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Minke whale underwater, Coral Sea © John Rumney / WWF-Aus

Minke whale underwater, Coral Sea © John Rumney / WWF-Aus

WWF analysis shows Australia proposes “the largest protected area downgrading in the world”

08 Sep 2017

  • coral
  • coral sea
  • environmental laws
  • fisheries
  • marine protected areas
  • marine species

An investigation by WWF-Australia shows the Federal Government’s proposed changes to marine parks would be the largest downgrading of protected area the world has ever seen.

That’s according to an international website that tracks impacts on protected areas.

An area larger than Victoria and Tasmania combined is set to be opened up to commercial fishing.

WWF-Australia analysed the proposals and found:

  • 433,337 sq km of marine national park would be downgraded to areas that allow commercial fishing
  • The Coral Sea would be the worst affected place by far with 280,410 sq km downgraded


The WWF website  records Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD) around the world.


Downgrading is defined as a decrease in legal restrictions on human activities within a protected area.


According to PADDDtracker, the biggest downgrading episode occurred in 1998 when 22,400 sq km of Kafue National Park in Zambia were downgraded to allow mining to occur.


“The Federal Government wants to downgrade an area nearly 20 times larger than that,” said WWF-Australia Head of Oceans Richard Leck.


“If these proposals go ahead Australia will hold the record for the biggest downgrading of protected area ever seen in the world.  


“Australia’s reputation as a global leader in marine conservation would be in tatters.


“It is in stark contrast to the Howard Government which expanded the Great Barrier Reef Marine National Parks from below 5% to 33% of the total Reef – the greatest national park increase in Australian history,” he said.


Mr Leck said concerned Australians should contact their local federal MP to say the attack on protected areas is unacceptable.


There are fewer than three weeks left to provide formal feedback to the Director of National Parks by 11.59 pm AEST Wednesday 20 September 2017.


Provide feedback by:

  1. Filling in the federal government’s feedback form here
  2. Emailing:
  3. Writing (free of charge) to:

Australian Marine Parks Management Planning Comments 
Department of the Environment and Energy 
Reply Paid 787 
Canberra ACT 2601




On 21 July, the Federal Government announced draft plans that increase the total area of marine reserves open to fishing from 64% to 80%1.


Green zones – which afford a high level of protection – would be nearly halved, going from 36% to 20% (866,335 sq km to 465,327 sq km)2


Map showing proposed changes


Map showing proposed changes ©WWF-Aus



1 Josh Frydenberg, Minister for the Environment, media release, “Marine park draft management plans released”, 21 July 2017,


2 Direction of National Parks, media release, "Have your say today on marine park draft plans", 21 July 2017, view it here.