Last week the Australian government announced a bold plan to expand its Australia’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) beyond what was stipulated in the highly criticised draft proposal released for consultation last year. This step forward would make the network of MPA’s the largest in the world. The announcement coincided with the lead up to the United Nation’s Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio this week with the Environment Minister stating: “It’s time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans, and Australia today is leading that next step “.
Here, here! says the marine scientist who becomes quiet disheartened with endless commentary on exploitation, pollution, fisheries collapse and the ineffectiveness of small MPA’s. A study discussed in Nature revealed that prior to this announcement Australia ranked 19th(!) in terms of reaching the 10% target for Marine Protected Areas under the Convention on Biological Diversity. For a nation that considers our oceans part of our national identity we should hang our head in shame. However, if the new plan comes to fruition then this will see us rank 7th. No small feat if you consider that Australia has jurisdiction over 9 million square kilometres and already protects significantly more marine real estate than most other nations even rule over.
Why do I say “if” and “would”, well in a step back the Opposition has vetoed our minister from attending Rio +20. Rather than being able to demonstrate leadership on the issue, and to lobby other nations to follow suit, the Opposition are demanding that the minister stay in Australia and explain the minutia of his marine parks plan. Australia, go back to hanging your head in shame.