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Media Release
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray

Monday March 3 2003

Commonwealth Government Tackling Marine Debris

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr Sharman Stone, today announced a study to tackle "ghost fishing" in Australia's northern waters.

"Ghost fishing" occurs when discarded nets and other litter, mainly from South-east Asia, wash-up onto our beaches and then re-enter the ocean and continue "ghost-fishing" - entangling precious marine species such as dugong and marine turtles.

The National Oceans Office and the Natural Heritage Trust's Indigenous Protected Areas Program are funding the Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation and the World Wide Fund for Nature to research solutions to marine debris in northern Australia. The Northern Territory University's Key Centre for Tropical Wildlife Management will supervise the contract.

Dr Stone said the growing marine debris problem not only affects marine species, it is also a navigational hazard, a health risk and significantly impacts on northern Australian Indigenous communities.

"Northern Australia is vulnerable to the effects of marine debris due to its proximity to commercial fishing operations, its long remote coastlines and populations of threatened marine species, such as marine turtles and dugong," Dr Stone said.

"Indigenous communities in northern Australia, particularly in Arnhem Land and the Gulf of Carpentaria, are besieged with marine debris as winds drive tonnes of seaborne litter onto the coast.

"It is impacting on their natural, cultural and food resources and the loss of iconic species such as dugong and turtles is also of particular concern to Indigenous people who still live traditionally focussed lives in the region.

"Discarded or accidentally lost fishing nets are a safety issue for commercial and recreational shipping.

"Clean-up of marine debris in remote areas is a costly exercise. It can also be a strong discouragement for tourism."

"The Dhimurru project will gather more information about the sources and location of marine debris, identify 'hot spots' and develop a strategic action framework to reduce the marine debris.

"The project is an important step in a coordinated and targeted approach to getting rid of this marine debris across borders and oceans," Dr Stone said.

The National Oceans Office is committed to working collaboratively with Indigenous people, state and territory governments, conservation organisations, and industry as part of its regional marine planning in the Northern Planning Area. This area covers the Torres Strait, Gulf of Carpentaria and eastern Arafura Sea.

Further information on marine debris is available from Environment Australia's Community Information Unit on freecall 1800 803 772.

Media Contacts:
Anna Hughes (Dr Stone's Office) (02) 6277 2016 or 0408 697 055
Richard Wilson (National Oceans Office) (03) 6221 5020

Commonwealth of Australia