It is safe to say that just about every resident living in the Eurobodalla shire has some level of appreciation for our marine environment, some much more than others.
A great deal of our lifestyles is associated with our local marine estate, walking the dog on the beach, enjoying wetting a line to catch a feed of fish for the family, diving into the water and being captivated by the beauty of the abundant sea life and the thousand other activities we almost take for granted.
But are we the people, the people of the Eurobodalla and its 1.4 million annual visitors being taken for granted? Many in the know including myself believe so.
The Euro Fishing Association and the Nature Coast Marine Group decided to break the ice recently by sitting down and find common ground with the goal of creating alliances simply because so many of us a fed up with the inaction, lack of engagement and communication from the state government.
I could talk for hours with a mouth full of marbles underwater about the different aspects affecting OUR marine park but the point of this article is the here and now. Bear with me to give you some insight but remember context is a good thing so you can understand. Under the old legislation governing the NSW Marine Park Authority the Batemans Marine Park was to be reviewed after 10 years from when it was gazetted in 2007.
Why do we want it reviewed? The community is only getting used to the idea that the park is here to stay. Yet it just does not tick all the boxes for the whole community, this is mainly due to the way it was rushed in to appease political deals well beyond the community’s control at the time. So now is the time for the community to have their say about the management of the park but there is one thing that stands in our way. The way the government currently listens to the community…..
In 2013 it was announced that the Batemans Marine Park was to be reviewed in 2018 and those paying attention pencilled it into their diary. Before we knew it 2017 arrived and chatter started about the review but was drowned out by the “public consultation process” of the Marine Estate Threat And Risk Assessment report and the Marine Estate Management Draft Strategy.
From here the problems begin. I salute the volunteers who have spent decades trying to engage with government and advocate for their particular sector of the marine environment for the betterment of the community and this will sound all too familiar to them.
The public consultation process mentioned before was a great disappointment to many from the public and is a great example of the Modus Operandi of the top management within the branches of the Department of Primary Industries, in this case Fisheries and the Marine Park Authority which for all intents and purposes the park authority has been amalgamated into Fisheries.
The public consultation processes were designed in such a way that the state government controlled every step of the process. Considering it took the state government 2 years to develop the threat and risk assessment but only gave the public 6 or 8 weeks depending on who you were to absorb the 2000 page document and respond with a well-informed response was difficult to say the least.
But most of those who actually knew about the consultation time period were advised to use the state governments public opinion online process which consisted of pre-programmed multiple choice answers and prepared responses removing the freedom to give an actual opinion. There were those who submitted their own responses in writing but not as many as you would think.
The satellite consultation meetings held along our great coastline was by invite only to those who represent the various stakeholders in our communities. Again, they were designed to control the public consultation process where there was no real chance to hear everyone’s opinion and groups were divided up and responses were controlled. All in 6 hours which was deemed by the state government that the community had their involvement in the consultation process. They had 2 years we had 6 hours!
So back to the Batemans Marine Park review. Has it happened yet? NO, no it has not. Why not?
Let’s take a look at the Batemans Marine Park Advisory Committee. This group is made up of 21…. errrh sorry…. 18 government employees and volunteers from the public. The volunteers are there to represent you and I about matters that affect the park and the community associated with the park. The committee should be the first people to be kept in the loop about anything with the marine park.
However, there are several problems with the committee by no fault of the members.
In a nutshell they are not kept informed regularly by the government, the committee struggles to form a quorum in fact last meeting there wasn’t a quorum and so as one member said to me recently we are there for just tea and scones.
Why can’t the committee get a quorum? Put simply a lack of interest. Several committee members have lamented that absolutely no progress has been made as a committee. No ideas have been accepted, no proposal have been engaged with, nothing! The committee has become disheartened and so in recent times 3 committee members resigned due to the inaction and engagement of the NSW Marine Park Authority.
On top of this the committee has been left hanging in the wind regarding the review. There has been at least a half dozen times DPI has advised when the review process will start and what it will involve but like we have come to expect, nothing has happened. There was a brief point earlier this year where a high-ranking bureaucrat gave noticed that the review was going to be put off for four years!
Thankfully as far as we know this is not happening. But we still don’t know when it is officially going to happen. The word on the grapevine is it’s still going ahead this year. Another point that has become sore with the committee is they have been told that they will be the main point of contact for the community to have input into the review yet there is three vacancies and the committee has lost interest so they are not really invested in representing the community. All because they are not being taken seriously.
