9 December 2008
Australia's global leadership in whale conservation has been confirmed with the announcement of $32 million in measures over the next five years to create the largest international whale research program in the world, focused on answering the important science about southern ocean whales and utilising the most powerful non-lethal techniques.
Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the funding would ensure that the new Southern Ocean Research Partnership was properly resourced to continue to at least 2012-13, providing the opportunity for longer term, coordinated and comprehensive non-lethal whale and cetacean research with international partners.
"This financial commitment underpins the comprehensive reform agenda that Australia has taken to the International Whaling Commission and sends a very clear message around the world about this Government's determination to debunk once and for all the notion that we need to kill whales to understand them.
"Our reform package is the most significant ever taken to the IWC, charting a new era for whale conservation. After making good progress at the IWC meeting in Chile in June and subsequent meetings, we're hopeful of further progress at the upcoming reform working group meeting in Cambridge, United Kingdom this week.
"For over two decades, the debate over 'scientific' whaling has been gridlocked in claim and counter claim, and all the while, the number of whales targeted by Japan in the Southern Ocean has increased - in particular, doubling between 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Minke whale. Image courtesy of Matt Curnock.
"It is not enough to simply say that there are non-lethal alternatives; we need to demonstrate conclusively that there is no scientific merit in the Japanese whaling program and that it is not necessary to kill whales to understand them.
"This significant investment in world-leading science, much of it co-ordinated through the Australian Marine Mammal Centre in Hobart, will transform the whaling debate.
"It will create the largest international whale research program in the world, focused on answering the important science about southern ocean whales and utilising the most powerful non-lethal techniques.
"Research will also directly benefit whale conservation in Australian waters through additional support to the Australian science community for strategic conservation needs. Examples of this work include the centralising marine mammal stranding and sighting data from all jurisdictions in the Marine Mammal Centre, and a world-first project to assess rescue efforts for stranded whales.
Mr Garrett said the package had three main components:
- the Southern Ocean Research Partnership will receive $11 million for a series of innovative surveys in the Southern Ocean using aircraft, ships and yachts to deploy the latest non-lethal research techniques, as well as tracking of whales along the Australian coasts. Contributions are expected from other nations that supported this measure at the 2008 IWC meeting. These funds are in addition to the $6 million for the Southern Ocean Research Partnership for the current financial year announced last month.;
- the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, co-located at Hobart's Australian Antarctic Division, will receive $14.5 million to conduct competitive grants for applied, strategic research; contestable post-doctoral research positions in marine mammal research; funding for eight marine mammal scientists; support for whale research and capacity building initiatives in Pacific Island countries and a series of specialist workshops to build technical capacity in non-lethal scientific techniques; and
- a further $0.5 million to provide policy support for Australia's IWC objectives and reform agenda.
In addition, Australia will provide a one-off voluntary contribution of $2 million to the IWC for the development of conservation management plans; collaborative regional non-lethal research; and other priority conservation initiatives.
"This investment has been carefully designed to complement Australia's intensive diplomatic work through Australia's Special Envoy for Whale Conservation, Mr Sandy Hollway, and the work of senior officials in the IWC reform working group,'' Mr Garrett said.
"This scientific research will underpin our argument against scientific whaling in the IWC and at the same time establish Australia as the Southern Hemisphere's leader in marine mammal science, accelerating our development of non-lethal methods.
"Australia remains absolutely committed to bringing about an end to commercial and so-called 'scientific' whaling and we will continue to take a comprehensive and strategic approach to this issue, including the consideration of international legal action."
An independent expert review of Queensland's East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery has been released, with both the Australian and Queensland Governments committing to act on its findings.
The review found that proposed changes to the fishery represent a significant step forward, but also identified further improvements that should be made in future to ensure best practice management.
Australian Government Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the suggested improvements were likely to form the basis of the conditions and recommendations of the fishery's export approval.
Dugongs at Shark Bay. Image courtesy of Paul Anderson, Conservation and Land Management, WA.
"The independent review that I commissioned in September will help to inform the Commonwealth's assessment of the fishery against sustainability guidelines under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act," he said.
"The primary objectives of the review were to assess the fishery's level of interaction with protected species, such as dugongs, whales and sawfish, management of shark, and commercial fishing effort."
Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries Minister Tim Mulherin welcomed the outcomes of the review.
