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

Address to the world oceans conference '09

Speech
Manado, Indonesia
14 May 2009

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Excellencies, Ministers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to begin by recognising the leadership of the Indonesian Government in organising this landmark event and thank President Yudhoyono for his exceptional hosting.

The World Ocean Conference provides an important opportunity for the international community to come together for the first time to consider how we can, as a group, address the effects of a changing climate on our oceans.

The message that we have already heard, and I expect we will continue to hear, is clear. The world is changing, the climate is changing and our oceans are changing.

It is clear our approach to managing our oceans needs to change.

So here today let us draw on our collective knowledge and experience to reach a consensus, craft a set of actions and together, create a unified vision - the Manado Ocean Declaration.

Coastal communities are now grappling with a host of changes in environmental conditions. More and more we hear of coral bleaching events and extreme storms. In the many communities where fishing and related activities are key economic drivers, these environmental changes can have significant social and economic consequences.

Of course we are only too aware that small island countries and low lying coastal communities are especially vulnerable to the challenges of climate change - challenges that include sea level rise, more intense storms and floods, water shortages and the resulting impacts on water and food security.

We should keep in the front of our minds today the facts that:

We're all aware of the threats to ocean health: unsustainable and destructive fishing practices, marine invasive species, marine pollution, land based run-off, coastal development and habitat destruction. And now on top of all these comes the threat of climate change, on a scale greater than each of the others and especially significant given the key role the oceans play in regulating our climate.

Let us think about this - most of these stressors are not contained within borders - in protecting our oceans we are only as strong as our neighbours, as our neighbourhood. I stand before you ready to face this challenge. I call on each of you to leave this conference with one concrete action that will strengthen our oceans and ensure that they are resilient in the face of climate change.

Let me be the first to propose one such concrete action. I undertake to develop a new approach to marine debris. I invite each of you to join Australia in tackling this issue. It is only through collaboration and joint action can we have lasting impact.

Derelict fishing gear and pollution from land and sea based sources form key threats to vulnerable species and habitats. Action is needed globally, regionally and locally in our communities. In Australia we are working across government to development real action to reduce threats at source. In the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation Region we are partnering on the development of preventative measures because the economic costs of marine debris damage marine industries, society and the environment.

It was more than a year ago that Australia accepted the gracious invitation from President Yudhoyono to become a founding partner in the Coral Triangle Initiative. While we will formally meet tomorrow I am confident that this dynamic initiative will provide the necessary tools - community empowerment, capacity building and comprehensive information delivery - so as to have a lasting impact.

We also need to improve our understanding of ocean systems so we can adapt and respond to this changing environment. We need to better understand how marine ecosystems work, how species are distributed, and to deepen our knowledge of the complex and cumulative impacts of our actions.

At the same time, we need to ask how species distributions shift and how populations will change in the future. How will ocean chemistry, temperatures and productivity alter with climate change? How much will sea levels change? How will changes to oceanic circulation affect global weather patterns? And finally, what will be the social and economic consequences of these potential changes.

Recent advances in technology are increasing our capacity to answer these questions, and others. Collectively we must equip scientists, users, managers and policy makers with the ability to confront uncertainties and confidently plan and adaptively manage the oceans.

In Australia, remote sensing tools, visualisation mapping and modelling tools provide insights into how climate change is affecting ecosystem function, allowing us to gather critical data and monitor vulnerable areas such as the coastal interface between communities and the sea.

Computer modelling tools can take real-time data and use it to forecast potential future scenarios. An exciting program run by the Australian Government, BLUElink - Ocean Forecasting Australia, is one such example.

Within the Great Barrier Reef - World Heritage listed area and one of Australia's most vulnerable marine ecosystems - we have a number of initiatives directed at sharing and increasing knowledge through local communities.

BleachWatch is a community-based coral reef monitoring initiative developed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. It's a successful partnership between reef managers and the community that aims to detect large-scale coral bleaching. Bleachwatch seeks to:

The Great Barrier Reef is also benefiting from the Reef Rescue water quality program. Drawing on many years of scientific research, we've identified the main land use practices that feed sediments and nutrients into the rivers that flow into the reef lagoon. We've set a target of reducing these pollutants by 25% in five years, and we're giving farmers the funds they need to change to less polluting practices. At the end of its first year, Reef Rescue is proving to be a great success. It's indirectly a climate change program, in that it's now well understood that a healthy reef will be more resilient to climate change.

The Australian Government is also undertaking a national assessment to estimate the vulnerability of our coastline ecosystems, coastal settlements and infrastructure to the impacts of rising sea levels, changing rainfall patterns and stronger cyclones.

We have embraced the core principles of adaptive management, precaution, and working at whole of ecosystem level. These principles reflect the need for marine management to be flexible and quickly responsive in this uncertain environment. They also acknowledge the gaps that exist in our understanding of the oceans, and of the longer term effects of climate change.

The Marine Bioregional Planning program is central to Australia's marine management approach. It involves a range of fact finding activities - habitat mapping and identification of 'hot spots' or areas critical for the ongoing viability of a species, habitat or ecosystem. This is the platform for our intention and action to establish a national representative system of marine protected areas across Australian waters, in line with our international commitments, by 2012.

In doing this we create three powerful resources.

From this presentation I hope you will see how we in Australia are taking a number of active steps to address existing and emerging threats to the health of our ocean environment.

We recognise and welcome the benefits that regional and international collaboration bring, especially to this, a global problem with a global solution.

What confronts us is a hard task, but together we have a common purpose and through collective action we can keep our oceans healthy.

Let us not leave future generations a legacy of unhealthy coasts and oceans but rather healthy oceans, resilient marine systems and a secure future for our coastal communities.

Thank you

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia