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Reef Report for Monday, October 9, 2006

Zoning to Protect Great Barrier Reef until 2013
Green no-fishing Zoning System Extended

Ending months of politics and speculation, the Australian Minister for the Environment Ian Campbell announced this week that the existing Green No-Fishing Zones, which protect 34% of the Great Barrier Reef from fishing, would be extended until 2013. © Great Barrier Reef Enterprises

The green zones were created in July of 2004, with much fanfare and controversy, as both commercial and sport fishing interests lobbied heavily for a much more limited protective scheme. While most scientists predict that the value of such protection would not be seen over the short term, a report released this past September showed that even over the short term the effect of protection can be clearly demonstrated.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science research project surveyed declared marine sanctuaries on 25 reefs and a further 25 reefs which remain open to fishing between Cairns and Gladstone. Before the marine park's rezoning, the abundance of species like coral trout was the same on all surveyed reefs. The coral trout is now up to 50 per cent more abundant in the marine sanctuaries than on reefs still open to fishing.

The James Cook Universityís research on the fringing reefs of the Whitsunday Islands was even more encouraging. Their results showed coral trout and stripy sea perch abundance was 60 per cent higher in marine sanctuaries.

The details of the recent announcement do place some pressure on the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority to perform well, and to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Protective Zoning Plan. The details of the announcement are included:

1. Extension of the current zoning protections until 2013

2. No further zoning restrictions can be added pending a full review of the effectiveness of the plan.

3. A five year review cycle, with a feature report that analyzes the effectiveness of reef protections and the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority.

The decision was backed by Queensland tourism groups, conservation organizations, and by the GBRMPA. It was opposed by representatives of the fishing industry, who sought to abolish the organization and return to the reef to the old pre-2004 management plan that protected just 4% of the Great Barrier Reef.

Our feeling is that the reef deserves protection. Sustainable fisheries management of the Great Barrier Reef needs to include refuges where fishing is not permitted. Such management is not only best for integrity of this unique ecosystem, but itís also best the long term health of both the tourism and commercial fishing industries. The success of protective zones in other places confirms that a significant set aside of 25-35% is effective, and actually improves fishing in adjacent non-protected areas. While whatís been done on the Great Barrier Reef is too recent to see how successful it is, recent research does seem to confirm that the protection is working, and is likely to be to the benefit of the ecosystem as well as fishing and tourism interests.

For Further Information:

Fish Surveys Demonstrate Benefit of New Reef Zoning Plan
Seafood body welcomes promise to disband reef authority
Tourism industry backs GBRMPA

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as† many other local sources in the dive community.

Index of all reef reports.

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