"During the past two years, Queensland has reviewed the East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery, which targets a range of species including shark, barramundi and mullet. The proposed changes were released for public consultation in early 2008," Mr Mulherin said.
"This review has identified best practice management measures that Queensland can now work on through a process of continuous improvement.
"The Queensland Government is committed to the sustainable management of fisheries operating in our state and has been working closely with the Australian Government and the independent expert panel to ensure strict sustainability guidelines are met.
"The Queensland Government will consider changes to the fishery in the near future to be implemented in 2009. The Australian Government will then undertake a formal assessment of the fishery under the new arrangements."
Minister Garrett said that a temporary extension of the export approval, which expired on 30 November, had been extended to 28 February 2009.
"This will allow me time to consider the outcomes of the report and the new arrangements and consult with stakeholders prior to making a decision on ongoing export approval for the fishery."Minister Garrett also said he was committed to ensuring the fishery was managed in an ecologically sustainable manner and that the World Heritage Area values of the Great Barrier Reef were protected.
"I also understand the importance of the fishery to Queensland and intend to work closely with the Queensland Government in relation to the sustainable management of the East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery."
Minister Garrett also extended his thanks to the Panel members. The Panel was chaired by Mr John Gunn, Deputy Chief, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, who has 25 years of experience in marine ecology and fisheries science, and included Dr John Stevens, a globally respected shark scientist and Mr Frank Meere, who has extensive experience in fisheries management and qualifications in economics.
The independent review of the East Coast Inshore Fin Fishery is available online at: www.environment.gov.au/coasts/fisheries/qld/east-coast-finfish/index.html
Representatives from six Asia Pacific nations, development partners and experts converged in Townsville last month to discuss a regional plan to protect marine biodiversity, fisheries and food security in the Coral Triangle region.
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett said the Australian Government supported the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.
"We recognise the international significance of the Coral Triangle and that threats to biodiversity and productivity must be addressed for the sake of the marine environment, let alone the 240 million people that depend on its health," he said.
Turtle Cay, Coral Sea. Image courtesy of Australian Institute of Marine Science.
"Coastal communities rely on healthy marine systems for food security and sustainable industries. We cannot afford to continue business a usual.
"Australia is eager to support these six countries and we are excited about the momentum building around the Coral Triangle Initiative.
"Australia's northern tropical waters are adjacent to the Coral Triangle. There is value in sharing our expertise in marine conservation and protection, marine bioregional planning, sustainable fisheries management and species conservation with our neighbours."
The Coral Triangle covers parts of Indonesia, East Timor, Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
It is recognised as an area of global environmental significance, with the greatest marine biological diversity on the planet. Within the region can be found 75 per cent of the world's known coral species, one third of the world's coral reef area and more than 3,000 species of fish.
The release of a comprehensive profile of Australia's North-west Marine Region is the first step in the marine planning process for one of our most environmentally sensitive and economically important ocean areas, Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett said.
Mr Garrett said the release of the North-west Marine Bioregional Profile last month completed the first milestone in the planning process, which will culminate in two years with a Marine Bioregional Plan including a network of Marine Protected Areas.
"The North-west Bioregional Profile consolidates the best and latest environmental information on this vast area that includes Commonwealth waters stretching from west of Kalbarri, south of Shark Bay on the Western Australian coast, around the north-west corner of Australia to the Northern Territory border,'' Mr Garrett said.
North-west marine region map.
"This body of work will be crucial as we plan for greater protection of marine biodiversity in a region characterised by sub-tropical and tropical ecosystems and iconic creatures including turtles, dugongs and the famous Ningaloo whale sharks.
"Marine Bioregional Planning will help ensure that national economic assets such as the oil and gas and commercial fishing industries can prosper and that the impact of any conservation measures on them are minimised."
The North-west Marine Region accounts for 67 per cent of Australia's oil and condensate production (2006-07 value of $16.4 billion) and 69 per cent of its gas reserves. It also features 16 commercial fisheries in offshore, Commonwealth waters and a further 15 fisheries in state waters.
In 2005-06, the finfish, prawn and crab industries associated with the region were valued at around $42 million.
"Protecting this rich and diverse Marine Region is valuable not only for Australia's environmental sustainability, but for our economic development into the future. The North-west Marine Bioregional Profile ensures we have an information base upon which to make environmental decisions and set priorities for management," Mr Garrett said.
