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Australia may scale back on marine protection

Australia’s new government has confirmed it will be winding back a huge network of marine reserves established last year by the previous administration.

The country drew praise from conservationists in 2012 when the Labor government led by Kevin Rudd announced the establishment of a world-leading network of marine protected areas (MPAs).

But Greg Hunt, the environment minister in the new Liberal–National Coalition government elected 7 September, told MPA News that the plans will now be reviewed. “The Coalition Government will as soon as is practicable suspend and review the flawed management plans for marine protected areas that were imposed without fair or adequate consultation,” he said.

Some industry figures — notably from the fisheries sector — have been vocal in their complaints that ‘no-take’ areas in some regions where fishing is banned will devastate their trade. MPA News says that Hunt would not say whether new management plans for the marine reserves would be more favourable to fishing, but he strongly hinted in this direction, saying: “A sustainable fishing industry is an integral part of a strong primary producing sector, and a ‘lock up’ mentality is not necessarily the best way to protect our marine life.”

Hunt’s statement will worry conservationists, not least because some scientists have already claimed that the MPA plans did not protect enough habitat. Although praise has been heaped on the network — which would have protected 2.3 million square kilometres of sea — some research indicates that it does not adequately protect all of the vast array of ecosystems found in Australian waters.

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