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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 7958

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (11:10): I rise to talk on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012, which I am very pleased to talk about today. When I was a child, my dream was to become an astronaut, which clearly I have failed on.

Senator Payne: There's still time.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: There is still time. Perhaps my little boy can carry that dream forward. But about 15 years ago I was at Cape Canaveral, at the Kennedy Space Center. While we were observing the space shuttle on the launching pad, I looked over to the ocean—because, of course, the space centre is built on the ocean. What caught my attention at the time was some fantastic surf and the fact that there was nobody on the beach or in the water, which I thought was quite unusual. So I asked the security guard why that was the case, and he said to me, 'There's an exclusion zone around the space station—34 miles.' Converting that, it is around 55 kilometres. In fact, it extended to 64 miles in the period leading up to the launch of the shuttle.

What is really interesting about this is that it is how the benefits of marine protected areas were discovered, totally by accident. I will read a couple of excerpts from the Los Angeles Times about this concept. It was when the fisheries towns that were on the edge of this exclusion zone starting getting better boats, bigger houses and more money that people started to take notice. What was the logic behind this? The Los Angeles Times said:

Since the dawn of the Space Age, fishermen here have grown to accept the 15-square-mile security zone that keeps boats out of the waters surrounding rocket launching pads.

Indeed, clever fishermen long ago learned how to parlay a forbidden zone into a bonanza: If an area is set off-limits, the fishing on the perimeter can be extraordinary.

Scientists more recently discovered the same thing, carefully recording the remarkable abundance of fish in the protected waters surrounding the Kennedy Space Center and the cluster of trophy fish caught just outside the boundary.

This case study of the "spillover effect" has surfaced as a prime argument for establishing similar no-fishing zones off the California coast. State officials are planning a network of no-take zones around the Channel Islands, in addition to last week's emergency closing of—

a trawling zone. It is often not understood that the benefits of marine protected areas were discovered by accident, and actually the earliest science was focused on those particular waters around the space centre as to what was causing this abundance of fish. It makes a lot of sense to think that, if you have a biodiverse area and you leave it alone, you are going to get what we call these spillover effects where we have an increase in fecundity of fish and, of course, larger biomass numbers. Since that time there have been literally thousands of studies of marine protected areas, some of which I will go through in a minute.

The reason I am very pleased to talk in this debate is that I have had some experience with marine protected areas in the past. Four years ago I volunteered for the ACF and the Wilderness Society to brief the South Australian government and opposition on the economics of marine protected areas, which of course is a good tie between the science and the socioeconomic benefits of marine protected areas. At the time, I had to read all the latest research and a number of economic reports, and I discovered when I visited South Australia that there is actually a lot of logic in marine protected areas not just from a conservation point of view but also from a fisheries management point of view. If you go onto the South Australian government website, in terms of promoting marine parks it says:

Scientific research from around the world is demonstrating that marine parks are a powerful tool to help protect our coastal and marine environments and maintain them in a healthy condition.

…   …   …

The location of and design of marine parks in South Australia will be based on scientifically informed principles and thorough and ongoing scientific studies which began in the 1990's.

In fact, research on the Cape Kennedy area dates back to the 1960s. There has been a considerable body of scientific evidence that supports the conservation benefits and underpins the economic benefits of marine protected areas.

We have had a lot of debate in this chamber in recent months about fisheries, the super trawler debate having occupied this place for a number of weeks. I think what we all had agreement on in the end was that a boat like the super trawler needed our spatial fisheries management plan, a plan that will address the risks to certain ecosystems in the ocean and will take into account what scientists call 'biodiverse hotspots'. I asked a good friend of mine—I will not name him in here but he is one of the top fishery scientists in the country working in a very honourable university in Melbourne—how he would construct such a spatial fisheries management plan for the super trawler. He said, 'Peter, there already is a spatial fisheries management plan in place in Australia and it is called marine protected areas.' It is also used to assess total ecosystem effects using the same models that we wanted to see applied to the spatial fisheries management plan for the super trawler.