"The North-west Marine Region already has in place four important Commonwealth marine reserves - the Ningaloo Marine Park, the Mermaid Reef Marine National Nature Reserve, Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve, and Cartier Island Marine Reserve, which play a vital role in protecting resources and biodiversity in these waters.
"The Australian Government and stakeholders, including the Indigenous community, now have the data to begin discussions on the shape of a network of Marine Protected Areas in Commonwealth waters that truly represents the biodiversity of this region."
Mr Garrett said he aimed to release a Marine Bioregional Plan for the region in mid 2010.
More information on the North-west Marine Bioregional Profile can be found at www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/north-west
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett last month launched a comprehensive report on the biodiversity, ecosystems and social and economic uses of the oceans of northern Australia.
"The North Marine Bioregional Profile brings together, for the first time, the best available information for the North Marine Region. It consolidates our knowledge of the unique shallow basin and shelf communities and habitats of the Arafura and eastern Timor Seas, including the area's natural features and values and the ways in which we use and enjoy them," he said.
Mr Garrett said the Australian Government was committed to protecting the biological diversity of its oceans for the benefit of current and future generations.
North marine region map.
"Marine Profiles such as this will help to address our lack of knowledge of ocean biodiversity, especially the species and ecosystems of the more remote and deeper areas.
"These information gaps have presented challenges in developing effective strategies to manage both the large and small scale impacts of change in ocean ecosystems, such as climate change.
"The Government's program of marine bioregional planning is helping us to better understand and protect the marine environment, conserve biodiversity and deliver greater certainty to decision-makers and the wider community about Australia's marine conservation priorities.
"It also assists industries that rely on the ocean's natural resources, collectively worth billions of dollars each year to the Australian economy, to better plan and manage their activities.
"The North Bioregional Profile is the starting point for developing a Marine Bioregional Plan for the Region, which I will be releasing in 2010.
"This is one of five Plans that together will identify the conservation values across more than seven million square kilometres of Australia's oceans and the actions we need to take to protect them, including the areas we will look to include in the national marine protected area network.
"No-where else in the world is marine conservation planning being undertaken at this scale and in this timeframe."
Australia's existing marine protected area estate, covering some 88 million hectares, is already among the largest in the world.
"With the assistance and involvement of all stakeholders, I believe that bioregional planning can set a global standard in marine planning and management," Mr Garrett said.
The North Marine Region includes Commonwealth waters stretching from the Northern Territory/Western Australian border in the west, to the Torres Strait in the east, including the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Commonwealth waters extend from three nautical miles offshore out to the limit of Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone, some 200 nautical miles offshore.
The North Marine Bioregional Profile can be downloaded at: www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/north/
Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson have welcomed the official launch of the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre in Melbourne.
The Centre, operated by the Bureau of Meteorology and Geoscience Australia, was developed under the Government's $68.9 million Australian Tsunami Warning System Project.
"The launch of this Centre is a major milestone in establishing Australia's self reliance in detecting and issuing tsunami warnings. With new technology it will enable an assessment of any threat to Australian shores within 30 minutes from the time an undersea earthquake is detected," Mr Garrett said.
Ocean wave. Image courtesy of CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research.
"This will ensure we can quickly quantify the level of threat posed to the Australian coastline and its communities and develop our response."
Minister Ferguson said the joint operations centre brought together Geoscience Australia's expertise in seismic detection and risk assessment and the Bureau of Meteorology's expertise in sea level monitoring, tsunami forecasting and issuing warnings for severe weather hazards such as cyclones.
"It is particularly pleasing to see such a constructive working relationship between the two science agencies in Australia, which between them monitor and report on all natural hazards.
"This is an important project. The majority of Australians live along our coastal strips, and the project will help save lives and mitigate the effect of tsunamis on our coastal communities."
The new enhanced warnings will include detailed information such as which areas of coastline may be affected, together with an assessment of whether the impact of a tsunami will be confined to the marine environment or may include dangerous inundation of the land.
As part of the detection and verification process, the Bureau is installing a network of sea level monitoring infrastructure in the form of coastal tide gauges and Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami (DARTTM) buoys.
The new Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre will join the global warning network with others such as the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii and the Japan Meteorological Agency in Tokyo.
