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24 Mar 2004 12:41
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef will become the largest protected marine region in the world when a ban on fishing over a third of its area is enforced later this year.
A deadline for the Australian Parliament to block the federal government’s controversial new management plan for the World Heritage-listed marine park expired on Wednesday.
The plan will increase so-called high protection green zones from 4,5% to 33,3% of the reef, or from 16Â 000 square kilometres to 114Â 000 square kilometres.
In these areas tourism will be the only industry allowed, and all fishing will be banned.
The government intends to implement the fishing ban midyear, despite the protests of commercial fishers who have battled the proposal for four years.
Senator Andrew Bartlett, leader of the minor party Australian Democrats, called on the government to provide funding to police the ban.
“They must ensure that these increased protected areas are now protected,” Bartlett told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio. “They don’t stay pristine and in good health just by magic.”
The Great Barrier Reef stretches for almost 2Â 000km along Australia’s northeast coast.
It is the largest chain of coral reefs and islands in the world, and one of Australia’s most popular tourist spots.
According to the government, tourism linked to the reef is worth Aus$4,3-billion each year, dwarfing the recreation and commercial fishing industries that are currently permitted in the area.
But there have been concerns in recent years that overfishing is depleting the colorful marine life that swims around the reef—ranging from sharks and turtles to tiny orange-and-white-striped clown fish, such as the animated star of the blockbuster mobvie Finding Nemo.
Although some of the damage to the reef is blamed on fishing, environmentalists also say global warming and soil swept down rivers from farms after heavy rain also is having a devastating effect on the coral.
Global warming is believed to be to blame for coral bleaching—when colourful reefs turn white due to rises in sea temperature—and soil swept into the ocean can form a smothering blanket over the coral.—Sapa-AP
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