Australia’s controversial Coral Sea reserve divides critics

Plans to create a marine reserve that will become the largest protected area in the world have been announced by Australian officials last week, with controversy already rising about its motives and success.

The reserve will cover 3.1 sq km, enclosing the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef, areas of significant biodiversity. In the current context of marine protection, which is notoriously lacking, decisions to create the reserve should be highly commended, but closer examination has divided opinions of environmentalists and politicians.

Coral Outcrop at Flynn Reef, Great Barrier Reef – Toby Hudson

Restrictions on fishing, a major cause of conservation concern globally, have been estimated to cost the industry 36,000 jobs; compensation of 100m AUD has been suggested by Australia’s Environmental Minister. Whilst the fishing industry may resent the reserve plans, environmentalists have been quick to point out that 80% of the reserve will be open to fishing, two thirds of which may be commercial.

Oil and gas exploration is another issue. Burke declares the reserve to be “leading that next step [in protecting our oceans]”, but others claim the design to be heavily influenced by appeasing Australia’s oil and gas industries. A significant North-west region, where energy exploration has already been developed, has been left vulnerable, as are many lucrative patches around the framework.

With many conflicting interests to consider, such plans were certain to cause contention, but risk angering those concerned when sincerity and loyalty becomes questioned.


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