On the eve of a crucial Senate vote, an analysis by WWF-Australia shows that sea turtles are among the big losers as the federal government attempts the largest removal of marine protections in human history.
The Coral Sea is the worst affected place by far with more than 280,000 sq km of protected area downgraded.
“The plan to slash marine protection in the Coral Sea is a blow to sea turtles and must be blocked by the Senate,” said WWF-Australia conservation scientist Dr Martin Taylor.
Big stretches of ocean gazetted in 2012 as marine national parks – where commercial fishing is not permitted – are being downgraded to zones which allow fishing.
Flatback, green, loggerhead, hawksbill, and olive ridley turtles will all lose protection from fishing over more than 140,000 square kilometres of their known or likely habitat in the Coral Sea.
That’s an area nearly twice the size of Tasmania.
Leatherback turtles will lose protection from fishing over more than 215,000 sq km of their known or likely habitat in the Coral Sea.
Leatherback, loggerhead, olive ridley, and hawksbill turtles are listed as endangered; green and flatback as vulnerable.
“This analysis is based on the government’s own research into turtle habitat. On the one hand the government is identifying critical areas for turtle conservation, on the other they are stripping it away,” said Dr Taylor.
“At a time when Australia needs to increase protection of turtles, the reverse is happening.
“One of the major threats to all marine turtles is drowning in fishing nets.
“The senate is expected to votetoday on the federal government’s plan and must reject this downgrading of marine protection,” Dr Taylor said.
In May, WWF-Australia revealed satellite tracking that shows hawksbill turtles using the Coral Sea as their main highway to reach the Great Barrier Reef.
In 2012, most of Australia had no commonwealth marine national parks until the then federal government created a network of marine reserves.
But after a change of government, the incoming environment minister did not enforce these new marine parks even though they had been gazetted.
The current federal government has made wholesale changes which amount to the largest downgrading of national parks the world has ever seen.
WWF-Australia is calling for these changes to be stopped, with a vote on a disallowance motion expected in the Senate today.
WWF obtained the official spatial data for Commonwealth Marine Reserve boundaries as they were in 2012 and as they have been proposed by the Turnbull government as of March 2018.
We intersected these with the known and likely to occur habitats for marine turtles as mapped by the Australian Government in the Species of National Environmental Significance database Jan 2016 release, and differences in areas within Marine National Parks calculated using ArcGIS tools and the GDA94 Australian Albers projection.