On midnight 16th November the network of Commonwealth Marine Reserves became law and began permanently protecting more than 2.3 million square kilometres of ocean environment. This is an important achievement for the long term conservation and sustainable use of Australia’s oceans. The Australian Government also announced that it will be allocating around $100 million in fisheries adjustment assistance to support the creation of the network of marine reserves. This is mainly to buy out some commercial fishers operating in the more sensitive protected area's within the marine reserves.
There are still zones in the reserves where commercial and recreational fishing is still permitted. In the Coral Sea region only 5 reefs out of 25 are fully protected they are Osprey Reef, Marion Reef, Bougainville Reef, Vema Reef, and Shark Reef. Other important reefs have less protection such as Holmes, Flora and Flinders which are import reefs for diving tourism and other reefs with no protection and labeled multi use and still permit destructive forms of Commercial fishing such purse sein, longline and trawling.
There are still important reefs in the multi use area's known to be important nursery area's of scalloped hammerhead sharks (sphyrna lewini), which are listed as endangered on the IUCN redlist. In the IUCN assesment they have stated: "There has been a large increase in the illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in northern Australia recently. Hammerheads are known to feature in the catches, and are suspected targets for their large valuable fins, although no specific data are available. Further study is urgently required to determine the status of S. lewiniin this region".
The Australian Government does not do enough to protect the reef sharks on our Coral Reefs and in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) allows a quota of 600 ton of sharks to be taken annually just to fuel the insatiable appetite for shark fin soup in Asia. The loss of so many sharks is killing bio diversity and places yet another stress on the GBR because sharks eat larger pelagic fishes which prey on smaller herbivorous fish like parrot fishes which eat the algae forming on the reef. Many of our reefs on the GBR and on reefs just out of Cairns are becoming algae dominated and corals are dying. Also with less sharks impacts on diving tourism with divers preferring the reefs of Micronesia particularly Palau which has declared a shark sanctuary. This makes the Coral Sea extremely important for shark conservation in Australia where they at least get some protection. These sharks will be needed to repopulate our World Heritage GBR where their numbers are being decimated by the East Coast Fin Fish Fishery.
The Australian Government has declared another consultation period on the management of the new marine reserves with the first stage of consultation on the preparation of management plans has commenced and closes on 18 December 2012, see http://www.environment.gov.au/marinereserves/consultation/.
Now is the time act to protect what is left of our sharks before they all end up in shark fin soup in a relative short period of time because the world's shark stocks are dwindling. What I would like to see is the Network of Marine Reserves be declared a shark sanctuary and at the very least protetion for the scalloped hammerhead which as scuba diver the only reliable way of ever seeing one is to travel across the pacific to Cocos Island in Costa Rica, I would much prefer to see them here before it is too late.