Will Australia’s new commonwealth marine protected areas work?

The prominent marine scientist, Professor Bob Pressey has recently said what few marine scientists have been brave enough to say about Australia’s new commonwealth marine protected areas (MPAs): they won’t work.

In November 2012, the Australian government established its latest round of commonwealth reserves, upping the area of Australia’s protected marine waters to an impressive 3.1 million sq km.

As of the end of 2012, the NRSMPA now protects an impressive 3.1 million sq km of our marine environment. NRSMPA map: Commonwealth of Australia 2012.
As of the end of 2012, the NRSMPA now protects an impressive 3.1 million sq km of our marine environment. NRSMPA map: Commonwealth of Australia 2012.

So why won’t Australia’s commonwealth MPAs work?

Professor Pressey states clearly that the new commonwealth protected areas are in the wrong places.  In fact, he refers to these as “residual” places which have been chosen as a political move: the declaration of impressively large areas of marine environment which are considered unsuitable for commercial uses (such as fishing and renewable energy generation). As these areas offer little commercial importance, they are essentially easier to allocate to marine conservation as there is the least opposition from industry.

The primary goal for Australia’s MPAs is for marine biodiversity protection. The new commonwealth protected areas have been declared in remote, deep waters where there are few threats to marine biodiversity. Whilst nearshore waters close to our coastline continue to have a variety of human activities which threaten our marine biodiversity.

The simple message here is that there should be more focus on declaring MPAs in nearshore waters where marine biodiversity is actually threatened.