Community surveys in the Jervis Bay Marine Park and Solitary Islands Marine Park have demonstrated that over 80% of the local community, including fishers and non-fishers, supports marine parks and sanctuary zones. Similar surveys across NSW have found that 93% support sanctuary zones, including 91% of people who fish.
In addition to providing areas for recreation and enjoyment, marine parks support billions of dollars of vital ecosystem services worldwide (services that would need to be commercially replicated if natural assets were not available e.g. seagrass nurseries for fish and algal “forests” for carbon storage).
Southeast Australia is an ocean warming “hotspot” – a region where temperature at the ocean’s surface is increasing more rapidly than anywhere else. In research published in 2013 in Nature Climate Change, marine reserves in this area proved to be important in reducing the effects of climate change on different species.
In the Maria Island Marine National Park in Tasmania and nearby sites, fish communities in the marine reserve proved to be quite resilient to the warming temperatures. The number and diversity of species in the reserve remained more stable from year to year, as well as across decades, when compared to areas that have been open to fishing. As marine parks and protected areas are established around Australia and in other parts of the world, there is growing evidence, published in peer reviewed scientific journals, showing their positive benefits. There are also international agreements in place which make clear the importance of marine parks in protecting the animals and plants of the world’s oceans, and provide greater impetus for action in Australia, which has the world’s third largest marine jurisdiction.
Emma Johnston, Director of the Sydney Harbour Research Program at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) advised that protection should be granted to the Hawkesbury-Nepean bioregion spanning the Hunter to Wollongong.
"We very much support the process of zoning a bioregion like Sydney Harbour," Professor Johnston said. "This is the only bioregion [in the state] that doesn't have a marine park."
With 80 per cent of Australia's population located within 50km of the coast and many projects planned to expand ports in the country, it is vital lessons learned from Sydney are applied here and overseas, Professor Johnston said.
"We've seen remarkable improvements in water quality and ecosystem integrity [in Sydney Harbour] over the last 20 or so years,"
80% of all tourism takes place in coastal areas, with beaches and coral reefs amongst the most popular destinations. An Environment Department statement cites a study of a proposal for large marine sanctuaries off South Western Australia which found the zones could generate an annual economic benefit of $55 million a year and could deliver a 20 per cent increase in profits for eco-tourism operators.
"They send a strong message to the global tourism market that we have marine environments worth protecting and enjoying," the statement says.
Chris Thomas, Marine Parks Department Manager said that eco-tourism ventures could also yield job growth.
"Examples from around the world indicate people are attracted to protected areas to see and enjoy unique marine life in a natural setting, with local businesses benefiting from the increased number of visitors," he said.
More than 200 million people rely on our oceans for their livelihoods and a further 950 million depend on them as a primary source of protein. Marine parks and protected areas allow for fish stocks to regenerate at a sustainable rate, benefiting the marine ecosystem as well as the fishing community. Global studies have found that fish densities are, on average, 2.5 times higher in sanctuary zones. Large fish biomass is, on average, 5 times higher.
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National Parks Association of NSW is a non-government conservation group that seeks to protect, connect and restore the integrity and diversity of natural systems in NSW and beyond, through national parks, marine sanctuaries and other means.