Draft Zoning Plan for Great Barrier Reef Draws Reaction, Faces Changes

MPA News

The draft plan to re-zone the massive Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, proposing to set aside roughly one-third of the park as no-take areas, has drawn strong reactions from stakeholder groups throughout the state of Queensland (Australia). Released in June and open for public comment until August 4, 2003, the plan is expected to undergo changes before heading forward in the legislative process.

"There is room to move boundaries and/or proposed no-take zones in some bioregions, so I have no doubt that there will be amendments," says Jon Day, Director of Conservation for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). GBRMPA is committed, however, to having at least 20% of each of the marine park's 70 bioregions set aside as no-take under the plan. Presently, fishing and other extractive activities are off-limits in just 4.6% of the marine park.

Following a review of public comment, GBRMPA will forward a revised zoning plan to Australia's environment minister, who will in turn introduce enabling legislation to the Australian Parliament. Parliament, which could further amend the plan, must approve the legislation before the plan can come into effect.

Reactions for and against

Imogen Zethoven of the nongovernmental organization WWF Australia says the re-zoning effort is a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to give the 350,000-km2 marine park the protection it needs. Stating that the greatest threats facing the Great Barrier Reef are climate change and resultant coral bleaching, Zethoven says the re-zoning plan will help protect the park by making coral reefs healthier and stronger. "A major increase in no-take zones will enhance the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef to major bleaching events," she says. The re-zoning plan could be better, she says, with an even larger percentage of the marine park set aside as no-take. WWF has called for around 50% of the park to be closed to fishing to protect its full range of biodiversity.

Col McKenzie, executive director of the Queensland-based Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO), actively supports the draft zoning plan, calling it "the most important thing GBRMPA has done since its inception." The tourism industry - which employs more than 47,000 people within the Great Barrier Reef catchment and marine park and generates approximately AU$4.2 billion (US$2.9 billion) annually - relies on a healthy reef. "For the marine tourism industry, this plan means protection of its diving and snorkelling sites and an increase in fish for our customers to see," says McKenzie, who cites overfishing and poor water quality as the main threats facing the reef. "In a few years, we will be asking why we did not do this sooner."

The mayor of the city of Cairns, a center for dive tour operators and recreational fishing charters, criticizes tourism-industry support for the draft plan as a "winner take all" approach. "There was an intimation they wanted more of the marine park locked away from recreational and commercial fisheries - enabling more sole use for themselves," says Mayor Kevin Byrne. He says the draft zoning plan would have little effect on the real threats to the park, including agricultural runoff from land. While acknowledging that overfishing is a problem, Byrne says it should be managed instead through such methods as catch reductions and buyout schemes for commercial fishing, and reductions in bag limits for anglers. (The state of Queensland, not GBRMPA, manages fisheries in the marine park.)

Vern Veitch, vice chairman of Sunfish Queensland, a recreational fishing association, agrees that anglers would rather have lower bag limits than expanded no-take zones. Even so, he says, they would be more satisfied with the draft zoning plan if no-take zones were off-limits to everyone, not just the fishing community. Citing scientific evidence that swimmers can interfere with spawning aggregations and other fish behavior, Veitch says, "If these areas are to be genuinely protected and, as claimed, become a source of increased fish diversity and productivity that will spill over to other areas, then we must stop all on-site impacts."

Darren Cleland, executive officer of Ecofish, a commercial fishing association in Queensland, says closing so much of the marine park would force all fishermen into smaller areas, which would be ruined as a result. "Quite simply, by protecting a third of the park, they will destroy the remainder," he says.

GBRMPA officials acknowledge that some effort displacement may occur as a result of re-zoning, but that it has been minimized through placement of no-take zones to limit impact on existing fishing patterns. GBRMPA also expects the re-zoning to be complemented by new and proposed Queensland fisheries management arrangements to reduce fishing effort across all fisheries.

For more information:

Jon Day, GBRMPA, PO Box 1379, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia. Tel: +61 7 4750 0779; E-mail: j.day [at] gbrmpa.gov.au.

Imogen Zethoven, WWF Australia, PO Box 710, Spring Hill, Qld 4004, Australia. Tel: +61 7 3839 2677; E-mail: izethoven [at] wwf.org.au.

Col McKenzie, AMPTO, PO Box 5720, Cairns, Qld 4870, Australia. Tel: +61 7 4044 4990; E-mail: colmckenzie [at] ampto.com.au.

Kevin Byrne, PO Box 359, Cairns, Qld 4870, Australia. Tel: +61 7 4044 3044; E-mail: k.byrne [at] cairns.qld.gov.au.

Vern Veitch, Sunfish Queensland, 4 Stagpole Street, Townsville, Qld 4810, Australia. Tel: +61 7 4771 6087; E-mail: vernv [at] bigpond.net.au.

Darren Cleland, Ecofish, Qld, Australia. E-mail: dcleland [at] credc.com.au.


BOX: Draft zoning plan is online

The GBRMPA draft zoning plan is available online at http://www.reefed.edu.au/rap/index.html. The website features maps showing the proposed no-take zones by region, explanations of the criteria considered in re-zoning, and a submission form for comments.

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