I will read you the logic behind it. This is from a report by Dr Melissa Nursey-Bray from Adelaide University, and I will use this report quite extensively in this talk because what Dr Nursey-Bray has done, very usefully for me, is an aggregate of all the science that has been written on marine protected areas put in a very simple form. I would encourage all the senators in this chamber to read it. She says:

Foley et al. suggest that ecosystem-based marine spatial planning (MSP) is a process that "informs the spatial distribution of activities in the ocean so that existing and emerging uses can be maintained, use conflicts reduced and ecosystem health and services protected and sustained for future generations". They argue the need to move away from MPA design that takes a sector by sector approach, to one such as marine spatial planning that emphasises ecological, economic, governance and social dimensions, thus bringing planning together in an integrated way.

A lot of work has been done, as I mentioned, for up to 30 years in areas such as South Australia, and a number of senators in the chamber today both from across the chamber and from this side of the chamber have talked about the work that has been done in Australian Commonwealth waters. Nobody denies that a lot of science has gone into marine protected areas.

I want to read you my quick version of the report by Dr Nursey-Bray. She has summarised 48 recent scientific reports on the science of marine protected areas, outlining all their recommendations in terms of the positive impact that they have on fisheries and in some cases where the evidence has not shown that. Right across the world, from Arabia, Spain, South Africa, the Philippines, New Zealand, South Australia, Tasmania, Great Britain, the USA—and that includes Florida, California and Maine—Kenya, Fiji, Western Australia and the Bahamas, wherever marine protected areas have been scientifically studied they have been shown to have benefits to fisheries. One specific report actually summarised 89 separate studies dating back to 1992. Funnily enough, that same report was quoted in the Los Angeles Times. It said:

In a survey of 89 scientific papers, UC Santa Barbara researchers found that 90% of marine reserves around the world had more fish, 84% had much larger fish and shellfish and 59% had a far greater variety of marine life than did adjacent waters. So far, the spillover effect hasn't won many converts amongst anglers, who disdain it as "junk science," and fear new limits on where they can fish.

I thought this was a good opportunity to perhaps talk a little bit more about recreational fishing groups, because clearly I have got to know lots of recreational fishers in recent months in my home state of Tasmania and I have come to learn just how important recreational and commercial fishing are to Tasmania. In fact, I would probably even go so far as to say Tasmania should be called a fishing state—and I am getting the thumbs-up there from some of my fellow senators. I do not claim to be an avid fisherman myself. I do fish with my children at Bicheno, where my family go quite often, but I must say I can understand why rec fishers want the utility that they get from fishing protected, with the amount of money and time that they put into this.

In an interesting way, I think the super trawler debate has introduced the idea of marine protected areas inadvertently to the rec fishing groups in Tasmania. To give you an example, TARFish, one of the main rec fishing groups, put out a media release during the super trawler debate saying that they were very concerned that they had heard that the Margiris, the super trawler, was going to be allowed to fish in a marine protected area off Pedra Branca.

Pedra Branca, off the south-east coast of Tasmania, is one of the best fishing spots in the country for a variety of reasons. In every way it represents an ecological hotspot. It is also very diverse in terms of its other ecosystems. We are looking at a large number of seals and penguins and of course some of the biggest albatross rookeries in the world. It is where a lot of the charter fishing boats go from their port in Hobart to go fishing. TARFish expressed a lot of concern that the trawler would be able to operate in this marine protected area, the key reason being that when they go out into the ocean—and Senator Scullion from across the chamber would be very well aware of this, as an old salt himself—they look for the birds that are looking for the schooling fish, and then when you get the schooling fish you get the large fish that the anglers are targeting. So to them it was a big concern that a boat such as the trawler would be able to operate in a marine protected area. This marine protected area is a multiple-use area; it is not what we would officially call a 'no-take' zone. But at least it is a recognition by rec fishing groups that these areas serve important functions for spatial fisheries management.

