By Danika Ferguson, edited for online by Sarah Richards
The Coral Sea in North Queensland has been earmarked to become the world’s biggest marine park.
But there are fears tourism figures may slump if the government does not improve plans to protect its reefs.
Protect our Coral Sea campaign Cairns and Far North Environment Outreach manager Xanthe Rivett says she is worried some parts of the Coral Sea are not getting enough protection.
“The Coral Sea’s been identified as one of the last few remaining intact coral reef ecosystems in the world,” Ms Rivett said.
“It’s a very special place with outstanding natural values as well as heritage value.”
But she says they would like to see plans extended.
“It’s only currently planned to protect two new reefs out of the 25 that are out there and we’d like to see that protection extended,” Ms Rivett said.
James Cook University marine scientist Dr Robin Beaman says popular tourist dive site Osprey Reef, which is one of the top 10 shark dive sites in the world, should be included.
“If we were to allow fishing to go over at Osprey Reef, it means that you put at risk that resident population of sharks and of course the dive tourism that goes with it,” Dr Beaman said.
He says overfishing and other external impacts could lead to a loss of top predators, and that could be devastating for the health of the reef.
“You remove those sharks, it then starts affecting all the marine life below that and so you start reducing the reef’s resilience to bounce back from other natural impact,” Dr Beaman said.
Dive Explorations owner Mike Ball says reputation is important.
“It has a reputation as a world-class dive site, so right this minute our concern is the reefs that we visit in the Coral Sea are not given protection from catch and kill methods,” Mr Ball said.
“It’s just not conducive with a international marine park.”
He says marine species are in danger now.
“If protection is not given to the iconic reef it will allow the species to be fished,” Mr Ball said.
He says the reef would lose its appeal to tourists.
“If those spectacular fish are removed it loses all its attraction to these divers that travel from all around the world to see it,” Mr Ball said.
But Dr Beaman says the government consultation process is an important step.
“So here we have this opportunity now to make a difference, to actually put in place a protection around reefs and say ‘right we do think that it’s worthy keeping these animals’,” Dr Beaman said.