Pleas to protect WA marine life ramps up

Hundreds have urged the government to reconsider its proposed network of marine reserves off the WA coast, which has drawn criticism from both industry and conservationists.
Hundreds have urged the government to reconsider its proposed network of marine reserves off the WA coast, which has drawn criticism from both industry and conservationists.

Hundreds of people have written passionate pleas urging the federal government to reconsider its proposed network of marine reserves off the South-West, imploring what they say is a lack of protection for vulnerable marine life.

The government's draft plan, released in May, covers waters from Geraldton in WA across the Great Australian Bight to Kangaroo Island in South Australia and declares the south-west corner off Busselton and Albany a marine national park zone, banning fishing and drilling activity.

The draft has drawn criticism from both the fishing industry, which claims the changes will be dire for businesses, and conservationists who say the network needs to be extended to include Perth Canyon, Geographe Bay, The Capes area, the Abrolhos Islands and Recherche Archipelago.

Environmentalists argue the south-west marine region is larger and contains more unique marine life than the Great Barrier Reef and deserves a higher level of protection.

Several reports have claimed the plan lacks protection for critical feeding and breeding areas for the southern right whale, the Australian sea lion, white shark and the world's largest animal, the blue whale, and marine life remains unprotected and vulnerable to the threats of over fishing, damage from oil and gas drilling and marine pollution such as oil spills.

With public submissions closing on Monday, critics have ramped up calls for the public to join the growing chorus of commercial fisheries and environmental campaigners calling for a review.

Within hours of advocacy group GetUp! launching a campaign yesterday, campaign manager Paul Oosting said he had received hundreds of letters from concerned members.

He said two letters, one written by a prawn trawler and another by a sea trawler, detailing their personal observations of the impacts of trawling on the sea bed were particularly "powerful".

"One [author] was talking about how they were trawling for prawns but in their nets there would be sea snakes, turtles, manta rays and sharks, which were killed as a result," Mr Oosting said.

"Dragging the nets was [also] destroying the habitat for the other species not [caught in the nets].

"[He wrote] 'I know we all like eating but at what cost?'"

The rapid response to the campaign launch follows a letter written by four Australians of the Year, including WA doctor Fiona Wood, calling on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to take into account a plethora of scientific research that suggests a need to take the draft marine reserve plan further.

"The scientific case for sanctuary areas has now been well and truly made," the letter said.

"Research from Australia and around the world provides compelling evidence of both the benefits and the urgency for action."

Mr Oosting said the proposed network of marine reserves was a unique opportunity to protect the region's marine environment for the future.

"When we think about ocean destruction, images of oil spills often come to mind but what we can't see is what happens under the surface," he said.

"Thousands of kilometres of our ocean floor are being devastated by sea floor trawling in some of Australia's most precious marine hotspots."

He said calls for greater protection of marine reserves would start to outweigh commercial fishers lobbying the government.

"It's not often we get the opportunity to leave a legacy for the future," Mr Oosting said. "When enjoying these marine sanctuaries with our grandkids in years to come, we can look back on the time we took just a few minutes to help protect Australia's iconic coastline."

Submissions close Monday.

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