Despite the majority of the planet being covered in oceans, very little of the area is actually preserved or protected. While many land areas are protected to ensure the survival of monuments or species, very little of the same dedication has occurred in the water. Now a significant increase in sea protection is likely to happen in Australia.
Currently the largest marine reserve in the world is in the Chagos Islands located in the Indian Ocean established by the United Kingdom. This marine reserve is 210,425 square miles. When this reserve was established it doubled the amount of ocean protected globally.
Australia sought to establish a marine reserve on their northeast coast near Queensland in 2011. This region is known as the Coral Sea and the reserve will be over 382,000 square miles. The area is approximately 1.5 times the size of France. This will make it the largest marine reserve in the world by more than 170,000 square miles. However, the reserve is still not official.
Now the Environmental Minister of Australian has announced plans to create a network of reserves in the waters surrounding Australia. The plans include the aforementioned Coral Sea reserve and in total include 1.2 million square miles of ocean. The Coral Sea is by far the largest part of the reserve as many of the reserves will be very small areas, however, there will be reserves surrounding the nation. The reserves will be split into networks, such as the North, North-west, South-west and South-east networks.
The proposal is not yet approved but is currently in the final consultation phase. The government hopes to see all of the reserves, including the Coral Sea, officially protected in the months to come. When finalized, approximately a third of Australian waters will be marine reserves.
Environmental Minister Tony Burke stated: “It’s time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans. And Australia today is leading that next step. […] What we’ve done is effectively create a national parks estate in the ocean.”
Oil and gas exploration and drilling would be banned from the reserves. However, environmental groups have indicated that such activities are still ongoing near other reserves and have growing concerns about such activities. Commercial and recreational fishing are said to only be allowed in specific areas of the marine reserves. However, the fishing industry of Australia is expected to be given compensation for the marine reserves in the hundreds of millions.