Marine reserves not enough: report
FLIP PRIOR, The West Australian
November 10, 2011, 5:40 pm
The Federal Government's proposed marine reserves in WA's north-west do not go far enough to protect cetacean species including humpback whales and snub-nosed dolphins, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to threats from the growing oil and gas industry, a new report claims.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare report, compiled by marine scientists, described the region's waters extending from Kalbarri up to the WA-NT border as the "last great whale haven" in Australia, which include the world's largest humpback whale population.
The report recorded 32 cetacean species as living in or migrating to the area, but just four - the snubfin dolphin, Indo-Pacific humpback and bottlenose dolphins and humpback whale - are recognised in the Federal Government's proposed bioregional plan.
With their highly refined acoustic senses, cetaceans are vulnerable to human-generated noise pollution from dredging, construction, explosions and seismic surveys and drilling, as well as fisheries, shipping and habitat degradation.
The Government's marine reserves offered little protection to the animals when "vast tracts" of ocean were being handed over to oil and gas companies for exploitation, the report said.
Areas of greatest risk identified by the report included the Exmouth Gulf, Ningaloo Reef, Barrow Island, Quondong Point and James Price Point, Browse Island, Scott Reef and Ashmore Reef.
Environs Kimberley spokesman Martin Pritchard said less than one per cent of the north-west marine area was protected.
"We are really concerned that the Federal Government will cave into the demands of the oil and gas industry rather than protect marine life up here," he said.
"In their draft plan, they could have taken the opportunity to put in a reserve adjoining the proposed State Government North Kimberley marine park proposal - but they haven't."
There was only one highly protected area within the Kimberley Marine Reserve, placed specifically to protect the humpback whale calving grounds.
Kimberley whale expert Richard Costin said the report indicated that Commonwealth and State marine reserves systems showed a lack of coordination and did not actually provide any meaningful protection for cetaceans.
"The classic example, of course, is the proposed Camden Sound marine park, which has only a very small sanctuary area set aside for the humpback whales," he said.
"That hasn't continued on into Commonwealth waters to probably the most important area that runs across to Adele Island through the outer shoals and down to Eco Beach.
"All the boundaries for the proposed marine parks have done is provide certainty for access to the oil and gas industry."
IFAW campaigns officer Matthew Collis said the north-west waters were globally environmentally significant with incredible diversity of whales and dolphins and needed stronger protection and more research to be carried out.
"Of the proposed reserves, only three are highly protected and two are far offshore," Mr Collis said. "Even that highly protected area (in the Kimberley) doesn't cover all the areas in which the humpback whales breed and calve."
Environment Minister Bill Marmion said State Government was committed to expanding the marine parks system in WA, including the four proposed in Camden Sound, Eighty Mile Beach, Roebuck Bay and North Kimberley.
He said the State and Commonwealth Governments had agreed to work collaboratively in planning processes and provide complementary conservation measures across jurisdictional boundaries wherever possible.However, there was no overlap between marine park and reserve proposals in Commonwealth waters, and those in State waters, he said