Category Archives: Government

The Largest Marine Park Network in the World

I’m back from the land of no internet, and boy do I have great news!

On November 16th 2012, the Federal Government officially declared our new network of protected marine reserves, the largest in the world! Australia is now officially among the world’s best marine protectors, something it needed with the world’s third largest ocean jurisdiction and diverse, fragile ecosystems. We also have some of the world’s most unique marine life, including in the Great Barrier Reef, the Coral Sea, and here in the South West where up to 90% of marine life is unique and half the world’s whale and dolphin species are known to occur.

Marine Parks Announcement. Save Our Marine Life

Thirty-three new Commonwealth Marine Parks will be added to the 27 marine parks already in place around Australia (which previously only protected about 4% of our waters). Now 36% of Australian waters will be protected.

The announcement is the culmination of 14 years of hard work and preparation, scientific research and consultation. Plus the actions of the community in showing the government how much they value our marine ecosystem, lifestyle and the benefits that come with a protected environment. More than half a million messages of support were sent to the government during the process, and a record 70% of the public approved of the plan. It really goes to show the importance of people power.

For more information and a summary of the great new marine reserves, head over to Save Our Marine Life.

These new marine reserves pave the way for future marine protection in our waters.

Of course, much work is still needed to address overfishing and oil and gas development threats around Australia.

In addition, there is still time to ask for a few last minute improvements to the marine reserves network in “four forgotten areas”:

  1. Endangered Australian Sea Lion colonies in the South West need protection from gillnet fishing.
  2. Seagrass meadows important for threatened Dugongs in the Limmen Bight, Northern Territory, need protection from seafloor dredge mining.
  3. Seismic testing for oil could put endangered blue whales and sea lions at risk off Kangaroo Island, South Australia.
  4. The Bremer Canyon off WA is an important marine life hotspot including orcas and sperm whales, which is also threatened by oil and gas development. The government put in place a ‘No Oil’ area off Margaret River, so there is precedent for protection of these important habitats.

Click here to send a message to the Environment Minister Tony Burke asking for him to include these important places in the marine sanctuaries network.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this historic achievement possible. Now let’s go out and enjoy our marine life for years to come!

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Community Cabinet and my first political experience

Dear readers, I apologise for the absence of my usual Wednesday post last night, but I was in a meeting with the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke.  The Prime Minister was in town (Kwinana) with 15 of her ministers for a Community Cabinet meeting and I got the chance to talk directly to Minister Burke for ten whole minutes before it all started.  And yes, I was nervous!  Hence why I had to come home and have a day to assess what happened before I shared the fun with you.

The scene at Gilmore College on Wednesday evening (5/09/12). Hopefully better photos to come...

The scene at Gilmore College on Wednesday evening (5/09/12) Hopefully better photos to come…

The 35th Community Cabinet was held in Gilmore College hall with an audience of around 300 locals (and some not-quite-so-local).  It was an opportunity for us to raise any issues directly with the government and officials themselves.  But before I go into that, I’ll tell you about the Ministerial meeting.

After pre-registering, I was the first of five people to meet with Minister Burke before the Community Cabinet meeting.  Others would be talking about environmental issues including urban bushland preservation, the South-west water catchment area, and destructive logging practices in WA.  I talked about marine sanctuaries.

Australia is about to become a world leader in marine conservation.  Minister Burke announced in June that the government is to create a network of 44 marine parks and reserves around Australia in Commonwealth waters.  Since then, a second consultation period has been in place over six weeks, asking members of the public and stakeholders to comment on whether they approve of this plan. This submission period will close on Monday 10th September: next week.

I asked for a meeting so that I could talk to the Minister about this plan.  I’m passionate about marine conservation, and wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the Minister for getting this milestone into place.  Well, almost there.  We still have the final hurdles to go, and recently opposition has been growing loudly from recreational fishers misinformed about how the sanctuaries will affect them, and even worse, the Coalition.

Click here to see my recent blog for Conservation Council of WA about why the Coalition’s claims are a load of swash.  I asked Tony Burke how confident he was that the marine parks plan would go through, and he answered “Very.”  That’s reassuring.  He said that the Coalition’s Private Members Bill against the plan would never succeed.  However he did say that the move has flagged that the Liberals may be targeting marine parks in the next election…  And that isn’t reassuring at all.  We have to make sure these new parks come into place within the next 6-8 months, so that they are law and cannot be touched by any ridiculous, politically-minded move that fails to keep Australia’s best interests in mind.

