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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Welcome Address - Coral Triangle Initiative Workshop, Townsville

Speech
10 November 2008

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Vice Admiral Freddy Numberi, Indonesian Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, esteemed representatives of Malaysia, the Philippines, Timor Leste, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, the development partners and our regional experts, distinguished guests.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land on which we meet, the Wulgurukaba people.

Welcome to Townsville for what is a historic opportunity to progress marine conservation and sustainable resource use in one of the most remarkable environments on earth – the Coral Triangle – at a scale we have not seen before.

With the Great Barrier Reef at our doorstep, I am honoured to host this workshop in Townsville – Australia's home of tropical marine science research and management expertise.

Here too we have the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, which has highly developed capabilities in marine biodiversity, impacts and adaptation to climate change, water quality and ecosystem health.

Finally, of course, this city is the headquarters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which manages perhaps Australia's best known environmental asset – the superlative reef that I hope many of you will experience later this week.

I would like to thank James Cook University, ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies and the Australian Institute of Marine Science for their support for this Workshop and the Coral Triangle Initiative. I would also like to thank WWF, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International for their ongoing assistance with the workshop and their broader programs of support for the Coral Triangle Initiative. The relationships forged here are very valuable to us.

I also want to thank Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Department for their efforts in bringing us all to Townsville this week.

I am told that many of you have also spent considerable time in Townsville studying or working with these organisations. It is these long standing relationships, which I hope inform your institutions, your programs, your studies and your practices, that we wish to see continue through Australia's partnership with your nations.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is fitting that we gather here in this – the International Year of the Reef – to work together on a plan to protect and conserve what is often referred to as the ‘Amazon of the Seas’.

I would like to say a few words about the Coral Triangle, its ecological and economic significance, and the emerging threats to its future sustainability.

The Coral Triangle is recognised as having the greatest marine biological diversity on the planet.

Within this region – at the confluence of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans – 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.

It is a region of spectacular productivity. There are more than 240 million people who live within 30 kilometres of the coast within the region, and that population is increasing.

As in other parts of the world, this increasing population is driving a growing appetite for seafood and a greater capacity to harvest this food more efficiently.

In other parts of the globe, these pressures have led to ecosystem collapse. This end-game calamity is something we cannot afford to allow to happen here.

Australia, along with all of the nations represented here today, recognises the threats to the Coral Triangle's biodiversity and productivity.

There is international concern about the fact that 80 per cent of the coral reefs in this region are at risk from fishing related pressures, climate change impacts and coastal development, and the potential collapse of shark and tuna fisheries.

And of course, the health of this marine environment is not only important for its own sake. It is vital for the sustainability of the region's marine resources, which in turn sustain coastal communities and industries.

Gone are the days when we view environmental sustainability and economic prosperity as a zero-sum game.

We now understand that the pre-requisite for sustainable development and food security is an environment that is sustainably managed according to the best available science and international best practice.

Just last month, I released the findings of two marine science voyages to marine reserves in the cool temperate waters south of Tasmania, at the extreme southern edge of our Exclusive Economic Zone.

The findings – including hundreds of species new to science and previously undiscovered seamounts – demonstrate the value of spatial conservation measures, including Marine Protected Areas, and investment in research.

These findings have made news around the world. And they hold great scientific interest. For example, the richness of molluscs found on these voyages has been described by marine scientists as ‘astounding’, requiring a complete rewrite of textbooks for this type of fauna.

Not only does this research capture the public imagination, it also underpins the way we protect and manage Australian waters, including the identification of new marine parks and ensuring sustainable use of marine resources.

Australia's tropical marine protected areas also contain global environmental treasures, and I want to briefly alert you to some of these.

As well as the iconic Great Barrier Reef, we have eight tropical and subtropical marine reserves in our waters.

For example, at Ningaloo, off the Western Australian coast, we have a world renowned aggregation spot for whale sharks, which has in turn promoted a vibrant eco-tourism industry. Nearby, seagrass meadows host the world's largest population of dugongs.

The Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reef Reserves are characterised by spectacular sponge gardens and rich biodiversity, including molluscs, fishes, seabirds and turtles.

At Cartier Island, again to Australia's north-west, the reserve protects a coral reef system and seagrass beds containing protected turtle species, an abundance of sea snakes and seabirds.

Interestingly, here an agreement has been struck between the Australian and Indonesian Governments to allow a continuation of the traditional access of Indonesian fishermen to the area to replenish fresh water and seek shelter.

We have learned that marine protected areas play a vital role in:

Two of Australia's five future networks of MPAs will be established in Australia's tropical waters, adjacent to the Coral Triangle Initiative implementation area – the North and North-west Marine Regions.

We have recently finished the information-gathering stage of the Marine Bioregional Planning exercises in these two regions.

Today I would like to take the opportunity to publicly release these documents.

The North and North-west Marine Profiles are very significant bodies of work, bringing together for the first time the latest available scientific and socioeconomic information for these vast and unique tracts of ocean.

These documents form the basis of how we approach marine conservation in these areas. I look forward to the next stage of the planning process now formally commencing for these Marine Regions – the development of draft Marine Bioregional Plans, including the development of networks of MPAs.

Of course, in the development of these Plans, we need to balance environmental objectives with social and economic considerations.

We must take into account marine industries and the coastal communities that rely upon them, as well as the traditional and Indigenous rights and responsibilities that have existed for centuries, and in the case of the traditional owners of Australia's north, for millennia.

One of the most important socio-economic factors involved in marine bioregional planning is fisheries management – particularly the way in which existing commercial fishing interests are engaged in management changes.

In other marine regions, different interests may come to the fore.

For example, Australia's North-west Marine Region is the centre of a significant oil and gas exploration and production industry. Here, the interests of the unique marine environment in places like the Kimberley need to be considered along with other factors like energy security and Indigenous rights and aspirations.

A Partnership

As support partners with a shared objective for the future of the Coral Triangle, the Australian Government welcomes you here to Australia for this workshop.

We were privileged to be invited to join this initiative as an inaugural partner.

We pledged our support for the Initiative at the APEC Leaders Summit held in Sydney last year and again at the first and second Senior Officials Meetings.

Today I reiterate the Australian Government's support of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.

I hope that by the time this workshop concludes at the end of this week, we will have developed stronger links, deeper understanding and clear commitment for action in all the countries of our region.

And as well, that we will have provided a solid foundation for action as we head into the CTI Ministerial Forum in Papua New Guinea and World Oceans Conference in Indonesia next year.

If we are really serious about protecting and conserving the Coral Triangle for future generations, we must approach this workshop as an opportunity to explore the needs and challenges of achieving our shared goal in an open way - mindful that no-one has all the answers, but determined to bring forward solutions and results.

Conclusion

The Australian Government understands and appreciates the cooperative efforts of all the CT6 countries to act in the best interests of this region.

So I thank you again for joining us this week and for your ongoing commitment to this important initiative. I very much look forward to hearing the results of this workshop and the ways in which the Australian Government can support a lasting and productive partnership.

Thank you.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia