Nov 28

Plans have been put forward to establish the world’s largest marine protected area, in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia.

Green turtle image

Green turtle swimming over reef

The Coral Sea

Located on the northeast coast of Australia, the Coral Sea stretches from the boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to the Pacific Islands. It is home to a diverse range of corals, fish, seabirds, reptiles and marine mammals, including threatened species such as the loggerhead turtle, blue whale and great white shark.

If the proposal for the protected area is approved, it would result in the protection of 972,000 square kilometres of the Coral Sea, an area roughly the size of France and Germany combined.

The environment minister, Tony Burke, explains, “The environmental significance of the Coral Sea lies in its diverse array of coral reefs, sandy cays, deep sea plains and canyons. It contains more than 20 outstanding examples of isolated tropical reefs, sandy cays and islands.” 

Red-tailed tropicbird image

The red-tailed tropicbird breeds on islands in the Coral Sea

Variable protection

The level of protection will vary across the planned marine reserve, with around half of the total area being designated as a ‘no take’ zone, where fishing will be prohibited. Other areas of the Coral Sea will allow varying levels of recreational and commercial fishing, depending on their designation. While this is welcomed by some, it falls short of conservationists’ hopes for a completely protected marine area.

A statement by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said, “The draft plan proposes to set aside only the eastern Coral Sea as a safe haven for marine life. Many of the jewels in the crown of the Coral Sea therefore remain unprotected. Only two of about 25 unprotected reefs are given a high level of protection.

Sei whale image

The sei whale, an inhabitant of the Coral Sea

As well as protecting the flora and fauna of the Coral Sea, the planned park will also help to preserve historical sites, including the wrecks of ships sunk in 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The plans for the Coral Sea marine reserve will be finalised in 90 days, when the government will decide on the limits to be imposed on the protected area.

Read more on the story in the Guardian – Australia announces plans for world’s biggest marine park.

Find out more about the planned reserve in The Sydney Morning Herald – Coral Sea could be world’s largest marine park.

Read the story in The Age – Coral Sea marine reserve on the way.

Find out more about the Coral Sea – Protect Our Coral Sea.

Explore other unique species found in Australia.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author