My fellow Greens senator Senator Siewert also has experience with rec fishing groups in Western Australia who have come to understand the importance of marine protected areas in terms of the positive benefits they can bring to their local fisheries. When you think about the logic of spillover effects, they do make a lot of sense. Marine protected area design is very complex and requires a lot of science. I see marine protected areas as one tool in the toolbox for managing fisheries, alongside other types of fisheries management, including the quota system we have talked about a lot in the house in recent weeks. So I do not necessarily see them as a silver bullet, but they are absolutely essential not only in underpinning conservation but also in fisheries management.

Looking at the economics of marine protected areas, we tend to get different effects depending on the size of the protected areas, because that of course influences spawning biomass and its ability to spill over into other areas, and also on how depleted the existing fishing area is. But there has been so much work done on it now that I think it is pretty much unanimously accepted that MPAs have a very important role to play in conservation, in preserving fish stocks for the future and also in rebuilding our ecosystems that have been severely depleted.

One very interesting thing in the economic reports I read is that the key reason most economists supported marine protected areas was because of what we call exogenous shocks, which Senator Siewert has touched on. What are exogenous shocks? They are shocks outside the system that influence, in this case, fisheries. They are things such as climate change, changes in water temperatures, viruses and nutrient level changes because of pollution from river systems and land run-off. One thing that MPAs do is serve as an insurance premium against these shocks. The effects of heavily fishing an area that is suffering from a shock have been seen very clearly with abalone right around the country and with rock lobsters in Western Australia and Tasmania. With the best fisheries management in the world, we have seen these stocks go into very severe decline; in fact, they are not currently being fished. The key reason is not that a scientist did not do a good job but that we are coming to grips with these exogenous shocks to our systems which are extremely complex and very difficult to model. At least if we lock up areas that are biologically diverse and have a very positive impact right across the ecosystem then we can be assured that, like a heart, they will keep pumping and keep our ecosystems alive. That is exactly what a marine protected area is designed to do.

I want to touch on what I think this bill is trying to do and also highlight this in relation to the supertrawler debate. I was criticised in this house and outside the house quite consistently for being 'anti-science' when we talked about the supertrawler. I would like to get on record again that what we wanted to see was more science and more funding for scientists. Never once did we disparage the quality of our scientists. But it is interesting that, when we put our motion to the Senate for a disallowance, the key feedback we received, particularly from the Senate, was that it was anti-science. Trying to disallow the science behind marine protected areas, which is exactly what this bill is designed to do, contradicts what I heard then in the Senate—in fact, it turns it on its head: you do not want to disallow a fishing activity like allowing a supertrawler to come to the country because that is anti-science but you are prepared to disallow 30 to 50 years of scientific work that underpins marine protected areas. That does not make sense to me. If we are talking about respecting scientists, a number of good scientists, particularly those in the Tasmanian scientific community, many of whom supported the supertrawler, have also written scientific papers supporting the positive benefits of marine protected areas. So this is an area where we are going to have to find some common ground in terms of the benefits of science and how we use science in our policy making.

I would like to finish by saying that we do not know exactly what will happen with our ecosystems. Even with the best scientists in the world, we can only do our best with the tools that we have in place. There is something as simple as leaving our ocean ecosystem alone and monitoring it. And of course there is potential for monitoring and adaptive fisheries management with marine protected areas in the future, looking at the data and conserving important marine ecosystems that we need for the health of our oceans. One of the exogenous shocks I did not talk about was ocean acidification, which has been fingered by a number of scientists as being one of the most important risks facing marine ecosystems in the future. We can learn from something as simple as the space station at Cape Kennedy: if you leave an ecosystem alone it can have very positive benefits, but not just for the so-called greenies and conservationists we have heard about in the house today but also for recreational fishing communities and for commercial fishing communities.

I understand that, in areas where marine protected areas directly conflict with commercial fishing interests and rec fishing interests, compensation packages should adequately compensate fishermen. That is something I was working on with the South Australian government, on what levels of compensation should be in place. But I think we all have a responsibility to understand the complexity of the systems we are dealing with here and realise that we do need an insurance premium. Putting in place for the long term a series of marine protected areas will provide an insurance premium to help protect our oceans and also protect the rights and interests of a lot of stakeholders across this country, including rec fishermen.