Marine conservationists are urging the Queensland Government to increase marine protections across Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Strait after new evidence revealed there is almost no seagrass remaining following devastating back-to-back floods in the region.
Iconic species like dugongs and green turtles are reliant on seagrass as their primary food source. The loss of seagrass is likely to lead to an increase in sick or dead animals stranding in the coming months.
The draft zoning plan for the Great Sandy Marine Park in the region is five years overdue. It will establish which areas require increased protection and will set out what activities can be done.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says the seagrass decline means the Queensland Government must urgently increase fully protected areas in the marine park and release the draft zoning plan.
AMCS Marine Parks campaigner James Sherwood said: “The Queensland government has an immediate opportunity to increase the level of protection within the Great Sandy Marine Park. AMCS is calling for carefully planned sanctuary zones that will provide better protection to remaining seagrass beds and areas ready for recolonisation. This will in turn help iconic species like dugongs and turtles that depend on them.
“Based on historic seagrass mapping, a pitiful 8% of shallow water seagrass and no deepwater seagrass is within the current fully protected sanctuary zones.
“The Great Sandy Marine Park is home to the largest urban coast dugong population in Queensland, with the last surveys in 2016 estimating that there are just over 2,000 animals in the area, alongside a significant green turtle population. But, there are many signs they need help.
“We are already seeing an increase in sick, injured, and dead animals stranding following the back-to-back flooding events earlier this year. These flood events have contributed to the alarming loss of seagrass, leaving dugongs and turtles to go hungry. Queensland Parks and Wildlife have already recorded 240 turtles and 22 dugongs stranding since July 2021. Much higher than the long term average.
“With this alarming evidence of massive seagrass losses, we can expect to see more strandings of these iconic species throughout the winter months. Others may move out of the area or stop breeding.”
In the short term, the Queensland Government needs to invest in further research and facilities to help stranded animals following severe flood events in the area, including rehabilitation centres for sick and injured turtles.
An alliance of conservation groups, recreational fishers, and tourism groups is urging the Queensland Government to tackle other threats to dugongs and turtles in the zoning plan review.
Chairman of the Fraser Coast Fishing Alliance, Scott Mitchell said that it’s time to stop commercial netting in the Great Sandy Marine Park.
“The Great Sandy Marine Park is the only marine park in Australia that allows commercial gillnetting within the conservation zones. This conflicts with everything the conservation zones were set out to achieve.”
The new zoning plan must remove the Great Sandy Designated Area, a conservation zone where gillnet fishing is currently permitted, which will reduce the risk of animals drowning in commercial fishing nets.