Wreck Reef in the Coral Sea is an example of the protected marine areas.
Wreck Reef in the Coral Sea is an example of the protected marine areas. Contributed By Xanthe Rivett

Park to protect reefs

PLANS for a marine national park in the Coral Sea will directly affect chartered fishing businesses operating out of the Gladstone region.

Depending on the final structure of the marine park, the businesses could lose access to one of their most important resources.

The park is being championed by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, who is trying to find a balance between the demands of environmental groups, commercial fishermen and recreational fishing operators.

Fishing charter business owner Rob Benn said the national park, depending on how it is implemented, could impact up to a third of his business.

He said he and other charter businesses in the region take tours out to the Coral Sea for fishing trips.

The final shape of the park is yet to be decided.

The park will be made up of areas under different categories of protection, with differing rules about commercial and recreational fishing.

The final rule on where recreational fishing can or cannot happen is the pivotal point for charter fishing businesses.

On the other side of the argument, the Australian Marine Conservation Society has welcomed the minister's plan, but is pushing for as many sections of the Coral Sea as possible to be covered by maximum protection in the marine park.

"Today the tide turned in favour of our oceans. This is a landmark announcement for our seas and one of the most significant advances for environmental protection in Australia's history," AMCS director Darren Kindleysides said.

"Critically important areas like the Coral Sea - the "Serengeti of the Seas" - will be safeguarded from damaging activities like bottom trawling, oil and gas exploration and seabed mining.

"The near-pristine wilderness of our tropical Coral Sea is one of the last remaining places on Earth where populations of large ocean fish and healthy coral reefs still thrive.

"We can be proud that future generations will be able to look back and realise that we protected what is so globally important whilst we had the chance," Mr Kindleysides said.


A massive park

The new Coral Sea national park runs east from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park boundary, to the edge of Australia's most eastern economic zone.

It is 106km from the coast near Cairns, and 407km from Gladstone.

The decision is part of a plan that increases the number of Australian marine reserves from 27 to 60, covering one-third of Australian waters.

Public comment is open for 60 days and the reserves will be declared by the end of 2012.