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Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon. Dr David Kemp
4 December 2003
The Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today announced a proposal to establish a marine reserve to protect critically endangered grey nurse sharks in Commonwealth waters off the New South Wales coast (see attached map).
The area to be protected is known as the Cod Grounds and is located about four nautical miles off the NSW coastline, near Port Macquarie. It features three pinnacles 18 metres high, 30 metres apart and in 40 metres of water. It is proposed to protect the area with a one kilometre sanctuary zone, which means that all activities that are potentially harmful to the grey nurse will be prohibited. This includes all forms of fishing.
"The Cod Grounds has been found to support large numbers of female grey nurse sharks, which aggregate at this location to mate. A recent survey recorded up to 75 sharks at this site, which is substantial given the entire east coast population is estimated at only 500.
"This proposal builds on the leadership role that the Howard Government has played in protecting the Grey Nurse Shark. Around $500,000 in funding has been allocated from the Natural Heritage Trust for projects to help recover the species," Dr Kemp said.
In June last year the Howard Government completed the Grey Nurse Shark Recovery Plan which is enforced under Australian Government legislation by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
"Under the recovery plan it was clear that increased protection was needed to prevent this species from becoming extinct on the east coast of Australia. I would also like to acknowledge the role the Humane Society International played in highlighting the plight of this species," Dr Kemp said.
"Grey nurse sharks were thought to be dangerous and large numbers were killed by spear fishers seeking a thrill in the 1950s and 1960s," Dr Kemp said.
"Despite their fierce appearance, these are docile sharks mainly feed on fish, stingrays, other sharks, squids, crabs and lobsters. They are not known to attack humans.
"The Cod Grounds Marine Reserve proposal has been developed following feedback from an initial period of public consultation based on a discussion paper released in March 2003," Dr Kemp said.
"The evidence showed that a Commonwealth reserve at the Cod Grounds is the most effective way of securing long-term protection for the grey nurse sharks in the area. There will now be a further period of two months where the community will be able to provide feedback on this specific reserve proposal before the reserve is enacted under legislation.
"The grey nurse shark plays an important role as a predator in coastal reef systems. Ecologically, sharks may play a crucial role in removing weak and unhealthy fish from natural stocks, thereby ensuring the genetic health of the ecosystem. Because the grey nurse shark is in such low numbers, it is important that the population is restored to levels where it can fulfil its role in maintaining the natural balance in the ecosystem," Dr Kemp said.
"Of the 19 aggregation sites listed in the Commonwealth's Recovery Plan as habitat critical to the survival of the grey nurse shark, two were in Commonwealth waters - the Cod Grounds and Pimpernel Rock. The Howard Government has already provided high-level protection for Pimpernel Rock, an aggregation site within the Solitary Islands Marine Reserve.
"The actions identified in the Commonwealth plan require similar support by relevant State Governments, as the grey nurse shark is predominantly found in State managed waters. NSW is currently reviewing their protection measures for the grey nurse shark and QLD are also exploring the options for protecting the shark within their jurisdiction.
"I urge the States to adopt similar measures to the Australian Government and to work cooperatively to protect this critically endangered species.
"This proposal is supported by the Howard Government's commitment to establish a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas. It is an example of the Government's will and capacity to respond decisively to key marine conseravation issues as they emerge.
"I have been pleased with the level of support and engagement from stakeholders to date, and urge that all those with an interest to comment on this important proposal to ensure that all sectors' views are properly considered."
The Cod Grounds Marine Reserve proposal is available from the Department web site at http://www.deh.gov.au/coasts/mpa or by contacting the Community Information Unit on 1800 803 772.
Map of the Cod Grounds