Australia to make area the size of Germany a marine park in Southern Ocean
The Australian government plans to make an area about the size of Germany in the Southern Ocean a marine zone, strengthening protections around Macquarie Island for millions of penguins and seals.
The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, announced that the government wants to triple the size of the Macquarie Island marine park, describing it as a globally significant contribution to marine conservation that would put 388,000 sq km under high protection.
“Macquarie Island Marine Park is a remote wildlife wonderland – a critical habitat for millions of seabirds, seals and penguins,”Plibersek said. “Expanding and increasing the protection of the waters surrounding Macquarie Island will allow us to better manage this important ecosystem for the future.”
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The island between Tasmania and Antarctica is an important feeding and breeding ground for seabirds, penguins and seals.
The 34km-long strip of land and surrounding waters are habitat for species including royal penguins, southern rockhopper penguins, subantarctic fur seals, southern elephant seals, black-browed albatrosses and grey petrels.
The government will open the proposal for public consultation and says the plan will allow for the continuation of the small Patagonian toothfish fishery.
Plibersek said the expansion of the marine park would increase the amount of protected area in Australia’s oceans to 48.2%.
The announcement was welcomed by conservationists: “If approved it will provide a refuge to help the island’s iconic species adapt to the changing climate,’” said Emily Grilly, the Antarctic conservation manager at WWF-Australia.
“This announcement is an important contribution to conservation in the oceans of the southern hemisphere – a region where dramatic climate change impacts may threaten unique wildlife.”
Fiona Maxwell, the national oceans manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts, said the original marine park had been established in 1999 and 24 years on was overdue for renewal. The proposal “ensures the region gets the level of protection it deserves”.
Tooni Mahto, campaigns director at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said the proposed expansion would be “a major contribution towards international efforts to conserve the Southern Ocean”.
The ocean’s rich wildlife were struggling to adapt to rapid change caused by rising ocean temperatures as well as other threats such as fishing, she said.
But the fishing industry said it was concerned about the proposal, with Seafood Industry Australia describing it as “an ocean-grab funded by international activists with no basis in science, designed to tarnish the sustainably managed Toothfish Fishery”.
“The redesign of the park represents a serious overreach by the Minister that will send shockwaves through the Australian communities and regions who rely on marine estates for employment, tourism and recreation,” the association’s chief executive Veronica Papacosta said.
“This is nothing more than a green-washed PR stunt designed to garner the support of the Greens and teal-independents, while making the eNGOs happy.”