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Media Release
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon. Dr David Kemp

4 December 2003

Finding Solutions to Marine Debris to Protect our Turtles, Dugongs


The Howard Government has marked Coastcare Week with the release of a report containing options to combat the critical problem of marine debris in northern Australian waters.

Marine debris - particularly abandoned fishing nets and other gear - has been found to be a serious risk to protected species such as marine turtles, dugong, whales and sawfish, which can die through entanglement in or ingestion of the materials. The largely foreign-sourced debris also creates navigational hazards and is an unsightly danger to beachgoers and coastal Indigenous communities around Cape York, Arnhem Land and the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, said the Finding Solutions: Derelict Fishing Gear and Other Marine Debris in Northern Australia report would help in the protection of iconic species, such as marine turtles, dugongs, whales and seabirds, that too regularly fall victim to marine debris such as discarded nets and plastic rubbish.

"In recognition of this threat earlier this year I announced the listing of marine debris as a Key Threatening Process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EBPC).

"We are now in the process of developing a strategic plan to fight this problem which will look programs from reducing plastic bags to better managing the disposal of waste on the high seas."

The Finding Solutions report was prepared by the Key Centre for Tropical Wildlife Management at Charles Darwin University for the National Oceans Office and the Department of Environment and Heritage, with input from Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Recommended options from the report, which the Howard Government will consider, include:

"The coastal environment of northern Australia is particularly vulnerable to marine debris due to the challenges of surveillance and enforcement arrangements in these remote and sparsely populated locations," Dr Kemp said.

"We will also be tackling littering and dumping at its source through education, incentives to encourage changes in behaviour and through bilateral agreements with our northern neighbours.

"Up to 90 per cent of the debris is reported to be made of plastic but the greatest danger to protected species is from discarded fishing gear, particularly nets, of which around 80 per cent in northern Australia are likely to be from foreign sources," Dr Kemp said.

"I am particularly concerned about the risk to marine turtles from this debris and earlier this year I announced the Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles in Australia, which was designed to urgently reduce the detrimental impacts on Australian populations of these species and promote their recovery in the wild.

"The conservation and management of highly valued protected species such as marine turtles will also be addressed in the northern regional marine planning process coordinated by the National Oceans Office.''

Through the Howard Government's $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust, substantial investments have been made to reduce the impacts of marine debris around Australia. These include over $306,000 on marine debris clean up and education projects, 23 marine waste reception projects providing litter and solid waste disposal points worth around $658,000, and more than 160 gross pollutant traps worth around $7.5 million to capture urban debris.

"The Finding Solutions report incorporates a comprehensive summary of existing knowledge of sources, magnitude and impacts of marine debris in northern Australia, and provides a set of options for the prevention and management of the problem.

"The Howard Government will also continue its commitment to partnerships with conservation and Indigenous organisations, along with community groups, to work towards the protection of our unique marine species."

Downloadable copies of the report can be obtained at http://www.oceans.gov.au/. For further information on how Coastcare is working to protect our marine environment across Australia, visit http://www.nht.gov.au/nht1/programs/coastcare/index.html

Commonwealth of Australia