After this, our oceans might never be the same again

Feature Story - 9 July, 2013
It’s been over a decade in the making, but Australia can stand proud on the global stage as a world leader in marine protection and conservation.
©Abram Powell/Greenpeace

Just before parliament rose for the winter break, it took what is just about the final step toward establishing a national network of marine protected areas covering 3.1 million square kilometers. It’s a great time for green turtles, sea lions, grey nurse sharks, hump back whales, dugongs and seabirds that will now have greater protection from industrial activities, such as large scale fishing and fossil fuel extraction.

This development comes at a critical time for our oceans. To put it in perspective, in recent years nearly 50% of Australia’s coral reefs have disappeared. And globally, around 90% of large pelagic (surface swimming) fish, such as tuna, sharks and swordfish, have disappeared from our oceans.

This decision can, over time, reverse some of the harm that has so far been done to our oceans. It provides a buffer against the threats from coastal development, unsustainable fishing, and climate change. Here’s a basic breakdown of what this new legislation means:

  • One third of Australian waters will be part of the national marine network.
  • Within the network, there will be some important areas off limits to fishing, fossil fuel extraction and other industrial activities.
  • Fully protected reserves will become havens where marine life can thrive, increasing in size, diversity and resilience.
  • By increasing fish populations, it will help ensure that we can enjoy productive Australian fisheries well into the future.

The ocean is deeply embedded in Australian culture, which makes this enormous news for all Australians and a day to be proud of. Our challenge now is to turn this achievement into a foundation for ocean protection globally. We’ve made a great step forward that we hope others will follow. Australia is now well-placed to become a champion for marine protection on the global stage.

This achievement did not come easily. It’s taken years to reach this point. You might have made one of the 750,000 public submissions, or signed your name on a petition next to half a million others. But above all, this is a huge win that represents what people-powered movements can achieve with persistence and determination.

Of course, things can change pretty quickly in Canberra.  To help remind decision-makers that Australia is grateful for this historic step forward, visit the Protect It Forever website and send a message to your local MP telling them how much you appreciate our new marine parks.