Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
MARINE PROTECTED AREA
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The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park protects a large part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef from damaging activities. Fishing and the removal of artefacts or wildlife (fish, coral, sea shells, etc.) is strictly regulated, and commercial shipping traffic must stick to certain specific defined shipping routes that avoid the most sensitive areas of the park. The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest cluster of corals and other exotic marine life.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is the administrator of the park. It issues permits for various forms of use of the marine park, and monitors usage in the park to ensure compliance with rules and regulations associated with the park. GBRMPA is funded by Commonwealth Government appropriations, which include an environmental management charge levied on the permit-holders' passengers. Currently this is A$5.50 per day per passenger (to a maximum of $16.50 per trip).
The park lies east of the mainland coast of Queensland, starting in the north at Cape York. Its northern boundary is the circle of latitude 10°41'S (running east up to the eastern edge of the Great Barrier Reef at 145º19'33"E), thereby encompassing those few uninhabited Torres Strait Islands that are east of Cape York, south of 10°41'S and north of 11°00'S. The largest of those island are Albany Island (5.9 km2 or 2.3 sq mi), Turtle Head Island 12.8 km2 or 4.9 sq mi and Trochus Island 2.2 km2 or 0.85 sq mi. Further islands are Mai Island 0.25 km2 or 0.097 sq mi, Bush Island 0.2 km2 or 0.077 sq mi, Tree Islet 0.01 km2 or 0.0039 sq mi, Brewis Island 0.05 km2 or 0.019 sq mi, and a few unnamed islets.
In 1975, the Government of Australia enacted the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, which created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and defined what acts were prohibited on the Reef. The Australian Government also has recognised the ecological significance of this Park by its inclusion in the nation's Biodiversity Action Plan. The Government of Australia manages the reef through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and in partnership with the Government of Queensland, to ensure that it is widely understood and used in a sustainable manner. A combination of zoning, management plans, permits, education and incentives (such as eco-tourism certification) is used in the effort to conserve the Great Barrier Reef.
As many species of the Great Barrier Reef are migratory, many international, national, and interstate conventions or pieces of legislation must be taken into account when strategies for conservation are made.
Some international conventions that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park must follow are: the Bonn Convention, Ramsar Site (for the Bowling Green Bay National Park site), CITES, JAMBA and CAMBA. Some national legislation that the Park must follow are: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity, Australia’s Oceans Policy, National Strategy for the Conservation of Australian Species and Communities Threatened with Extinction. Some state legislation that the Park must follow are: Nature Conservation Act 1992, Marine Parks Act 1982, Fisheries Act 1994, Queensland Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulation 1994.
For example, the Queensland Government has enacted several plans attempting to regulate fishing. The East Coast Trawl Management Plan 1999 aimed to regulate trawling through limiting the times when trawling is permitted and restricting gear used. The Fisheries (Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery) Management Plan 2003 aimed at reducing the annual commercial catch to 1996 levels, disallowing fishing when the fish are spawning and increasing the minimum legal size of fish.
The Great Barrier Reef was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981. Up until 1999, there were four main zones in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. They were the "Far Northern", "Cairns", "Central" and "Mackay/Capricorn" sections. These zoning sections were created between 1983–1987. Another section, the "Gumoo Woojabuddee" section was declared in 1998. Each section had its own zoning plan. The Great Barrier Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003 superseded all previous zoning plans, coming into effect on 1 July 2004.
In July 2004, a new zoning plan was brought into effect for the entire Marine Park, and has been widely acclaimed as a new global benchmark for the conservation of marine ecosystems. The rezoning was based on the application of systematic conservation planning techniques, using the MARXAN software. On 1 July 2004 the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park became the largest protected sea area in the world when the Australian Government increased the areas protected from extractive activities (such as fishing) from 4.6% to 33.3% of the park. As of 2006[update], the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Monument is the largest protected marine area in the world. The management committee draws inspiration from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's management strategies.
The current method of zoning is called the "Representative Areas Program", which chooses "typical" areas of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. They can then be protected in "Green Zones" (no-take zones). The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area has been divided into 70 bioregions, of which 30 are reef bioregions, and 40 are non-reef bioregions.
In 2006, a review was undertaken of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. Some recommendations of the review are that there should be no further zoning plan changes until 2013, and that every five years, a peer-reviewed Outlook Report should be published, examining the health of the Great Barrier Reef, the management of the Reef, and environmental pressures.
In early 2007, GBRMPA was one of three nominees for the Destination Award in the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.
