Why does the Government ignore the scientific evidence on sanctuary zones?

Draft Management Plan for NSW Marine Parks open for comment: Why does the Government ignore the scientific evidence on sanctuary zones?


The NSW government has recently released for public comment its draft NSW Marine Park Network Management Plan 2021-2031 for our five mainland Marine Parks. Be sure to have your say.

The stated primary purpose of the marine parks is to: ‘conserve the biological diversity, and maintain the ecosystem functions and ecosystem integrity, of bioregions in the marine estate’. However, the government appears to be ignoring the advice of its own scientific advisers on the best way to achieve this.

Following on from the release of the Draft Management Plan, the government released some technical papers by Scientists who provide expert advice to government.

Professor Steinberg, who recently won the NSW Premier's 'Excellence in Biological Sciences' Award, was a key contributor of the paper that reviewed the effect of marine protected areas on marine biodiversity and ecology. The paper concludes:

Consistent with evidence globally or in Australia, the strongest evidence for significant, positive effects by MPAs [marine protected areas] in NSW on biological and ecological parameters are for Sanctuary Zones.” [1]

Dr Jane Elek, President of the Nature Coast Marine Group, comments that:

“This paper shows that there is over-whelming support in the scientific literature for the importance of no-take areas, or sanctuary zones, in achieving the main goal of marine parks — to enhance biodiversity, ecosystem functions and integrity. Sanctuaries are the most effective and cost-efficient method of achieving the primary goal of marine parks.

However, this draft management plan does not put forward any meaningful management actions that enhance the role of sanctuary zones to support this goal. For example, there are no actions to restore their full ‘no-take’ status to the Batemans Marine Park sanctuary zones that were opened in December 2019 for recreational fishing, or to improve compliance to prevent illegal fishing.


It is really disappointing that the Government doesn’t appear to be listening to its own expert advice.”

The Draft Plan, supporting documents, including Professor Steinberg’s report, and on-line survey for comment are available at: Stage 1 | NSW Marine Park Engagement or at www.ncmg.org.au . Comments close on January 31st, 2022.



A Grey Nurse Shark cruising the waters off Montague Island. This critically endangered, harmless species of shark is at high risk of being hooked while Montague Island’s sanctuary zones are open for illegal fishing. Photo: Jennifer Thompson

[1] Marine Estate Expert Knowledge Panel, Technical paper: Evaluation of the performance of NSW Marine Protected Areas; biological and ecological parameter, August 2020, p.20 Evaluation of the performance of NSW Marine Protected Areas; biological and ecological parameters

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