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Save Batemans marine sanctuaries before it’s too late

The Nature Coast Marine Group is calling on the NSW Government to step up and restore protection for all sanctuaries within Batemans Marine Park.

Bill Barker says ‘’It’s now more than nine months since the NSW Government announced they would allow fishing activity in six sanctuaries that were previously out of bounds.

“The NSW Government took this hasty decision without any scientific advice and without public consultation, ignoring its own rules for making changes to marine park zoning.

A fur seal off the Tollgate Islands sends an environmental message (photo: Phil Booth)

“Since these sanctuaries were axed in December 2019, bushfires and COVID have placed extraordinary pressure on our South Coast environment, communities and tourism.

A flourishing Batemans Marine Park is a vital environmental and economic asset, directly supporting diving, fishing and boating businesses, as well as being a drawcard for the South Coast’s $300 million nature-based tourism industry.

“Yet, almost a year later and still having failed to consult our local community and businesses, the sanctuaries remain open - threatening the habitats they were created to protect.”

As Bill Barker says, “Batemans Marine Park is already under review by the NSW Government. This provides the proper mechanism to consider future zoning and management issues.

“The sanctuaries were put in place 13 years ago to allow marine life to flourish undisturbed and to protect crucial feeding and fish nursery areas.

“Sadly, important conservation gains were lost when no-take areas were opened up around Montague Island, as well as in Brou Lake, Nangudga Lake and two zones in Wagonga Inlet.”

For the iconic Montague Island Nature Reserve, this adds to stresses on endangered grey nurse sharks, blue gropers, seals, penguins and other sea birds.

Blue Groper (photo Pete McGee)

Vital southern ocean kelp forests and biodiverse rocky reefs already under threat from encroaching urchin barrens now face even greater pressure to survive.

In Wagonga Inlet, seagrass habitats and breeding safe havens have been placed at risk.

Bill Barker explains ‘’More than 80% of the Batemans Marine Park has always been open to recreational fishing, providing ample opportunities to cast a line outside nurseries and refuges.”

According to conservation science expert Professor Hugh Possingham, “The science shows that fish increase in number, diversity and size in no-take zones, compared with fished areas.

“Unlike mammals, fish don’t stop growing when they mature, and a fish twice as large produces many more than twice the offspring.”

But as Professor Possingham says, “Modelling studies have repeatedly shown that where about 30% of an area is protected from all fishing, benefits to fishers in nearby waters are maximised.”

“Full protection based on internationally recognised scientific principles is crucial to stave off rapidly declining biodiversity due to overfishing, habitat loss, climate change, pollution and invasive species.”

As the Nature Coast Marine Group points out, Batemans Marine Park had less than 19% preserved in sanctuary zones even before this attack on existing protected areas.

Bill Barker says, “We know that most local fishers do the right thing and are passionate about having a fishing future. They understand the value of no-take areas.

“The NSW Government should stand up for responsible fishing and support healthy future fisheries.

“With Christmas holidays ahead, we are all hoping for a safe summer. Time is running out for the NSW Government to restore Batemans marine sanctuaries and give ocean wildlife and baby fish the safe summer they deserve.

“We expect any future park management and marine zoning decisions to be based on independent scientific evidence and open consultation. No more deals behind closed doors.”

Lynda Burke showcases her stunning underwater photography (photo: Gillianne Tedder)

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