Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4849

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (21:35): I take this opportunity to urge environment minister Burke to include the Osprey Reef and the Shark Reef as protected areas in the proposed Coral Sea marine park. A fortnight ago a number of us in parliament were fortunate enough to hear an inspiring address from the author Tim Winton about the importance of marine parks. It reinforced my view that this is an opportunity for us as a parliament to do great things that future generations will be rightly proud of. I particularly want to make the case for action in the Coral Sea and for protection of the Osprey and Shark reefs.

As the Protect our Coral Sea coalition has pointed out, oceans cover almost three-quarters of the earth's surface and contain most of the planet's biodiversity. But the oceans are in deep trouble. Up to 90 per cent of the largest fish species have been lost over the past 50 years due to overfishing. Roughly two-thirds of the world's coral reefs are damaged or threatened and about one-quarter have been destroyed. Protecting the last remaining special places before it is too late is critical. Marine parks will help ensure ocean health for generations to come. Australia's Coral Sea is one of the last places on earth where ocean giants such as sharks, tuna and marlin still abound, but less than one per cent of the Coral Sea is permanently protected from fishing, oil and gas exploration and seabed mining. Individual reefs of the Coral Sea are exceptionally distinctive. The Coral Sea is like a miniature version of the South Pacific where distances separating reefs make South Pacific reefs individually distinctive. Osprey Reef is a large atoll rising 2,000 to 3,000 metres from the sea floor on its western side. It covers an area of 348,000 square kilometres, including a large central lagoon. Its spectacular large pelagic marine life, massive reef walls and plunging drop-offs are highly prized by recreational divers. I am told that it is the most iconic dive location in the Coral Sea and one of the most spectacular dive sites in the world. Osprey attracts numerous pelagic fish, such as barracudas, giant trevallies, mackerel, rainbow runners and dog-tooth tuna. Large reef fish such as potato cods and the humphead Maori wrasse are also found here; so too is the nautilus, a living fossil thought to be between one million and five million years old.

Osprey Reef also boasts an extraordinary diversity of soft corals and gorgonian sea fans. One scientist has referred to this as soft-coral heaven. Research has uncovered coralline spongers, which are also considered living fossils, in the shallow caves of Osprey Reef. Due to their rarity and cryptic habitat, species of coralline spongers in different regions have become genetically distinct.

Shark Reef covers 92 square kilometres and is located around 15 kilometres from Osprey Reef's southern tip, Rapid Horn. A recent survey of Osprey Reef and Shark Reef has revealed species from both deep and shallow habitats, such as rock sponges, glass sponges, brachiopods and sea lilies, that are new to science. The Coral Sea serves as a system of stepping stones for species to move from the Western Pacific to the Great Barrier Reef. It is an important migratory route for many species, such as sea turtles and oceanic sharks, riding on the great ocean currents from the north-west.

The Coral Sea is a haven for endangered species: 62 threatened and protected species listed under Australia's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and 341 bird and animal species included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species are present. The government's draft plans for the Coral Sea released in November last year proposed many good things to protect the Coral Sea from oil and gas mining and trawling and longline fishing, and I strongly support these proposals. But the number of reefs to be protected from the impact of commercial and recreational fishing by being included in the marine park is small, and I would like to see it bolstered. I am told that there were over 480,000 submissions advocating increased protection for the Coral Sea—an incredible number.

I conclude by paraphrasing Tim Winton, who always says things more eloquently than the rest of us do, as follows. This is a genuine legacy moment. When your grand kids ask you what you did as a member of parliament, tax reform might do it, or that parliamentary committee; but to get that rare moment when a little kid looks up at you with a flicker of interest or even a moment of admiration, my money is on the dolphins and the marine parks.