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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 508


Senator WATERS (Queensland) (09:59): Happy new year to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and all of my fellow senators. I am very pleased to start the new parliamentary year by speaking about the importance of looking after our precious marine environ­ment. As a very proud Queenslander, I will focus on the amazing region in our north-east, the Coral Sea, which is currently awaiting protection. I will also talk about the great benefits that decent protection has brought to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Coral Sea is absolutely unique. It has 18 coral reef systems and a chain of undersea volcanoes which stretch 1,300 kilometres, with canyons of up to five kilometres deep. It is recognised as a global biodiversity hot spot. It has ocean giants such as sharks, tuna, marlin, swordfish and sailfish in massive abundance. It has 28 different species of dolphins and whales. It has six of the world's seven species of marine turtle. It has soft corals and large sea fans and spectacular sponge gardens. It is home to many species of coral, fish and invertebrates which are not found anywhere else on this planet. Clearly, it is a national heritage treasure. But it is not only that; it is also of significant historical importance to Australia. It was, of course, the scene of the 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea. I took the opportunity to mention this fact to President Obama on his visit, and he said that he would love to come and have a look at the Coral Sea. I certainly hope he does so. The 70th anniversary of the battle will be in May this year, and what an opportunity it will be to protect this underwater paradise. It is perfect timing.

The Coral Sea was declared a conserva­tion zone a few years ago when the govern­ment went through its marine bioregional planning processes, and the draft bioregional plan for the Coral Sea was released in November last year. The Greens welcomed the proposed ban on oil and gas mining and seabed trawling and gillnet fishing through­out the Coral Sea, but it is proposed to protect only half of the Coral Sea. This is a huge missed opportunity to create the world's largest marine national park. The proposed plan for a multi-use marine reserve simply does not go far enough and is piecemeal. Only two reefs of the specific 25 reefs in the Coral Sea will receive full protection, and that just does not seem enough to me. Instead of treating the region like a Swiss cheese and having different use zones, it would be much easier for the government to manage and monitor an entirely protected region. Nearly 70 per cent of Queenslanders support turning the entire area into a fully protected marine national park, so I hope that the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populat­ion and Communities, Mr Burke, in his consultations, has a good ear to the ground and listens to the community. Public consult­ation is still open—it closes in two weeks, on Friday, 24 February—and I call upon anyone who in their spare time is listening or reading the Hansardand anyone who loves our oceans and this precious region to please make your voice heard. Write to federal environment minister Burke and ask him to act on this amazing opportunity to protect this vast pristine ocean area by making it the world's largest marine national park.

Making this area the world's largest marine national park is not just about protecting our environment; it is also critical for the long-term sustainability of our fisheries. There is no better example of the protection of our fisheries than the fantastic outcomes we have seen in the green zones in the Great Barrier Reef. Quite a bit of research has been done on the effectiveness of the green zones, and most recently some research by the US National Academy of Sciences in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, AIMS, as well as James Cook University has found that the green zones—surprise, surprise!—really do work. According to this research:

… the network of marine reserves on the GBR has brought major, sustained ecological benefits, including enhanced populations of target fish, sharks, and even corals, the foundation of the coral reef ecosystem.

So this body of research has found that there have been rapid increases of fish inside the no-take reserves in both reef and non-reef habitats. This is very important for both our fishers and our tourism operators. The protected fish inside those no-take areas are bigger, so they will contribute many more larvae to the whole ecosystem. Therefore, the benefits of these no-take areas are expected to extend outside the no-take boundaries and to replenish the surrounding areas, which are open to fishing. It is a simple thing: protecting the fish breeding grounds gives you more and bigger fish. The green zones are also benefiting the overall health and resilience of the ecosystem. For example, the researchers found that there are less frequent outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish on no-take reefs. Much to my horror, a recent briefing from AIMS says that crown-of-thorns starfish are still a massive issue in the GBR and that we are losing the battle. This is just one way that we can try to tackle that continuing problem. In short, we know that no-take areas can play a crucial role as recharge zones for sea-life popula­tions, thereby ensuring the long-term sustain­ability of our environment and recreational and commercial fishing as well as the local tourism industry.

I take issue with something that Senator Edwards raised on behalf of the opposition. He was waxing lyrical about the Liberals being on the side of the fishers. Frankly, I thought that was a bit rich. I moved a motion late last year calling for the suspension of dredging in Gladstone harbour and, in fact, up and down the reef, where we have seen massive impacts on local fish populations. We have seen fish with red spot disease, which has now spread to sharks and crabs. We are seeing absolute devastation in Gladstone harbour. It is so serious that the fishing industry was shut down for about three weeks last year. It has now been re-opened, but the local fishermen are still saying that they do not want to catch the fish there. The fish are still sick, and the bottom has dropped out of the local industry there. No-one will buy the fish because, of course, they are not prepared to sell diseased fish.

Where are the Nationals and the Liberals on this issue? I hear that Senator Boswell is agitating for better compensation for those local fishers, and that is fantastic. We certainly support that—we think it is ridicu­lous that one industry, the coal seam gas industry, has been allowed to dredge the harbour beyond recognition and the fisher­men have been left to suffer. We are all for proper compensation for the fishers, but that is not the whole story. Is Senator Boswell going to allow the dredging to continue? What about the next fishing community when five other ports are opened up for coal and coal seam gas export? I am afraid it is a bit rich for the Liberals and the Nats to claim that they are somehow the great champions of the fishing industry, when they have been prepared to abandon Gladstone harbour and do nothing to stop this massive dredging program for coal and coal seam gas export.

The Greens do not support the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011. We fully support marine protected areas. They are good for fishing, they are good for tourism, they are good for our economy and they are good for the future of our grandkids.