New proposal to increase marine sanctuary in Great Sandy Marine Park could see greater protection for dugongs, turtles

The Queensland government’s proposal of a new plan to increase fully protected marine sanctuaries from 4% to 12.8% in the Great Sandy Marine Park is a good step towards ensuring the area’s unique wildlife is better protected, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says.

The new plan will provide more sanctuary areas and end destructive gillnet fishing in the Great Sandy Strait, reducing the risk of drowning deaths of iconic wildlife like dugongs and green turtles.

This will help ease the pressure on both species in the region. Back-to-back floods have decimated seagrass meadows in Hervey Bay, upon which both species rely for food. Local conservation groups have reported strandings by dugongs and green turtles in the wake of the floods. So far this year, 91 turtles have been taken into care. This is an enormous increase compared with the 12 taken into care in 2019.

AMCS Marine Parks campaigner James Sherwood welcomed the release of the long-overdue proposed draft zoning plan and said it was a good first step towards better protection of the area.

“The science shows that marine sanctuaries play a key role in helping habitats to recover from events like flooding. By removing other pressures like fishing, sanctuaries give marine ecosystems the chance to take a breath,” he said.

“For example, after being smothered in algae as a result of nutrients from flood runoff, research shows these areas can recover with the help of grazing fish populations if they are left alone to thrive.”

Mr Sherwood said although we would like to see more sanctuary protection in the new plan, the plan will be a step towards a more sustainable future for the Fraser Coast community, which is heavily reliant on tourism dollars.

Prior to today’s release of the draft zoning plan, the marine park was failing all scientific criteria when it comes to spatial design, particularly protecting a representative portion of all habitat types. For example, at present there is no protection for deepwater seagrass ecosystems. The new draft plan, if implemented, will resolve these issues and remove the anomaly of allowing destructive gillnetting within a conservation zone, Mr Sherwood added.

AMCS is a part of an alliance of conservation groups, recreational fishers, and tourism groups, which has been urging the Queensland Government to release a new zoning plan that delivers better protection for the region.

Scott Mitchell, Chairman of the Fraser Coast Fishing Alliance, has for more than a decade been highlighting the need for stronger reforms to commercial gillnetting throughout Great Sandy Marine Park, including areas at Baffle Creek, Elliot River, Burrum River, Mary River, the Great Sandy Strait and Tin Can Bay Inlet.

“Almost 30,000 people have signed petitions to remove gillnetting from the marine park’s conservation park or yellow zones. Removing gillnets will increase the protection for wildlife like dugongs, dolphins, and turtles which, when spotted on a day out fishing, make the trip all that much more memorable,” he said.

“It will also help restore and rebuild fish stocks and support jobs in the local communities as shown in the Rockhampton region after the creation of the net-free zones in the Fitzroy River.”

The Queensland government has begun consulting the public on the Great Sandy draft zoning plan, with consultation open until 23 October 2022.

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