August 4th 2002
RAP meet highlights Reef's needs
Of the approximate 100 countries around the world which possess coral reefs only three are rated as 'developed'. They are the US with its heavily impacted Florida Keys, Israel, with a mere eight kilometres of coral coast and Australia with the Great Barrier Reef.
This was one of the messages which highlighted the need for Australia to be a role model for the rest of the world in reef management at an information evening organised by Island resident and Co-ordinator of the Marine Coastal Communities Network, Kirsty Sampson.
The evening at the MI Sports and Recreation Club was to raise awareness over the underlying ecological values and perceived threats to the reef which have led Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the Federal Government to initiating the Representative Areas Program (RAP) which plans to increase the area of the Park's no-take zone from under 5% to 25%.
GBRMPA's Suzanne Slegers spoke of how, in the past, the coral reefs within the park were the most heavily protected areas but that there were many less ''sexy'' sections of the park which have not been greatly understood or appreciated, such as the muddy bottomed and sea grass covered regions which it is now realised are of vital importance in sustaining the overall health of the reef and its biodiversity.
The RAP program has instigated meetings with the Park-using public, up and down the coast, to find out where, among other things, recreational fishers' most preferred fishing spots are, in a hope to minimise the impact of the new zonings on their future use. It was clear however that this did not necessarily mean the zoning would reflect a popular location vote but that much of the final analysis would be determined by an assessment of the reasoning given in the submissions as to why an area should or should not be included for no-take. Interestingly, it was also pointed out that submissions could be just as valid in saying "I want to see more green zones here so tourists can see large and diverse numbers of fish etc".
AIMS Marine Ecologist, Dr Katharina Fabricius spoke of the diversity of life which occurs between the 70 different bioregions (varying habitats - not unlike terrestrial rainforest or savannah) identified within the park. She noted that Magnetic Island lies within two overlapping bioregions. Its coral reefs belong to the 'Central Coastal Reefs', shaped by flood plumes from the Burdekin River. Such reefs are only found close to the coast between Townsville and Cairns. The sea floor surrounding the reefs of Magnetic Island is part of the 'High Nutrients Coastal Region' dominated by rich soft bottom communities and seagrass in the more sheltered areas. These two bioregions are affected by nutrients and sediments discharged from the rivers, the amount of which has increased several-fold in the last few decades.
Dr Fabricius also contended that the existing green zones were very small, "Too small for the migratory habits of many fish" she said. As for increased green zones Dr Fabricius told the meeting, "The Reef's fishery is very complex compared with the large single species fisheries found in colder parts of the world such as the Atlantic herring fisheries. On the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) we find a great diversity of species which depend upon each other and although there may be many fish, there are less of any particular species. Removal of the prized eating types may quickly affect the ecological balance". She said, adding, "Compared to remote reef areas, the fish numbers seem much lower in the more accessible GBR."
One of the points which also was also made clear was that the larger the individual green zone the better. This allows the diversity of species greater numbers to deal with broader natural of human related impacts more effectively. It was also clear that green zones "spill" to fishable areas enabling restocking and presumably, more fish available for fishers in the unprotected zones.
The evening also heard from MI traditional owner representative, Mellissa George of the Wulgarukaba who spoke about traditional hunting within the Park. "Hunting is not going to stop while we are not in a position to regulate it. There are over 30,000 aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people locally but only about 50 are Wulgarukaba. Our elders have agreed not to hunt dugong and turtle in the Southern Central Region of the Park but we have not been able to enforce this with 'historical' people (Aboriginal people who live in an area but are descended from people whose traditional country is elsewhere) as we have not been actively included in patrolling with Parks staff".
In terms of the RAP, Ms George also mentioned that, as has been tested by the recent Yanner case, Native Title overrules protected areas legislation but that without support the Wulgarukaba were not able, on the ground, to indicate who is permitted to hunt in these areas.
Ms Ann Ferguson from the World Wide Fund for Nature also addressed the gathering. She stressed the importance of making submissions in support of the green zoning and argued that over the next 18 months the process would become increasingly political. She said, "In six months the draft plan will be released for comment but don't forget that it is a political process and that it is extremely useful to contact and arrange a meeting with your elected representatives to let them know of your concerns, face to face."
MI Community Development Association Acting President, Lorna Hempstead, commented at this point that, Member for Herbert, Peter Lindsay has been very supportive of the RAP and that he was very approachable on the subject.
The submission period for public comment closes this Wednesday 7 August. For further information on the RAP program go to gbrmpa.gov.au and follow the prompts from the link, 'Protecting the Reef: Have your say'