Australia plans to extend no-go sector of Great Barrier Reef

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2003, 12:00am

The Australian government yesterday released details of a plan to ban fishing and shipping in a third of the Great Barrier Reef, dramatically increasing the level of protection for the world's largest living organism.

The draft plan, released by Environment Minister David Kemp, would expand the 'green zones' from which shipping and commercial fishing are prohibited from 5 per cent to nearly 33 per cent. 'The Great Barrier Reef is the largest World Heritage area in the world and this zoning system will establish a new international standard,' Dr Kemp said.

'Everyone wants to feel not only that they can enjoy the Barrier Reef but that their children will enjoy it, and their grandchildren will enjoy it.'

The rezoning proposal is based on 12 months of public consultation involving more than 10,000 submissions from lobby groups, tourism operators, environmentalists and members of the public.

Leanne Fernandes, from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said most Australians were in favour of greater protection for the reef, considered the country's most prized natural asset.

'We've got information that tells us over 90 per cent of Australians, including people in coastal Queensland communities, do want to see more protection of the reef, and that's essentially what we're delivering,' she said.

The plan is designed to protect the reef's delicate corals from damage by shipping, as well as boost fish stocks. The reef is home to numerous fish species and many use it as a nursery area.

The public now has eight weeks in which to comment on the draft plan, but already there have been objections from commercial and recreational fishermen.

John Doohan, from Sunfish Queensland, a group that represents 45,000 recreational fishermen, said they were being unfairly targeted.

'There's as much or more damage done by tourism as there is by recreational fishing,' he said.

The plan would cut the area of the reef accessible to prawn trawling from 50 per cent to 34 per cent.

The Queensland Seafood Industry Association said such changes would have an impact on the livelihoods of hundreds of commercial fishermen, and they said they would fight the proposal.

But conservationists and some tourist operators said the draft plan did not go far enough.