The Australian government recently announced plans to create the world's largest ever marine reserve in the Coral Sea, according to coverage by the BBC. The reserve area would limit fishing and also prevent oil and gas exploration and drilling, protecting the increasingly scarce coral reef from further destruction.
The initiative, which was announced by Australia's Environment Minister Tony Burke, would mean that an area of the Coral Sea one and a half times the size of France would be protected. Although that's still a pretty small region compared to the size of Australia!
"There is no other part of Australia's territory where so much comes together - pristine oceans, magnificent coral, a military history which has helped define us and now a clear proposal for permanent protection," said Burke.
The Coral Sea, off the Queensland coast to the north-east of Australia, is home to not just the magnificent coral reefs, but also to sharks and tuna, and the wrecks of three US navy ships which were lost in 1942's Battle of the Coral Sea during the Second World War.
The plans are still subject to a 90 day consultation period, and some have expressed concerns over the plan. Although limited fishing will be possible in the reserve's waters, which extend from 60km to 1,100km away from Australia's coast, fishing bodies have said that a larger commercial fishing area is required. Environmental activists have welcomed the plans in principle but claim that certain key reefs and spawning grounds are outside the area which will be fully protected. Lobbyists on both sides have concerns, but overall the Australian government's plan is finding favour.
The Coral Sea reserve, if all the plans go through, will measure just under a million square kilometres, at 989,842 square km. This is almost double the size of the largest existing marine reserve, the 545,000 square kilometre reserve around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. Policing the reserve to prevent illegal fishing would be an enormous undertaking, but this is a great step forward for marine conservation, and will hopefully prompt other governments to examine similar initiatives in their own territorial waters.
With international fish stocks dwindling due to pollution and over-fishing, it is recognised that urgent action needs to be taken to protect the oceans for future generations. The world will be hoping that Australia can protect its spectacular coral reefs and reverse the decline in biodiversity in the Coral Sea.