NATIONAL: Australia would create the biggest protected marine area in the world if draft plans to lock up large areas of ocean were accepted, federal environment Minister Tony Burke says.
Areas under consideration for marine protection include a vast area of the Coral Sea, off Queensland, which would join up with the Great Barrier Reef, and waters off Western Australia’s southwest from Geraldton to Esperance.
Under the Coral Sea plan, mining would be forbidden while recreational and charter fishing would be restricted.
“In terms of the number of hectares being placed in conservation, the draft maps which have gone out would provide the biggest single improvement in conservation, that Australia has ever seen,” Mr Burke told reporters in Hobart on Monday.
“The combination of the Coral Sea, joining up with the Great Barrier Reef area, would provide the biggest marine protected area on the planet,” he added.
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said fishing communities were not being adequately consulted and the draft plan could destroy commercial fishing.
“We will examine this process very cautiously,” he told ABC television on Monday.
A spokeswoman for Mr Burke would not confirm a report that a decision is only a week or two away.
“Some environmental groups say they believe we can go significantly further,” Mr Burke said.
“A number of commercial fishing groups have indicated they believe what I have put out in a draft plan is too ambitious.”
Pew Environment Group said the government had a clear choice.
“Create a lasting legacy for our oceans that all Australians will benefit from or let a once-in-a-generation opportunity slip through its fingers,” spokeswoman Imogen Zethoven said.