Lessons From Ningaloo Reef

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Acropora coral and blue green chomis on Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Photo © Steve Lindfield

Thanks to James Fitzsimons and The Nature Conservancy’s Australia program for this one:

Big, Bold & Blue: Lessons from Australia’s Marine Protected Areas

BY JUSTINE E. HAUSHEER

Australia has one the largest systems of marine protected areas in the world, from the coral-covered Great Barrier Reef to the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island. Now, a new book details the lessons learned by Australian scientists, policymakers, and communities during more than 130 years of marine conservation.

The book — Big, Bold & Blue: Lessons from Australia’s Marine Protected Areas — gathers lessons learned from academia, government, NGOs, indigenous communities, and the fishing sector.This resource is edited by Dr. James Fitzsimons, director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy’s Australia program, and associate professor Geoff Wescott, an environmental scientist at Deakin University.

Cool Green Science sat down with Fitzsimons to talk about how this book can help guide future marine conservation efforts in Australia and beyond.

Q: So tell about the history of marine protected areas, or MPAs, in Australia?

A: Australia was actually the first country in the world to establish a marine protected area, and it wasn’t the Great Barrier Reef. It was an estuary just outside of Sydney declared as part of the Royal National Park in the late 1800s, which was Australia’s first national park. So in that sense, it became the world’s first marine waters protected under what we know in the modern times as a protected area.

Q: How much marine area is currently protected under some form in Australia?

A: As of the start of 2016, about 36 percent of our exclusive economic zone waters were within an MPA of some form, but they vary in terms of categories and levels of protection. And 13 percent of our exclusive economic zone was within no-take, highly protected MPAs.

Q: How does that stack up against conservation targets?

A: So under the Aichi Targets, which are part of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2020 goals, the goal is to protect 10 percent of marine waters in a representative and well-connected manner. Australia, with 36 percent overall, is doing a pretty good job, but there are some bioregions that have less protection than others, and some that have only very small amounts or no protection within no-take, high-protection zones.
This is a bit at odds with our national policy, which also specified that we need at least some samples of each bioregion with high protection. So we’re doing a really good job in many ways, but there’re also important areas, particularly on the continental shelf, that aren’t being protected or aren’t represented in the system.

Q: What prompted you and your coauthor to edit this book?

A: Australia is seen as a leader in this field, and many countries look to Australia as they’re expanding their MPA systems to meet their conservation targets. The rapid expansion of the system attracted a lot of attention and a lot of commentary, some of which wasn’t necessarily informed. We wanted to bring together different perspectives surrounding MPA establishment, particularly perspectives from those people that were intimately involved in creating the protected area networks…

Read the whole interview here.

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