25 October 2005

Australia wins award for Barrier Reef plan

Australia, a frequent target of criticism from environmentalists for refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, received the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) top accolade on Monday for its efforts to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

The fund, a leading international conservation group, bestowed its Gift to the Earth award on Australia for the 2004 implementation of a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park zoning plan, which banned fishing in a third of the World Heritage-listed park.

The fund said the zoning plan was a "pioneering development in marine conservation that sets the benchmark for marine protected area network establishment in Australia and around the world".

"The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's most treasured natural wonders, and the Australian government has shown it is truly a world leader in marine conservation by implementing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park zoning plan," said WWF official James Leape.

The award was announced at the start of the inaugural meeting of the International Marine Protected Areas Congress in the Australian city of Geelong.

The congress brought together several hundred experts in marine conservation from more than 60 countries.

WWF said they hoped the Gift to the Earth award would inspire other countries to follow Australia's lead and establish similar marine protection areas.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches over more than 345 000km2 off Australia's north-east coast and is home to 1 500 fish species.

Considered the world's largest living organism, the network of coral reefs is the centerpiece of a multi-billion dollar annual tourism industry, attracting divers from around the world.

The Australian plan, implemented in July 2004, increased the area of the park covered by a ban on all fishing and tight restrictions on other activities from 4,6 percent to 33 percent.

However, the reef - which has been listed by the United Nations as a World Heritage site - remains under threat, notably from coral bleaching believed to be caused by rising sea temperatures linked to global warming.

Australia's government has refused to sign the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which imposed reductions in the production of so-called greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, saying the pact would harm its economy.

But it recently joined the United States, the other major holdout from the Kyoto deal, in a six-country pact on curbing greenhouse gases.

Meanwhile a leading conservationist at this week's congress called for the creation of a global system of marine protected areas to prevent the world's ocean resources from being depleted.

"We are talking about a network of marine protected areas that is defined from both an ecological and eco-system perspective as well as from the perspective of the users," said Achim Steiner, director-general of the World Conservation Union.

"We now know that 15 of the world's 17 largest fisheries - where the world depends on its fish - are either at full exploitation level or in fact, declining," Steiner said on national radio.

"We need countries like Australia, but in fact every one of the 200-odd nations around the world, to try and come to agreements on new forms of ocean governance that allow us to not leave the rest of the oceans simply to anyone's whim in terms of exploiting the resources," he said.

"Marine issues are not national issues - yes, they require national action - but above all, they require nations to work together."

Source: www.iol.co.za


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