The Australian government just announced plans to create a marine reserve park covering nearly 1 million square kilometers (385,000 square miles) of the Coral Sea that includes the Great Barrier Reef. Once opened, the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve will be the world’s largest marine park that will be bigger than France and Germany combined.
The park encompasses more than just coral reefs and includes ancient sponge gardens, deep-sea canyons, and submerged volcanoes in the Coral Sea. The marine park is important to protect the fragile reefs and fish habitat that is among the final places where large fish like sharks, tuna and billfishes are seen in significant numbers.
“The Coral Sea harbors high biodiversity and relatively healthy ecosystems,” said National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala. “This makes the Coral Sea a unique large ecosystem with an irreplaceable value globally.”
The marine preserve will also incorporate and protect the numerous small sandy islets and cays that are important nesting sites for seabirds as well as nesting sites for sea turtles. Recreational use of the area will also be a key component with plans to safeguard two popular dive destinations — Osprey Reef and Shark Reef that are about 215 miles (350 kilometers) northwest of Cairns, Queensland, the main departure point for live-aboard dive trips.
There will be recreational catch-and-release sport fishing allowed in some areas although commercial and recreational fishing will be banned from the eastern half of Coral Sea and restricted elsewhere, in an effort to safeguard fish populations and protect vulnerable habitats.
The proposed reserve is contained in Australia’s exclusive economic zone. The government is to hold three months of discussions on the proposal before it goes for a vote in Parliament.
[via National Geographic]