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Coral Sea Conservation Zone announced -

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PETER CAVE: The Federal Government has moved to protect nearly one million square kilometres of
ocean off Australia's north-east coast while it considers whether to set up a new marine park or
several of them in the region.

The Environment Minister Peter Garrett announced the move this morning, establishing the Coral Sea
Conservation Zone in Australian territorial waters east of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The Minister says there'll be no impact on those who already use the vast areas of ocean, and that
existing fishing and cruising rights remain in place.

Environment reporter Shane McLeod has the story.

SHANE MCLEOD: The Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett is just back from Indonesia, where at
the World Oceans Conference he's been hearing about fears for the future of the world's tropical
seas.

Back home, he's announced some of the steps Australia will take in protecting those waters.

Standing before a tank filled with circling sharks at Sydney Aquarium, he's released details of the
eastern Australia marine bioregional profile.

It's a key document in a long-running process the Government has been following to assess
protection measures in place for all of the waters that surround the Australian territory.

And as it continues that assessment, the Minister has decided that the waters of the Coral Sea need
immediate attention.

He's announced the establishment of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone.

PETER GARRETT: This will enable a period of thorough assessment of the values of this marine
environment and we will welcome very much the involvement from all stakeholders and the Government
in inputting into that assessment process.

SHANE MCLEOD: The conservation zone will cover nearly one million square kilometres, stretching
from the east of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park out to Australia's territorial boundaries with
Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

Those who are already allowed to do things in the waters - like fishing, scientific research or
cruise shipping - will be allowed to maintain their rights.

Peter Garrett says the goal is to stop any expansion of activity while the assessment of the region
is underway.

PETER GARRETT: I'm confident that existing users will recognise that they have every opportunity to
continue with the activities that they've been undertaking up to this point in time, so long as
it's done in accordance with appropriate legislation.

I think on the part of the scientific community, there will be I think a recognition that we can
see how important it is that we fully understand the range of values that an area like the Coral
Sea has.

I'm very confident that the way in which we've made this decision enables us to properly and
prudently assess the values of this area, whilst at the same time enabling those who have had
activities in that area up to this point in time to continue them.

SHANE MCLEOD: The Minister's been lobbied by environmental groups to take drastic steps to protect
the waters of the Coral Sea. Some are arguing for all extractive industries, including fishing, to
be banned in the region.

The Minister says the establishment of the conservation zone is an interim step while various
proposals are considered.

The US-based Pew Environmental Group is one of the groups that's been arguing for increased
protection.

Its spokeswoman Elise Hawthorne says today's announcement by the Minister is a welcome step.

ELISE HAWTHORNE: We think it's a wonderful announcement today. We're very happy that the Minister
made this announcement.

And we're just really supportive of anything that protects the Coral Sea. It's such an amazing,
spectacular marine jewel that's part of Australia, and it's got an extremely important heritage
value as well.

So we welcome today's announcement.

SHANE MCLEOD: The Minister has also won initial approval from recreational fishers in Queensland.

They've recently expressed concerns that fishing could be banned in the region.

And while they have yet to see the full details of today's announcement, they say they're happy the
Minister has decided to maintain the status quo.

Peter Garrett believes it's the appropriate balance.

PETER GARRETT: It recognises that those who have existing activities underway in the Coral Sea area
can continue them, whilst we get a deeper and a better understanding of the values of this
incredible marine resource.

So I think that we have done absolutely the right thing in recognition of how important this region
is. In doing that we're acknowledging that there are existing uses and that those existing uses can
continue.

PETER CAVE: The Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett ending Shane McLeod's report.