The very same problem was had with the first marine park advisory committee when Mayor Mumme was chairman and went on public record a number of times expressing the committee’s frustration.
Feeling frustrated yet? Well let’s talk about managers. To be clear the local managers are just doing their jobs so I am not giving them a hard time. But their bosses need to think about the community.
Currently we have an acting – acting manager in place with the acting manager on holidays (yes that is two different acting managers). Where is our proper manager you ask? On maternity leave…..for the past 5 years.
We only have to look at the next closest marine park up the road, the Jervis Bay marine park who has a long-standing manager that has become almost a pillar in the community. That manager has displayed they are invested in being a good manager and has had years and years to become intimately acquainted with their marine park. Because this manager has been in place for a long time and has gain knowledge unique to the Jervis Bay marine park, the manager is in a far greater position to serve the community well and from what I understand is doing a great job.
Ok so things don’t always go to plan. So, who is organising the delivery of the Batemans Bay Marine Park review? Surely someone local right. No wrong again. Another letdown for the Eurobodalla community. In fact, it is a manager from Coffs Habour! This is a letdown because there is a definite disconnection between management and the local community. Has this been done on purpose?
From here we can only speculate but if you keep your finger on the pulse with what other projects are being pursued (or stalled) within DPI a bigger picture starts to form.
What we do know, the Batemans and Solitary Islands marine parks are supposed to be up for review at the same time but there has been little to no public outcry about the Solitary Island marine park review and all the focus is on Batemans. I put this down to the advocates living in our region making plenty on noise about the inadequacy of the Batemans marine park.
Which brings me back to the recent meeting between the Euro Fishing Association and the Nature Coast Marine Group. Both organisations are proactive in nature and represent a large portion of the community. Before the Batemans Marine Park existed ten years ago the thought of these two groups sitting at the same table discussing the same issues that concern them would have been unheard of. Ten years ago, we were considered almost arch enemies.
What’s changed? There’s an old saying, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.
Suddenly especially in the past 12 months we are seeing the different sectors or stakeholder groups creating alliances or understandings because they have simply had enough of the inaction coming from a state government department. This is a great thing, it is forming unity within our community to a degree.
For the first time we are finding common ground and working towards a common goal. To have a marine park for everyone using a holistic approach to manage the park. But will the government department top management listen? Their M.O. for the past few decades suggest otherwise.
Above: from left to right is Bill Barker President of the Nature Coast Marine Group, Jenny Edwards founding member of the Nature Coast Marine Group, Max Castle Vice President of the Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW and Adam Martin President of the Euro Fishing Association.
Before I wrap up this little article there is one more thing you should be made aware of. In this case it’s not the politicians at fault here. A politician is as only good as the information he or she is being fed by his or her top advisors. This is where I believe the focal point of the problem is. It’s the top bureaucrats in the positions of managing the departments giving out of touch information to their ministers. If we had leadership invested to deliver for the community then we might see better outcomes.
While we wait for the review to begin and you want something brought to the attention of the community then don’t put it off. The Euro Fishing Association has been preparing for the review since 2015 and has much to do still. Our focus is on recreational fishing and the social disadvantages imposed on the community.
The Nature Coast Marine Group is focusing on many issues relating to conservation that align well with that of the Euro Fishing Association. A very concerning issue that has not received nearly enough attention is the urchin barrens found in the marine park. This is a very concerning problem possibly even more so than stormwater pollution entering the marine park. The urchin barrens are like a stealth submarine that no one is aware of and is well on its way destroying everything in its path leaving nothing behind but devastation, hectares and hectares of what was once a thriving marine environment is now completely barren rock reef.
Finally, what do we all want included in the review? Science, much more local science. There has been only a small amount of actual onsite local science done in the past decade much of which has been done by volunteers but if we are to gain a better understanding of how to effectively manage our marine park we need teams and teams of researchers locally working on dozens of different projects. Again, it needs to be done locally and I cannot over state this.
But this comes back to funding. This is where you the community comes into play. In 2010 the Batemans Marine Park only had $30,000.00 allocated to research which is nothing short of a disgrace. The upcoming state election is the perfect opportunity for you to quiz the minister and ask how much funding are you going to commit to research for one of the most important resources we have on the far south coast? Honestly, if I had my way and I am being conservative, $100 million over ten years would get the job done.
Short term pain for long term gain as they say.
If you have anything you would like included in the Batemans Marine Park review, drop me a line and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
President, Euro Fishing Association.