Coral Sea marine reserve proposed

Proposals have been unveiled for the world’s largest marine reserve in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Australia, to protect the area from illegal shark fishing and oil and gas prospecting.

The conservation group WWF called on the federal government to grant protection to 300,000 square miles of unspoilt tropical ocean, tripling the size of the existing Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Stretching from the outer boundary of the reef to the edge of Australia’s territorial waters, the Coral Sea marine reserve would be the largest on the planet.

In places it would extend more than 200 nautical miles off the coast of Queensland.

While shark populations have plummeted globally, they remain at healthy levels in the Coral Sea, which boasts large numbers of tiger sharks, hammerheads, white-tipped reef sharks and blue sharks.

But there are fears they could be targeted by illegal fishing boats meeting the growing Asian demand for shark fins, used to make soup and in other products believed to have medicinal benefit.

“WWF and the tourism industry are very concerned that illegal fishers will raid the Coral Sea reefs – mainly for shark fins for the Asian market,” said Richard Leck, WWF’s marine policy manager.

“The Coral Sea presents us with a unique opportunity to safeguard one of the world’s few remaining pristine marine regions.”

The tropical ocean, between Australia and the south-west Pacific, was also under threat from future plans for undersea oil and gas extraction, WWF Australia said.

The Coral Sea was recently nominated by Forbes magazine as being one of the world’s top 10 diving destinations. Its pristine reefs and coral cays are estimated to bring in more than