Minister Burke says he’s doing the best he can to defend marine parks, but how much of that is just political smooth-talking I don’t know.  I certainly feel that he could do more to defend and promote the amazing scientific research that supports and underpins the case for marine sanctuaries, research that has taken over a decade to collate.  Holding up a pile of documents to a camera and saying ‘here, look how much work has been done’ obviously hasn’t convinced enough people.  The science is great and deserves better promotion.  Otherwise we may risk a situation like climate change where the voice of a loud minority caused people to doubt the solid scientific evidence… and continues to lead us into debate.

This was my first political pseudo-interview.  I admit it wasn’t amazing.  In fact, I had a feeling the whole way through that he knew exactly how many times I’d done an interview before (none) and was taking full advantage of that fact to smoothly turn me away from some questions (like asking him about funding for baseline studies as soon as the marine parks are implemented) and turning the question away from him (like saying that he needs a wave of community support – from me and others – right now because he’s doing the best he can).  But my friends from Save Our Marine Life – who have dealt with Minister Burke a lot over the past few years – said that honestly, it just sounded like I met Tony Burke.  So I came away feeling that maybe I’d done alright.

Mostly I just smiled a lot and said how awesome these marine parks are going to be, and keep it up (don’t fail us now).  I said that he’s got community support – and that is true.  Not long ago a poll showed that 70% of Australians are happy with marine parks, that in fact it’s the most popular decision the current government has made.

We just need those people to come out now and support marine parks so that they come into place and Australia can truly become a world leader in marine conservation.

So if you haven’t already entered your submission, please go to the Save Our Marine Life website and sign the petition that says YES to marine sanctuaries.

Julia Gillard and her Cabinet team at the meeting. Picture: Ben Crabtree, The West Australian

Julia Gillard and her Cabinet team at the meeting. Picture: Ben Crabtree, The West Australian

By the way, I mentioned that there was also a Community Cabinet.  As a British girl living in Australia, I think I must be certifiably Aussie now, because I’ve been to a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister.  Do you agree?

Anyway, the main focus of the night was education.  Members of the public were able to ask questions for about an hour, directed either to the PM or other Ministers who were present. Education reforms and unemployment were the main topics raised, with others including the super trawler, asylum seekers, aged care, the aid budget, uranium mining in WA, how the carbon tax works, and why the government puts ‘mentally fragile’ asylum seekers into detention centres overseas (the answer to which was that it is another deterrent).

Member for Fremantle, Melissa Parks, was also present.  Ms Parks is planning to put forward a private member’s bill stopping supertrawlers from fishing in Australian waters.  When asked why Environment Minister Tony Burke hadn’t stopped the FV Margiris from coming, he said: “I did the absolute limit I was advised I could do under existing law . . . should the law be changed?” – referring to Ms Parks’ upcoming Bill.  I for one will be absolutely behind her on that one, and I’m sure that the 80,000+ Australians who have already protested against the supertrawler will be as well.  For more on that issue, see my earlier blog (and recent update).

The most popular question was the last one too: what could the federal government do about a planned marina at a local public reserve site (Point Peron) bequeathed by the Commonwealth and being sold off by the state Liberal government?  Whilst Minister Burke had only just returned from visiting the site that day, he fended off the question on the basis of needing further advice.  For more info on that campaign, visit Hands Off Point Peron.

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And that was my first political experience.  Do you have any tips for next time for me?

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Stop the Super Trawler Before It’s Too Late

Supertrawler FV Margiris

You may have seen my post in June about the Supertrawler Problem.  The world’s second largest fishing ship – a factory trawler named FV Margiris – with nets large enough to hold four jumbo jets, wants to fish in Australia.  It wants to catch 18,000 tonnes of baitfish a year… and who knows how many tonnes of bycatch.

This ship, and the Pelagic Freezer Trawlers fleet to which it belongs, has a seriously bad reputation. They have been implemented in major overfishing controversies in Europe, the South Pacific and Africa, to the extent that the Senagalese government actually revoked their fishing license and banned them from their waters earlier this year.

The quota assigned to the Margiris is under investigation as outdated, questionable and influenced by a conflict of interest.

80,000 people have signed a petition against the Supertrawler coming.  Numerous protests have taken place since the initial announcement of its coming.

