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ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Scientists call for world’s largest marine park in Coral Sea

10
Sep 2008

Australia’s most eminent tropical marine scientists today strongly backed calls by the Pew Environment Group and partners to secure world-class, no-take marine reserves at key locations around the world. They called for the Coral Sea, an immense area to the east of tropical Australia, to be made the world’s largest marine protected area.

The researchers said that the whole Coral Sea should become a no-fishing area, to protect its immense environmental and heritage values from the escalating threats of overfishing and climate change.

Grey reef sharks

 

“There is overwhelming evidence the world’s marine ecosystems have been seriously degraded by overfishing, pollution and global warming. These trends call for urgent, practical solutions” says Professor Terry Hughes, Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University. “Eleven percent of land habitats have been designated as parks to conserve their biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide to people.  In contrast, less than 0.1 per cent of the world’s oceans are fully protected.”

The Coral Sea provides critical habitats for many species, including critically endangered Hawksbill and endangered Green turtles, 25 species of whales and dolphins; and 27 species of sea bird, says Professor Hugh Possingham, Director of the Ecology Centre, University of Queensland. “At least 13 species of seabird breed on Coral Sea islands, including regionally important populations of the Red-footed Booby, Lesser frigate bird and Greater frigate bird.  The Coral Sea is one of the few places remaining on earth where large pelagic fishes (tuna, billfish and sharks) have not yet been severely depleted,” he says.

The researchers say that fishing pressure in the Coral Sea has grown rapidly in the past 20 years, and catches are already in decline relative to the fishing effort put in. There is also an unsustainable bycatch of turtles, sharks and birds in pelagic fisheries. The rapid decline of large sharks due to illegal finning is also a major concern worldwide.  “Fishing activities in the Coral Sea contribute to significant declines of sharks, turtles and seabirds on the adjoining Great Barrier Reef.  A single large no-take zone is the best approach for protecting these pelagic and migratory species because they cannot be protected inside small reserves,” says Professor John Pandolfi of the University of Queensland.

“The rich coral fauna of the Coral Sea has already been damaged by coral bleaching, which is set to increase in frequency and scale due to global warming.” adds Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the Centre for Marine Studies at The University of Queensland. “Reefs in the Coral Sea are small and relatively isolated from each other, making them more reliant on large-scale dispersal of larvae than the highly interconnected Great Barrier Reef.”

“A single large no-take area (encompassing Australia’s Coral Sea jurisdiction) would ensure that the scale of management appropriately matches the biological scale of important ecosystem processes such as dispersal and migration.” The Coral Sea is one of only a handful of places in the world, where a very large oceanic no-take park could be created, monitored and supported by the overwhelming majority of citizens in a single national jurisdiction, adds Professor Hughes.

The researchers point out that the Coral Sea has acted as a vital reservoir for reef biodiversity during past periods of rapid change in climate and sea level.  It is relatively free from the land-based pollution that affects parts of the Great Barrier Reef, and currently has much lower levels of fishing. “The creation of the Coral Sea No-Take Area will ensure that this region remains globally significant for the protection to tropical marine biota,” they conclude.

A very large no-take park immediately adjacent to the GBRMP and its network of highly protected areas would become by far the world’s largest protected ocean ecosystem.  It would: Make an unparalleled contribution to global marine conservation by setting a new benchmark for large-scale protection, Enhance the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef by reducing human impacts in the adjoining Coral Sea, Enhance Australia’s reputation as a world leader in the stewardship of marine biodiversity, and Foster the growth of sustainable tourism industries.

More information:
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director, Centre for Marine Studies, University of Queensland, ph +61 7 3365 1156
Professor Terry Hughes, Director, ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University ph +61 7 4781-4222 or +61 0400 720 164
Professor John Pandolfi, Centre for Marine Studies, University of Queensland, ph +61 0400 982 301.
Professor Hugh Possingham, Director, The Ecology Centre, University of Queensland, ph +61 0434 079 061
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, +61 7 4781 4222
Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, +61 7 4781 4822
Jan King, UQ Communications Manager, +61 7 3365 1120

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au