Environmental groups have welcomed the announcement of a new marine park on the Kimberley coast, but warn that more needs to be done to ensure its protection from “runaway industrialisation”.
Premier Colin Barnett and Environment Minister Bill Marmion today announced the creation of Camden Sound Marine Park, about 300 kilometres north-east of Broome.
Camden Sound is internationally recognised as the biggest humpback whale calving area in the southern hemisphere with more than 1000 humpbacks found there during calving season, Mr Marmion said.
The park will cover nearly 7000 square kilometres and will be created by mid-2012.
WWF Australia spokesperson Paul Gamblin said the park was a great start, however further protection was still needed.
“The marine park can be even better if it protects areas along the coast like the mouth of the majestic Price Regent River which is a vital habitat for the snubfin dolphin,” Mr Gamblin said.
Conservation group Environs Kimberley warns that marine life would continue to be at risk in the Kimberley if an industrial port for oil and gas refineries at James Price Point goes ahead.
Environs Kimberley director Martin Pritchard welcomed the new marine park, but said the calving ground protection needs to extend further south to Broome.
“If an industrial port is built at James Price Point for the gas then Humpback mothers and calves will be at extreme risk form the thousands of vessels that would be exporting gas and servicing the port,” Mr Pritchard said.
“The WA Premier has taken a step in the right direction today but all this could be undone if he allows runaway industrialisation to destroy one of the world’s most pristine marine environments along the Kimberley coast.”
The government has committed $10 million over four years to protecting and managing the park, with ongoing funding of $2.3 million a year from 2015-16.
Mr Marmion said a special purpose zone would be created covering about 1670 sq km to protect the calving grounds, with vessels required to remain at least 500 metres from humpback mothers and calves.
The marine park will also feature two sanctuary zones comprising about 20 per cent of the marine park area around Champagny Islands and Montgomery Reef, with the 761 sq km Montgomery Reef sanctuary zone to become the biggest in the WA marine park system.
Mr Marmion said for the first time in WA there would be a zone providing for a ‘wilderness’ fishing experience where recreational fishers must either catch and release or eat their catch before leaving the zone.
Pearling operations will be recognised in a designated zone, and some commercial fishing operations will be phased out, with 48 per cent of the marine park closed to commercial trawl fishing and 23 per cent closed to all forms of commercial fishing.
Mr Marmion said compensation would be paid to affected fishing operations if appropriate.
The marine park will be jointly managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation and traditional land owners, including the Dambimangari and Uunguu people.
The Pew Environment Group, which advised on the park’s boundaries, said it took the region a step closer to becoming an international tourism and conservation attraction alongside the Great Barrier Reef.
“The reefs and marine life of the Kimberley are as significant as what’s found on the Great Barrier Reef. However, to date less than one per cent of the region has had any protection,” he said.
The Camden Sound Marine Park is one of four marine parks being created in WA’s Kimberley region under the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy.