Marine protection should be a federal election issue

Montara oil spill. Photo by Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Australia’s leading conservation groups said in a joint statement on June 21 that concern about lack of action to provide safeguards against large-scale oil spills in Australia will be a high-profile issue in the next federal election.

Thirty-two environment groups — including the Australian Conservation Foundation, WWF Australia and Pew Environment Group — have called on all political parties to commit to a network of large marine sanctuaries this coming election to provide safeguards for Australia’s unique marine life.

Late last year, Australia suffered the major 10-week Montara oil spill off the Kimberley coast.

Australia’s resources minister subsequently gave new approvals to the perpetrator of the Montara oil spill and released 31 new oil and gas leases over environmentally sensitive areas of Australia’s oceans, which had been identified for protection.

“Everyone knows prevention is better than cure,” said Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Don Henry. “That means protecting Australia’s important and iconic marine areas including Australia’s South West marine region, the Coral Sea and the Kimberley, with marine sanctuaries.”

Greg Bourne of WWF-Australia said: “Since the Montara oil spill less than a year ago, 31 new oil and gas approvals have been made in Australian waters but no action has been taken to safeguard our marine life and coastal communities from the high risks associated with industrial development.”

Michelle Grady of the Pew Environment Group-Australia said: “A network of large marine sanctuaries is backed by science as being the best way to protect our unique marine life, allow fish stocks to recover and provide safeguards against the impacts of threats such as oil spills.”

In light of Australia’s failure to act on the very clear risk posed by deepwater drilling, environmental organisations called on the [then] Rudd government to release the Montara Inquiry findings without delay, and for all political parties to commit to:

* Place a moratorium on new oil and gas approvals in Australian waters until the safety issues associated with deepwater drilling have been addressed;

* Declare a national network of marine sanctuaries in Australian waters including Australia’s South West marine region, the Coral Sea and the Kimberley, to safeguard Australia’s unique and threatened marine life.

Australia has the third-largest marine jurisdiction of any nation on Earth and a marine area almost twice the size of our continent. Australia’s marine life is the most biologically diverse on the planet. Yet, less than 5% of Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone is protected from oil and gas, and most of this area sits in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and around the sub Antarctic Macquarie, Heard and McDonald Islands.

[Abridged from a June 21 statement signed by 32 different environmental organisations. .]