Tag Archives: campaigns

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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How to Choose Sustainable Tuna

Greenpeace has just launched its 4th edition of the Australian Canned Tuna Guide.  For those of you out there that love your tuna and the oceans, you really must take a look for yourself, so you can make an informed choice about your tuna.

You can download the above image as an A4 poster to stick on your fridge: Click here (PDF 1.27MB)

I was involved in bringing the first canned tuna guide to the Australian public a couple of years ago. Back then, none of the cans on our shelves were sustainable, with catches of overfished yellowfin tuna, destructive fishing methods and politically poor fishing choices packaged up and sold to us with barely any labeling.   Down the line we’ve seen a complete game change in the canned tuna market, with companies like Fish 4 Ever and Safcol providing sustainable, pole-and-line caught skipjack tuna, and genuinely working towards a sustainable future.

The tuna brands are ranked according to their:

  • sustainability policy
  • fishing method used (Fish Aggregating Devices, or FADs, are a definite no-no because of the unacceptable bycatch levels)
  • species caught (yellowfin and bigeye are overfished)
  • labelling – so that customers can make an informed choice
  • support for marine reserves (ensuring long-term sustainability) and equitable tuna policies (so that reasonable economic benefits are returned to countries who own the rights to certain tuna stocks)
  • guarantee of a supply chain free from illegal, unregulated or unreported (IUU) fishing (which accounts for up to 46% of fishing activity in the Pacific)

Since the first guide was released, consumer pressure has forced many brands to change their tuna. You can now buy eight different brands of sustainable pole-and-line caught tuna, in most supermarkets.  Safcol for example was the first Australian company to commit to 100% sustainable tuna – an industry-changing move.  They also actively promote sustainable fishing methods and the conservation of overfished species.  Greenseas and Sirena are making a positive change by committing to 100% FAD-free sourcing by 2015.  But several other brands still lag behind, sometimes offering up one sustainable brand whilst making little effort across their range, or in the case of Sole Mare, none at all.

Greenpeace’s current campaign is focusing on John West.  As Australia’s largest seller of canned tuna, John West is having the most damaging impact on marine life through the 10% bycatch rate of its fishing method (FADs and purse seines).  That means they catch the equivalent of about 10 million cans of bycatch every year.

If you would like John West to step up their game and change to sustainable tuna, you can tell them here.

So check out where your favourite brand comes out – and why – in the Greenpeace Canned Tuna Guide.

Make an informed choice, and use your consumer power to make a difference.  Choose sustainable tuna next time you shop.

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Shark Culling Not The Answer

The government recently announced a new package of funding for ‘shark mitigation strategies’, aimed at reducing the incidence of shark attacks on our beaches.  After five fatalities in only one year the WA government is under immense pressure to be seen to be doing something…  But the announcement that $2mil of the $6.85mil package is to spent on tracking and potentially destroying sharks if they come too close to swimmers has many people up in arms.

Great White Shark. Source: Courier-Mail

White Pointers and Western Australia

The Great White Shark (white pointer) is listed as vulnerable to extinction in the IUCN’s Red List of threatened and endangered species (i.e. it is endangered).  It is protected in Australian waters under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act and internationally under the Convention for the Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

Not much is known about their populations, but if this apex predator is lost from the ecosystem, there could be significant and far-reaching consequences for the oceans and our fisheries.

Of what we do know, these animals make transoceanic migrations, and global populations appear to be linked.  Therefore culling them could, in fact, become an international issue.

In WA, certain times of the year may be more dangerous than others.  Oceanic events attract large sharks to feed near shore, for example when snapper are spawning in Cockburn Sound.  Educating the public and providing beach patrols could reduce the risk of incidents.

And whilst the past year may have seen more large sharks off WA’s coast, sharks are in reality facing a global crisis.  Illegal and unregulated fishing driven by the demand for shark fin soup in Asia has reduced shark populations by 90%.  There is yet no evidence to determine if populations of large sharks are recovering in WA or if there have just been more visiting the West Coast than in previous years.

The $4mil funding for applied research and tagging programs is very welcome.  We need to understand these animals more in order to deter future incidents.  Money allocated to surf-lifesavers to increase beach safety, and $150,000 for community awareness programs is also really positive.

