Australia commits A$3 mln to Indian Ocean marine park conservation projects

Published 01:41 on February 2, 2023  /  Last updated at 05:09 on February 6, 2023  / Mark Tilly /  Biodiversity

The Australian government has committed A$3 million ($2.1 mln) in grants to projects in the Christmas Island and Cocos Islands marine parks, however scientists warn that the level of protection in the country's marine parks is still relatively low.

The Australian government has committed A$3 million ($2.1 mln) in grants to projects in the Christmas Island and Cocos Islands marine parks, however scientists warn that the level of protection in the country’s marine parks is still relatively low.

The funding will go toward 17 different projects which will run from 2023-25 and cover a range of initiatives.

The newly funded grants projects include supporting the Christmas Island community to protect iconic red crabs during their annual breeding migration, monitoring and removing marine debris, restoring seagrass habitats, and surveying resident foraging sea turtles, according to a statement from the government.

“Coral reefs, seagrass, seamounts, deep sea plains and ridges, oceanic waters, and species found nowhere else on earth make up the Indian Ocean Territory marine parks, which combined are twice the size of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park,” Australian Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibresek said in the statement.

The funding comes from the federal government’s Indian Ocean Territory marine park grants programme, designed to help contribute to the protection of the two newly established parks.

Grants have been offered to a number of different organisations, including the University of Western Australia, the Shire of Christmas Island, Sea Country Solutions, Island Care Incorporated, and others.

The two marine parks were proclaimed by the governor-general in March last year, are managed by Parks Australia, and aim to protect some 745,000 square kilometres of ocean habitats and species.

The parks are part of a network of 60 Australian marine parks managed by the director of national parks that cover 3.5 million sq.km., or 39% of Australia’s waters.

The government said the Christmas Island and Cocos Islands parks were co-designed by Parks Australia and their respective local communities.

According to the Parks Australia website, transitional management arrangements are in place for the new parks until management plans are in place.

Local advisory committees are also being established to help inform the marine park management plans.

Source: Parks Australia

The parks have large offshore green zones where fishing is not permitted and inshore yellow zones that support sustainable local fishing, according to the government.

Australia recently committed to protecting 30% of land and 30% of oceans by 2030 as part of its Nature Positive Plan, after signing on to the global High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People at COP15, which has a global goal to protect 30% of land and seas by the same date.

The government is also committing to national environmental law reforms, designed to address rapid species and habitat loss and ocean acidification.

The government’s State of the Climate Report 2022 said that Australia’s oceans will continue to warm in the coming decades, and that “increased and longer-lasting marine heatwaves … will affect marine environments, such as kelp forests, and increase the likelihood of more frequent and severe bleaching events in coral reefs around Australia”.

Last month the New Daily reported that while 45% of Australian waters are made up of protected marine parks, only 17% of those are considered “sanctuaries” that are fully protected.

“The level of protection is much lower in Australia … it’s simply not where it needs to be as the oceans adapt to climate change and global warming,” Marine Conservation Society fisheries and threatened species campaign manager Tooni Mahto told the news outlet.

“We need to protect high-value conservation areas … in some instances, those are the areas which are also hotly contested by other ocean stakeholders such as the offshore oil and gas industry.”

By Mark Tilly – mark@carbon-pulse.com

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