Environment Minister Peter Garrett has announced Hobart as the official headquarters of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) Secretariat.
Mr Garrett said the formalisation of the historic June agreement to establish the Secretariat in the Tasmanian capital would further cement Hobart's reputation as a hub for Antarctic and Southern Ocean studies, research, policy and decision-making processes.
"The research institutions and scientists in Hobart have a reputation around the world for their work and its contribution to our understanding of the Antarctic and the vast array of wildlife that call it home," he said.
Albatross. Image courtesy of Michael Double.
"Just last month the international Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) adopted an Australian proposal for the declaration of two Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems in the Southern Ocean.
"The areas were surveyed by an Australian-led team during the 2007/08 Antarctic summer season and uncovered a wealth of previously undiscovered species, further underlining just how much of our vast oceans we are yet to fully understand."
However, the Minister said albatrosses and petrels continued to be threatened in the Southern Ocean, particularly from long-line fishing, with birds often inadvertently hooked.
"CCAMLR has achieved outstanding success in eliminating seabird mortality in CCAMLR-managed long-line fisheries even though fishing activity has increased. Indeed, thanks to the work of Australia and other party countries, seabird deaths have fallen from around 7,000 per annum to zero," he said.
"However, it is in the vast areas of the Ocean not managed by CCAMLR that we must be more vigilant, including by improving international understanding of the risks. Australia is hopeful we can bring more signatories to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. By housing the Secretariat in Hobart, we can continue our leadership role in the protection of these special bird species."
Mr Garrett said Brazil and Uruguay had recently signed the agreement bringing to 13 the number of ACAP signatories. The others are Argentina, Australia, Chile, Ecuador, France, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, South Africa, Spain and the United Kingdom.
The development of ACAP was an Australian initiative and has been a government priority since the mid-1990s. It came into force in 2004.
The Australian Government is the Depositary for ACAP. The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts worked closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the establishment of the ACAP Secretariat in Hobart.
The Australian Government has announced the HMAS Sydney II and HSK Kormoran will be protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.
November 19 marked the 67th anniversary of the battle that led to the sinking of the two ships. Commemorative services were held around the nation to honour those who lost their lives - the 645 crew of HMAS Sydney II and the 78 of HSK Kormoran.
Earlier this year, Australians marvelled at the discovery of HMAS Sydney II and the German raider HSK Kormoran off the coast of Western Australia. Now the final resting places of the crews have been permanently protected.
Kormoran underwater wreckage. Image courtesy of the Finding Sydney Foundation.
For more than 66 years the fate of HMAS Sydney II and HSK Kormoran had been the subject of much public speculation and heartache and the finding gave the opportunity for closure for many families and friends of the crew.
The Australian Government moved quickly to put temporary measures in place to prohibit unauthorised intrusion into these sites and ensure respect of the war dead of both our nations.
These measures have now been made permanent under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, prohibiting the damage, disturbance or removal of the vessels and their relics and requiring a Commonwealth permit to enter the sites.
Through the Australian Heritage Council, the Australian Government has begun an assessment for the national heritage listing of both sites.
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett has announced $440,000 in funding from the Australian Government's Historic Shipwrecks Program to protect the nation's underwater cultural heritage.
The Minister made the announcement on a visit to the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston, Tasmania, where three of the 29 funded projects will be carried out.
"The Historic Shipwrecks Program provides valuable financial assistance to state and territory agencies who manage, protect, identify and raise awareness of historic shipwrecks on behalf of the Commonwealth," Mr Garrett said.
HMS Pandora shipwreck, Bamaga. Image courtesy of the Queensland Museum.
"Shipwrecks are virtual underwater libraries of information from our past, and the secrets our shipwrecks hold tell a story about our nation, revealing information about the people that travelled to our shores and the times in which they lived.
"With a vast maritime heritage, it is vital that we act to preserve Australia's historic shipwrecks and their artefacts for future generations.
"Through this year's funding, experts in Tasmania will visit new sites and re-inspect known wreck sites, as well as continue detailed recording of relics held in state museums so the information can go into the Australian National Shipwrecks Database."
Mr Garrett said each wreck was a precious record of our past, serving as a marker of some of the most significant events of our time.
For more information about the program and funded projects visit www.environment.gov.au/heritage/shipwrecks/program/index.html