We need education and research.  Public safety and shark conservation working together.

Culling: Necessary or Knee-Jerk?

The current legislation (Section 7[2] of the Fish Resource management Act 1994) allows the Department of Fisheries to kill sharks after a fatality, if they can properly identify the individual involved.  To date, they have never acted on this legislation.  Now the Department of Fisheries will have the option of killing sharks before an incident.

The proposed culling would take place if a human life was in danger.  The authorities are still trying to work out how this would be determined.  But how could they prove that a specific shark would in fact cause an incident?

Killing an animal in its natural environment – especially a protected species – pre-emptively is unscientific, unnecessary and a knee-jerk reaction.  ‘Guilty until proven innocent’ is killing without a purpose.  No shark that has been spotted by authorities has ever been implicated in a later attack.

$2mil allocated to track, catch and destroy sharks is an overreaction.  It is a ‘cosmetic’ reaction, an appeasement tactic, based on emotion rather than science.  Sharks are already killed in their millions every year due to overfishing and shark-finning.  Hawaii once culled 4,668 sharks (including 554 tiger sharks) between 1959-1976, but no significant decrease in the rate of shark bites was detected.

In comparison, aerial patrols have been shown to work, along with taking personal responsibility for your own safety.  Four out of the last five fatalities were people diving, surfing or body boarding – further from shore than most swimmers would go.

There may also be the problem of increased risk with this new policy, if ocean lovers choose not to report a sighting of a large shark for fear of it being killed.  On the other hand, the policy may perpetuate the fear that all large sharks are potential killers, when in fact we don’t know this.

Education and research will help reduce fear of swimming, not culls.

Shark Nets

Port Jackson Shark caught in a net in NSW. Source: HSIA proposed method of protection in my local area is to introduce shark nets on swimming beaches.  These have been around on the East Coast for around 70 years… but shark nets are cruel, indiscriminate and they also don’t work.

Shark nets give the public a false sense of safety, but in reality sharks are free to swim around the nets, often getting caught as they leave the shallow “protected” areas again. They are indiscriminate and catch any and all marine life that come in to contact with them, including dolphins, turtles, whales, manta rays, dugongs and other sharks.  Nets which have caught other marine animals may even act as floating bait for sharks.  (Drumlines set to capture and kill sharks have also been suggested, and would do the same thing).

And nets have even been known to catch people: in 2007 a teenage boy drowned when he got caught in a shark net off NSW.

In a Department of Primary Industries report in 2009, focussing on NSW, shark bite incidents from 1937-2008 showed that of the 38 shark attacks recorded in the state, 24 of them (63%) took place at netted beaches, with 14 injuries.  There was only one fatality at a netted beach (1951).  However, survival rates for shark bites are now up to 80%, due to better on-scene treatment and antibiotics, and a 63% failure rate of attack prevention isn’t encouraging.

In addition, a report commissioned by the WA Department of Fisheries (August 2012) actually said: “Due to the environmental impacts of shark control activities, it is not recommended that either shark nets or drum-lines be introduced into Western Australia”.  Someone didn’t read the report, it seems.

Education and surveillance are the best prevention against shark attacks until better repellent devices are developed.

So What Now?

Shark nets, drumlines and culling are environmentally hazardous, cruel and indiscriminate means which are not necessary if money was instead invested in non-lethal methods and increased understanding of these animals.  The government is wasting time and money on something which the WA public is overwhelmingly against, for the sake of appeasing a loud voiced minority.

I am not a shark expert, but as a marine biologist I campaign for conservation of our oceans, so that we can have a sustainable future.  The removal of a keystone species could have far-reaching consequences for our ecosystem and fisheries, and methods designed to indiscriminately kill any marine animal could also be devastating for our local populations, as well as our fisheries and tourism industry.

Some people have said that overfishing has led to sharks coming closer in to shore to find food, others say that ocean currents affect their movement patterns, but until we understand more about the real – and likely multiple – reasons behind the recent spate of shark attacks we need to invest in education, surveillance and research.  Culling is not the answer.

Please sign a petition (there is a list here) against shark culling and destructive shark nets in WA.

– Some of these comments appeared in my local newspaper on 5th October –

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