Marine Parks in NSW and why they are important

There are six Marine Parks in NSW, extending from Cape Byron Marine Park in the North of the State and Bateman's Bay Marine Park in the south. Marine Parks are areas with agreed management plans that include a variety of different zones that allow different activities. These include general use areas, areas that allow different types of commercial and recreational fishing, other zones with specific restrictions including habitat protection and some small Sanctuary Zones which are the only areas off limits to all fishing and other extractive activities like mining.

These Sanctuary Zones make up less than 7% of NSW coastal waters. NSW Coastal waters include our estuaries and out to 3 nautical miles from the coastline or around NSW islands, such as Lord Howe Island, which is home to one of the States Marine Park and a number of Sanctuary Zones. 

You can see information about all NSW Marine Parks and Sanctuary Zones on the Governments Marine Estate Management Authority website

The debate in NSW about Marine Parks and no-fishing Sanctuary Zones has been politically charged and linked to the influence of the Shooters and Fishers Party in the NSW Parliament. But the science supporting the value for marine biodiversity and supporting fish stocks for commercial and recreational fishing is clear.

The University of Sydneys school of biology released a statement on marine park zoning  in NSW, urging the government to reinstate Sanctuary Zones protections that it lifted in 2013. It submitted a petition criticising the decision as being not based on science or consultation and urged the government to create research programs targeting scientific knowledge gaps to ensure we have the data to make quality decisions to protect marine biodiversity and ensure fish for the future.

Recent data indicates that recreational fishers take at least a quarter of the catch in 11 of the states top 20 harvested species, including those commonly found in beach and headland habitats.

Just two years after the sanctuary zones were expanded on the Great Barrier Reef in 2004, scientists found that Coral Trout, for example, had increased by 60% in the protected areas.

An Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies report  published in 2014 stresses the importance of sanctuary zones for resilience and capacity building. We found little difference between fishes living in most MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) and those in nearby fished areas, indicating that many MPAs are not achieving desired conservation outcomes. However, some MPAs had massive numbers of large fishes and extremely high conservation value. These effective MPAs typically were no-take, well-enforced, more than 10 years old, relatively large in area, and isolated from fished areas by deep water or sand. MPAs with these characteristics had on average eight times more large fishes, nine times more groupers, and 14 times more sharks than fished areas.

These types of MPAs with good outcomes are more like our Sanctuary Areas in NSW while the MPSs showing little difference are more like the generic Marine Parks with mixed use or only limited protections.

Marine parks and healthy sanctuary zones also have long term and increasing benefits to regional communities. A 2013 Centre for Policy Development report found that, for example, the establishment of the Solitary Islands Marine Park saw a 20% increase in local business turnover in the first five years, mainly due to tourism and the Jervis Bay Marine Park has brought an estimated $2.4 million into the region through marine tourism.

Aside from the science support Sanctuary Zones, there is strong public support. In every poll conducted in NSW over the past 5 years on the issue of marine protection, support for marine sanctuaries among the general public and fishers alike has averaged 70-90%.

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