A major environmental campaign to establish the world’s biggest marine national park across the ecologically important Coral Sea has been quashed by Environment Minister Peter Garrett.
Mr Garrett yesterday announced that his department would assess the Coral Sea, home to thousands of turtles, whales and sharks, to establish a range of ”multi-use” and ”no-take” marine protection zones.
But Mr Garrett ruled out the proposed single marine park saying ”the government is not intending to have one large no-take area across the whole of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone”.
”We believe that we want to meet the really important goals of conservation and protecting the environment of the Coral Sea whilst at the same time allowing for mixed uses,” Mr Garrett said.
The proposal for a single, all-encompassing marine national park has been fiercely opposed by local fishermen, the boating industry and Queensland National and Liberal MPs.
The Coral Sea is a large body of ocean off the Queensland cost, stretching between Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
Pew Environment Group, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Marine Conservation Society want 17,290 square kilometres of ocean protected between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the edge of Australia’s exclusive economic zone.
Imogen Zethoven, from Pew, said Mr Garrett should not be ruling anything in or out before the Coral Sea is studied by the federal Environment Department for marine park sites.
Ms Zethoven said large marine creatures found in the region, such as turtles, whales and sharks, travel large distances and need a large protected area to move safely.
The Coral Sea was also the site of one of World War II’s fiercest navy battles and home to several historic shipwrecks.
Retired navy chiefs David Shackleton and Christopher Ritchie along with novelists Tim Winton and former tennis player Pat Rafter have backed the national park campaign.
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the minister responded to opposition calls for balance between marine protection and recreation use in the region.
Nationals senator Ron Boswell said Mr Garrett had to come clean about how he would compensate local fishermen.
The government has undertaken to establish several marine protection zones around the Australian coast by 2012.