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Seventh Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development Oceans and Seas

Statement by Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

19-30 April 1999, New York

Mr Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to address this meeting. I offer my congratulations on the commitment you have made - and the considerable amount of work that has been undertaken - to ensure that this meeting focuses on practical, achievable outcomes.

Such outcomes here can make a real contribution to overcoming the serious and worsening threats to the world's marine biodiversity. These threats are the result of pollution, over-exploitation, conflicting uses of resources, and damage to or destruction of habitat - all of which can be reduced if we governments make sufficient effort, individually and in cooperation.

Australia has responsibility for one of the world's largest exclusive economic zones - an area one and a half times the size of our continental landmass. We take our obligation to ensure the sustainable use and conservation of the incredible biodiversity in that zone very seriously.

For that reason, late last year we released an Australian Oceans Policy which, among a comprehensive range of measures relating to the administration of our oceans, commits Australia's national government to the development of ecosystem-based management plans for all our waters.

Those plans will ensure that the enormous economic potential of our EEZ is utilised in a way that is consistent with ecologically sustainable development and the conservation needs of marine ecosystems and species.

The efforts we are making in Australia to deal with the existing and potential threats facing our marine environment have prompted us to promote several initiatives in the lead up to CSD7. These include:

Widespread international consensus already exists on the need to reduce land-based sources of marine pollution, and conserve coral reefs and their associated ecosystems, and on the ways in which this may be achieved.

I therefore support the actions outlined in the 'Possible Elements for a Draft Decision' on these issues. The real challenge in this area is accelerated implementation.

In addition to these matters, Australia is also supporting a range of other initiatives that we believe that this meeting of the CSD should endorse if we are to ensure that our efforts are effective. These include:

I will address my remarks to these four areas today.

Improving Intersectoral Cooperation in the Sustainable Use of Marine Resources

Australia believes that CSD should support efforts to improve international co-operation and coordination on oceans issues, both within national jurisdictions and on the high seas.

We recognise that there are now a large number of international fora that are responding to particular sectoral challenges. These include, for example, those regional and global organisations seeking to: manage migratory fish species; reduce the impact of land and sea sourced pollution; and regulate international shipping.

What the international community does not have is a clear mechanism to bring these sectoral organisations together. It is a problem that existed in Australia, which we have sought to address in our own Oceans Policy.

That is not because increased coordination is an end in itself. In relation to our oceans, Australia believes that improved cooperation between the sectors can assist in ensuring that the needs of marine ecosystems are treated holistically. Maintaining ecosystem health and integrity is only genuinely possible with integrated planning and implementation.

An Open-Ended Working Group on Oceans - reporting annually to the General Assembly - would be one option in attempting to draw together the work of the various sectoral bodies with the objective of ensuring the sustainability of marine resources.

Protecting the High Seas

Of particular concern to Australia is the need to improve the conservation and sustainable use of the biological diversity of the high seas.

At present, our collective knowledge of the biological diversity of the high seas is limited. But the more we learn the greater the potential value appears. Ecosystems and sub-systems are being identified that would clearly benefit from a conservation and sustainable use approach - or at least from some precautionary measures - to their initial exploration and utilisation. Examples include certain fisheries habitats, deep ocean trenches, seamounts and hydrothermal vents.

Now is the time to develop arrangements to conserve the biological diversity values of the high seas before such assets are lost.

Obviously such arrangements must be consistent with the freedom of the high seas, and the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, particularly those relating to the mineral resources of the deep sea bed and the conservation and management of living marine resources.

Improving international efforts in this area should be one of the priorities for the proposed Open-Ended Working Group.

Development and Implementation of Marine Protected Areas

A vital element of our collective and individual efforts to protect marine biological diversity must be the accelerated development of marine protected areas.

The Jakarta Mandate of the Convention on Biological Diversity drew attention to the need to establish or consolidate representative systems of marine and coastal protected areas. Many of the countries that endorsed such action through the CBD are represented in this room today.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that there is still only limited and uneven coverage of marine protected areas around the globe.

Marine protected areas can be tiny or vast in area, and can be established for a variety of management objectives, ranging from strict protection through to multiple use.

Marine protected areas therefore can accommodate recreational, cultural and economic activities within their boundaries if such activities are consistent with the primary conservation objectives for a particular area.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a working example of a multiple-use marine protected area that is subject to many and varied uses, including extensive fishing and tourism that generate substantial economic benefits. Similarly, we expect that further marine protected areas will sustain economic benefits by providing security to the future of industries, such as tourism and fishing, which depend on the quality and productivity of ecosystems.

In the context of this meeting, we have suggested that the CSD confirm support for a system of representative marine protected areas within the Exclusive Economic Zones of member States. By representative we mean representation of the many distinctive marine ecosystems. While the development of national components of the representative system must be the responsibility of individual governments, there is much that the international community can do to promote this objective through the sharing of information and experiences.

Australia believes that this proposal will make a significant contribution to the protection of marine biological diversity globally, while still allowing access to marine resources for sustainable development and food security purposes.

In the longer term, Australia also supports the development of marine protected areas within the high seas.

We recognise that there is currently no international mechanism to allow the declaration of MPA's outside national jurisdictions. Nevertheless, on the basis of experience within our own jurisdiction, Australia considers that such measures will become essential if we are to achieve sustainable multiple use management of the resources of the high seas, their ecosystems and their natural productivity. Otherwise we could lose a great deal: both in terms of biodiversity and the industries which depend on it.

Australia therefore believes that one of the tasks of the proposed Open-Ended Working Group on Oceans should be to consider mechanisms that will allow the international community to establish protected areas on the high seas.

One course may be through UNCLOS, which already includes provisions that seek to promote the conservation and sustainable use of our marine environment on the high seas. But there may be other options, which the international community should explore.

Action to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing

Finally, I wanted to refer to one matter of particular concern to Australia

We all know that reform in global fisheries managements needs to achieve rapid and significant gains in achieving sustainability of our oceans and seas. Australia is working hard to achieve this in the fight to stamp out illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.

In Brussels next week there will be a special meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR) to develop catch certification and trade related measures to help protect Southern Ocean stocks of Patagonian toothfish from illegal and unregulated fishing activity.

It is important that these measures include steps to prevent IUU fishers trading their catch on international markets.

The outcome of the meeting in Brussels should contribute significantly to the work of the FAO to develop a global plan of action to combat IUU fishing - an Australian initiative agreed at the world's fisheries Ministers' meeting in Rome last month. Through the CSD, Australia urges all nations and regional fisheries organisations to give urgent priority to the FAO work to combat IUU fishing and so avoid the collapse of our shared fish stocks.

CSD Outcomes

In conclusion, the proposals I have outlined here are not the only solutions to the pressures on the world's oceans.

However, I believe that they offer achievable and practical actions which the international community can start - or continue - to implement, and we urge you to give them your endorsement.

Thank you Mr Chairman.

Commonwealth of Australia