And yet…

Today the FV Margiris docked into Port Lincoln in South Australia ready to start the process of being allowed to fish in Australian waters.  Public concern is beginning to make the politicians sit up and take notice, but will it be enough?

Sea of Controversy

The FV Margiris would be the largest ship ever to fish around Australia.  She needs a lot of fish in order to be economically viable.  (Fish which, by the way, will be frozen and sold back to the African nations whose waters have already been overfished by this and other ships in the pelagic freezer trawler fleet).  It is this highly inflated quota – twice as large as any previous total for the whole fishery – and the mammoth capability for destruction that has got Australians seething.

Fishermen around Tasmania are concerned that the Margiris will wipe out local populations and threaten their livelihoods.  Not only that, but the concentrated removal of baitfish from the ecosystem will have serious knock-on effects throughout the food chain.  They are a critical food source for larger, more valuable commercial species, as well as threatened marine species such as dolphins and seals.

Did I mention bycatch?  With its 600m, 9,500 tonne capacity net, the Margiris is a death trap for any number of protected and endangered species.  Seabirds, seals, dolphins, turtles, sharks…  All are at risk of death if they get in the way of this giant ‘vacuum cleaner’.  There is also clear evidence that escape hatches set in the nets don’t work, because dolphins don’t like being forced into the small ends of the nets.

Dead dolphins falling out of super trawler net. Photo taken by researchers on board Dutch super trawlers while conducting peer-reviewed studies and given to Greenpeace

What About the Science?

The pro-supertrawler groups say that the science by which the baitfish quota was determined is sound, and that they don’t know what all the fuss is about.  But opponents say the data and method used for the quota is outdated.  The jack mackerel quota is based on egg surveys which are used to estimate the size of spawning stocks.  It was doubled to 10,000 tonnes based on research conducted in 2002-04, and published last year.  But chief executive of Tasmanian Association for Recreational Fishing, Mark Nikolai, said there was insufficient data on the species movements, stock numbers for local populations or the species’ ability to replenish its stocks when fished.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has also been accused of ‘Japanese scientific whaling’-style tactics in its research excuse for the quota increase, and Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has launched an attack on the credibility of AFMA’s quota setting process itself, which the Commonwealth Ombudsman is investigating.  Mr Wilkie says the quota “is not worth the paper it’s written on” because of the presence of SeaFish Tasmania’s director Gary Geen during quota-setting advisory meetings.  AFMA admitted it does not follow the Fisheries Administration Act literally, whilst Mr Wilkie has also found that concerns from members of another AFMA committee key to the quota decision were not represented or recorded.

Protests and Politics

Human Message in Fremantle. Photo: Jeneta Enevoldson, The Wilderness SocietyI personally took part in a rally in Fremantle last weekend against the Supertrawler. Three hundred people formed a human message in outrage at this icon of overfishing and destruction.  Hundreds of people in boats protested in Tasmania’s Derwent River earlier this month.  The message is getting louder.

Greenpeace was there to try to stop the Margiris from entering Port Lincoln today.  The message is coming through clearly.

The federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, is said to be seeking advice about whether he has the power to prevent or restrict the vessel under environmental law.

Labor Member for Fremantle, Melissa Parke, said today that she has very serious concerns about the impact of ships like the Margiris, and wants to introduce a private members bill aimed at stopping super trawlers from fishing in Australian waters.  She says it is the last thing needed when the Federal Government has put in place a network of marine sanctuaries.

Meanwhile, Port Lincoln’s mayor Bruce Green is one of the only people who seem unconcerned.  He has been backed up by David Ellis from the local tuna industry, who said, “This vessel is fishing on behalf of an Australian company – I believe it is welcome here.”  It may be ‘welcome’ in Port Lincoln whilst the Margiris applies to change its flag to Australian in order to acquire a fishing licence, but it is probably the only port from WA to NSW where such a thing could be said.

The Federal government has not yet given final approval for the Margiris to fish in Australian waters, but the decision could be only days away.

Please take action. Sign the petition against the Supertrawler and show the government that we do not want these kinds of ships in Australia.

CCWA action page: http://ccwa.org.au/supertrawler

Greenpeace petition: https://www.greenpeace.org.au/action/index.php?cid=28

CommunityRun petition: http://www.communityrun.org/petitions/stop-giant-fishing-trawler-in-tasmania/

Read more: http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/news/oceans/top-10-facts-about-super-trawlers/

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