28 October 2005

Australia's marine park initiative rewarded at international conference

The Federal Government has received both praise and a caution today for its role in managing the Great Barrier Reef.

The World Wildlife Fund this morning presented the "Gift of the Earth" award to Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, in recognition of the Federal Government's decision to list a section of the Great Barrier Reef as a protected marine park.

But the WWF's Director General designate, Jim Leape, has warned that the future of the reef is still precarious, and he's called on the Government to do more to protect it.

Jim Leape spoke to our reporter, Alison Caldwell, in Melbourne this morning.

JIM LEAPE: All around the world marine systems are in trouble. Coral reefs in particular are in decline and just last year, July 1st, 2004, Australia took a monumental step in changing the course for those systems.

By adopting the zoning plan for the Great Barrier Marine Park, it set a new standard for how we take care of our marine resources and in doing so, set aside 11-million hectares, 33 per cent of the park, as an area that is to be conserved, and from which we would no longer... in which we would no longer allow fishing and other extractive activities.

ALISON CALDWELL: There is still a good deal of fishing that goes on in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. What more can be done from a protection perspective? I mean, have we done enough as it is?

JIM LEAPE: Well this was a very, very important step, and will make a huge difference for the protection of the resources of the park. In the longer term, it is also important that we address remaining fishing activities that are needlessly destructive, such as bottom trawling, and we hope that the Government will take those threats on some time soon.

We need to learn how to strike a better balance between extraction of fish and the long-term conservation of the resources. And in fact, there is science to indicate that in the long run that's in the interests of everybody; that there will be more fish for the fishermen and there will be more, better protection of the natural resources if we act now and act in the way that the Marine Park Authority has.

ALISON CALDWELL: Climate change is described as probably one of the greatest threats to coral reefs around the world, paralleling the damage done by the fishing industry. What kind of warnings do you have, or are you aware of, as regards climate change and the Great Barrier Reef?

JIM LEAPE: Well, first, let me say it is now well established, scientifically, that climate change is perhaps the greatest threat, certainly one of the greatest threats facing not only coral reefs but all natural systems and humankind itself. And so certainly there is no higher imperative than that we act to address climate change and to begin to curb the emissions which are causing it.

ALISON CALDWELL: So how? How can we stop it?

JIM LEAPE: Well, in fact there are many things we can do, things that are economically as well as environmentally viable. There are great gains to be made in the efficiency with which we use energy resources, and there is great potential to shift away from the fuels that cause the emissions that cause global warming, to renewable energy sources that are much more benign and better for the planet in the long-term.

ALISON CALDWELL: Could coral reefs really become a thing of the past because of climate change?

JIM LEAPE: I think if we don't act now, both to protect reefs directly and to address climate change, we run the risk that we could lose them forever.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's the new International Director General of the World Wildlife Fund, Jim Leape, speaking to Alison Caldwell in Melbourne.

Source: www.abc.net.au


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