On 3 April 2010, The Shen Neng 1, a Chinese ship carrying 950 tonnes of oil, ran aground, causing the 2010 Great Barrier Reef oil spill.
The week before 21 July 2013, on the second day of the biennial joint training exercise Talisman Saber, two American AV-8B Harrier fighter jets launched from aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) dropped four bombs, weighing a total 1.8 metric tons (4,000 pounds), into more than 50 metres (164 ft) of water. None exploded and no coral was damaged.
In June 2014, GBRMPA confirmed five of its directors had taken voluntary redundancies including the director of heritage conservation, the director of policy and governance and the director of coastal ecosystems and water quality. The round of redundancies was offered in order to achieve cost savings.
In December 2013, Greg Hunt, the Australian environment minister, approved a plan for dredging to create three shipping terminals as part of the expansion of an existing coal port. According to corresponding approval documents, the process will create around 3 million cubic metres of dredged seabed that will be dumped within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
On 31 January 2014, GBRMPA issued a permit that will allow three million cubic metres of sea bed from Abbot Point, north of Bowen, to be transported and unloaded in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, just outside of Abbot Bay. Potential significant harms have been identified in relation to dredge spoil and the process of churning up the sea floor in the area and exposing it to air: firstly, new research shows the finer particles of dredge spoil can cloud the water and block sunlight, thereby starving sea grass and coral up to distances of 80 km away from the point of origin due to the actions of wind and currents. Furthermore, dredge spoil can literally smother reef or sea grass to death, while storms can repeatedly resuspend these particles so that the harm caused is ongoing; secondly, disturbed sea floor can release toxic substances into the surrounding environment.
The dredge spoil from the Abbot Point port project is to be dumped 24 kilometres (15 mi) away, near Bowen in north Queensland. The coal terminal expansion will result in the production of an extra 70 million tonnes of coal annually, worth between A$1.4 billion and $2.8 billion. Authority chairman, Dr Russell Reichelt, stated after the confirmation of the approval:
This approval is in line with the agency’s view that port development along the Great Barrier Reef coastline should be limited to existing ports. As a deepwater port that has been in operation for nearly 30 years, Abbot Point is better placed than other ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline to undertake expansion as the capital and maintenance dredging required will be significantly less than what would be required in other areas. It’s important to note the seafloor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds.
The approval was provided with a corresponding set of 47 conditions that included the following:
A freedom of information request by the Northern Queensland Conservation Council in 2014 showed that Queensland Nickel owned by Australian politician Clive Palmer discharged nitrogen-laden water into the Great Barrier Reef in 2009 and 2011, the later released 516 tonnes of toxic waste water. In June 2012 Queensland Nickel stated it intended to release waste water“at least 100 times the allowed maximum level as well as heavy metals and other contaminants”. continuously for three months. A Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority briefing stated the company had “threatened a compensation claim of $6.4bn should the GBRMPA intend to exert authority over the company’s operations”.
In response GBRMPA said: “We have strongly encouraged the company to investigate options that do not entail releasing the material to the environment and to develop a management plan to eliminate this potential hazard; however, GBRMPA does not have legislative control over how the Yabulu tailings dam is managed".
Larissa Waters an Australian Greens senator responded “If Clive Palmer can afford ads for himself on primetime TV, he can afford to clean up his businesses rather than letting them pollute the reef. Instead, he has threatened to sue the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority if they pursue him for illegally dumping toxic pollution into the Reef. Mr Palmer needs to stop thinking of the reef like it’s his own personal waste dump.”
Wendy Tubman, co-ordinator of the North Queensland Conservation Council commented “Much is made of the conditions placed on developments such as this and in Gladstone, but those conditions mean nothing because when they are broken – no action is taken, we know the reef south of Cooktown is in poor and declining health and it could be placed on the world heritage ‘in danger’ list. And yet there will be huge dredging at Abbot Point and we are told, ‘Don’t worry, there are conditions.’ We really doubt the credibility of those assurances.”
Jon Day, who had been heritage conservation director at the GBRMPA for 21 years prior to the dredge disposal approval, stated that the decision caused a "huge reduction in morale" in the staff. "But I stress this isn't the only decision that has upset some of the staff. They know what the agency was like in the past, they know how we've stood up for issues and fought them. Today we're not having that same level of leadership." Charlie Veron, the former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science said of the decision to dump dredge material in the Marine Park: "If they said yes to Abbot Point dumping, that's about as far down the road as you can go. The [sic] really committed suicide on that one."
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