WWF welcomes greater protection for whales and dugongs in Queensland’s Great Sandy Marine Park

A hawksbill turtle.

The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia has welcomed a proposal to increase gill net-free zones in the Great Sandy Marine Park.

The Queensland Government made the announcement on Friday, 23 September as part of its draft zoning plan for the marine park, which covers a 6,000 km2 area that includes Hervey Bay, the Great Sandy Strait, Tin Can Inlet, and the waters off the east coast of Fraser Island. 

“This area is a stronghold for dugongs, whales and other marine wildlife and we need to do all we can to increase their protection,” Richard Leck, WWF-Australia’s Head of Oceans, said.

“WWF particularly welcomes the zoning that proposes a major increase in areas free from commercial gill nets.

“While we had hoped the new draft plan would deliver a higher level of marine sanctuary protection, it does offer an overall significant increase in protection for the park’s iconic wildlife,” Mr Leck said.

Marine sanctuary (green) zones provide refuge from the impacts of fishing, allowing fish and crab populations to grow and then “spill over” replenishing stocks outside the protected areas. This benefits both commercial and recreational fishers.

“The Great Sandy Marine Park is home to a dazzling array of species, including one of the largest dugong populations on the Queensland east coast, as well as a wonderland for local and visiting anglers to wet a line,” Mr Leck said.

Scott Mitchell, Chairman of the Fraser Coast Fishing Alliance, has for more than a decade been highlighting the need for stronger reforms to commercial gill netting throughout Great Sandy Marine Park, including areas at Baffle Creek, Elliot River, Burrum River, Mary River, the Great Sandy Strait and Tin Can Bay Inlet.

“Almost 30,000 people have signed petitions to remove gill netting from the marine park’s conservation park or yellow zones. Removing gill nets will increase the protection for wildlife like dugongs, dolphins, and turtles which, when spotted on a day out fishing, make the trip all that much more memorable,” Mr Leck added.

“It will also help restore and rebuild fish stocks and support jobs in the local communities as shown in the Rockhampton region after the creation of the net-free zones in the Fitzroy River.”

Mr Leck acknowledged the plan will affect some commercial fishing and called on the Queensland Government to ensure those fishers who are negatively affected receive fair compensation.

“We’d also like to see the government act in other areas along the Queensland coast where commercial gill netting occurs to help regenerate Australia’s oceans,” he said.

Earlier this year, WWF-Australia bought its fourth commercial gill net license in the northern Great Barrier Reef area, effectively creating a 100,000 kmsafe haven for dugongs, inshore dolphins, and turtles.

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