephant seal. It also provides pristine habitat for threatened species like the Royal Penguin, Rockhopper Penguin and five species of albatross.

"The 16 million hectare park will include a 5.8 million hectare highly protected zone in which fishing and mining will be banned - the largest of its type in the world."

Senator Hill said that the government would consider further additions to the Park on the western side of the Island once the results of CSIRO research currently underway were known.

"Members of the public will be able to comment on the proposed Macquarie Island Marine Park until 23 August 1999 before the final declaration," Senator Hill said.

"The Macquarie Island Marine Park builds on other efforts to protect Australian seals.

"Today I am announcing that I have allocated $103,000 from the Natural Heritage Trust for a major project which will determine the foraging locations, behavioural and eating patterns of Australian sea-lions and New Zealand fur seals off the Western Australian coastline.

"The results of the project will guide efforts to protect these seal populations and will complement other projects funded through the Natural Heritage Trust.

"It will bring our total contribution from the Natural Heritage Trust to seal protection to just under a quarter of a million dollars.

Senator Hill said that the government would prepare a detailed response to other recommendations in the action plan.

"As many of the threats and conservation needs of seals fall within State jurisdiction, I have written to State governments urging them to review the level of protection they provide for seals.

"It is my hope that we can establish a nationally consistent effort to protect these wonderful animals," Senator Hill said.

The Action Plan for Australian Seals can be found on the Environment Australia website at: http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/species_protection/seals/main.htm#actionplan

Details of the proposed Macquarie Island Marine Park can be found at: http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/marine_protected/macquarie/main.html

For further information:
Rod Bruem (Senator Hill's office) 0411 128 582 or (02) 6277 7640
David Kay (seals) 02 6274 2240
Peter Taylor (Macquarie Island) 02 6274 1759 or 0419 293 465

Fact Sheets attached:

Commonwealth of Australia