While the TCT is pleased with the expansion of the previously tiny marine reserves at Ninepin Point and Tinderbox in 2009, it is disappointing that, under the Labor–Green government, no new reserves have been created or proposed.
In 2008, scientists condemned the government’s response to the then Resource Planning and Development Commission’s (RPDC) inquiry into marine protected areas for the Bruny bio-region. The RPDC recommended 23 new marine reserves including nine no-take zones; instead the then minister, David Llewellyn, created 14 marine conservation areas. These reserves, many of which provide habitat for threatened species, include some areas that were previously reserved and simply received a name change. More seriously, fishing – which is the primary commercial threat to the marine environment – is allowed in each of them, making a mockery of the extensive and consultative RPDC process.
There are significant and ongoing threats to Tasmania’s marine environment, as seen by the declaration of giant kelp as endangered in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act), and marine protected areas are essential to ensuring marine ecosystem health. They also provide scientific reference areas which could be of great benefit in assessing problems and threats in the environment outside the reserves. Studies, including the Maria Island marine reserve, have shown that a significant function of marine reserves is to provide nurseries for fish and to increase fish stocks for fisheries in surrounding waters.
The government’s own Marine Protected Areas Strategy, released in 2001, recognises the value of marine reserves and commits to ‘a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of marine protected areas, to contribute to the long-term ecological viability of marine and estuarine systems, to maintain ecological processes and systems, and to protect Tasmania’s biological diversity’. The RPDC inquiry into the Bruny marine bio-region was the first stage of implementing this strategy.
As a whole the seven no-take reserves protect less than 6 per cent of Tasmania’s marine and estuarine environment, and the Macquarie Island reserve makes up around 75 per cent of that. Apart from Macquarie Island, the reserves protect tiny proportions of their respective bio-regions, for example Governor Island marine reserve off Bicheno covers only 60 ha and 0.017 per cent of the Freycinet marine bio-region; Port Davey marine reserve covers some 29,000 ha but only 2.506 per cent of the Davey bio-region. See may below.
The Greens’ policy on protected areas which it took to the 2010 election commits to the creation of new marine reserves with no-take areas, representative and adequate protection in all marine bio-regions, utilising the Marine Protected Areas Strategy and the creation of a ‘Marine Reserves management unit, including rangers’. The ALP’s policy includes the implementation of the Marine Protected Areas Strategy. While the government has seemingly been comatose on the marine environment, the Greens have also been noticeably quiet, until the super-trawler Margiris became an obvious threat.
With new marine ecosystem mapping, it should not be a huge task to identify areas in need of protection, and the job has already been done with respect to the Bruny bio-region. If creating new marine reserves is too large a task for an under-resourced bureaucracy, there are other ways, requiring much less in the way of resources, of ensuring greatly improved protection.
For example, the TCT has recommended the introduction of area-based restrictions or prohibitions on fishing of rock lobster, to allow stocks of lobsters and marine habitats to recover from the deadly impact of the Centrostephanus sea urchins. This would have the purpose of ensuring survival and recovery of large rock lobsters, which are essential as they are the only significant predator of this sea urchin. The proliferation of Centrostephanus on Tasmania’s east coast is caused primarily by overfishing of large rock lobsters and is leading to the total removal of marine algae ecosystems, which provide crucial habitat for young rock lobsters, abalone and many other species.
If the Greens and Labor do not use the current historic window of opportunity in Parliament to increase the no-take marine reserve estate, it could be a very long time indeed before we see any such progress. At the very least, Minister Brian Wightman should direct his department to investigate other ways, in addition to MPAs, of ensuring conservation of high-value marine habitat.
Our marine environment cannot afford any more delays.