21 February 2024

WA residents invited to have their say on controversial South Coast Marine Park plan

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Proposed marine park

The proposed South Coast Marine Park covers about 1200 km of WA’s coastline. Image: WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

West Australian residents have been invited to have their say on the proposed South Coast Marine Park (SCMP).

The proposed park extends 1200 kilometres from Bremer Bay east all the way to the South Australian border and about 5.5 km offshore to the limit of state waters. Indicative boundaries have been developed in consultation with traditional owners, stakeholders and other community members.

The WA Government says the proposed park will provide important protections to marine species, such as the unique ruby seadragon, which is not found anywhere else in the world.

The area is also home to southern right whale nurseries, kelp forests, vulnerable seal and sea lion colonies, reefs and fisheries. The government says about 75 per cent of the proposed marine park will remain open for commercial and recreational fishing, while some areas will be reserved as sanctuaries or conservation areas.

It says recreational beach access will be unchanged, and it hopes the park will also provide opportunities for nature-based tourism.

Led by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions with support from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and traditional owners, the consultation process began in September 2021.

A Community Reference Committee coordinated consultation among key stakeholders, industry groups, commercial and recreational fishers, scientists, and conservation interests for 18 months, concluding in 2023.

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Environment Minister Reece Whitby said community feedback on the proposal would be critical to ensuring WA achieved its vision of a world-class marine park that could be supported by the community.

“That’s why we’ve extended consultation above the statutory three-month minimum,” Mr Whitby said.

“Our vision is to create a marine park rivalling Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef. It will be the first ocean marine park along WA’s south coast, filling a key gap in the state’s marine reserve system.

“Where possible, we’ve ensured both locals and visitors can still enjoy their favourite recreational fishing locations whilst also noting activities such as diving, boating and beach driving will not be impacted by this initiative.”

Fisheries Minister Don Punch added: “Following the conclusion of the public comment period, the State Government will carefully consider the feedback of all stakeholders, including commercial and recreational fishers, to ensure that we achieve our vision of a well-balanced marine park.

“Previous marine parks established in WA have demonstrated the compatibility of marine parks and sustainable economic activity and I am confident that we can reach the same outcome on the south coast.”

The proposal has reportedly been welcomed by traditional owners and tourism groups, with Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chair Gail Reynolds-Adamson saying it will allow traditional owners to share knowledge and provide jobs for the next generation.

“We see that this plan is a way of us allowing for future generations to share what we enjoy today,” she told the ABC.

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However, local commercial fishers oppose the plan.

“I think that I’m a tough one, to be honest,” Esperance commercial fisher Manue Daniels – who has two commercial vessels – told the ABC. “But it was really, really hard to see how much this industry is misunderstood and how much, really, we don’t matter.

“The industry here is really, really small. It’s very sustainable, it’s family business. It’s not a corporation. It’s really people that are going to be affected – people, their families, the kids.”

In late 2023, Shadow Fisheries Minister Colin de Grussa raised concerns about the integrity of the marine park proposal, saying the planning process had been dogged by controversy since its inception.

“We now have internal documentation which tells a very disturbing story,” he said in a 15 November, 2023, statement.

“Despite its role as a marine planning partner, DPIRD [Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development] has levelled extraordinary criticism at the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions [DBCA] about its management of the planning process for the marine park.

“Based on the draft zoning scheme, it does not appear that DBCA has adopted a pragmatic approach to the zoning of the proposed SCMP.

“The current draft zoning scheme will likely result in the loss of several south coast fisheries and impact on the livelihoods of numerous fishers.”

Public comment is open until 16 June. More information is available here.

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