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Marine Park

There are currently six marine parks stretching from Lord Howe Island to Jervis Bay in New South Wales. The latest in this region is the Port Stephens – Great Lakes park, established in 2005 and extending from Cape Hawke Surf Life Saving Club near Forster South to Birubi Beach Life Saving Club at Stockton Beach, including offshore waters to a three nautical mile limit.

 T he park covers an area of approximately 98,000 hectares, including Port Stephens and the Karuah River, Myall River, Myall and Smiths Lakes and all their creeks and tributaries to the tidal limit. 

The zoning plan for the marine park was gazetted in 2008, with the park now classified as multiple use – protecting marine habitats and species while catering for what the New South Wales Governments describes as “a wide range of sustainable activities”. 

By definition, this new marine park sees fishing activities being regulated by zoning and other recreational activities that include whale watching. These parks, according to the Government, have been established to protect the biodiversity of marine life. 

Since the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park was established, a few conservation groups headed by the National Parks Association (NPA) – a non-government conservation group – have been yapping at the heels of the Government to establish another marine park between Crowdy Head, Lake Cathie and the northern section of the Macleay regions, a total of 22,000 hectares. The yappers are using a report: the ‘Torn Blue Fringe Report’ compiled by the NPA to promote their argument and case. 

So, will the above area become the seventh marine park in the State of New South Wales? At this stage, the Government denies any extension. However, where there is smoke, there is usually fire. 

This suggestion has now turned into a campaign and is meeting strong opposition from residents located within the identified regions, with protest rallies being attended by thousands of concerned residents, fishing clubs, tourism operators and business owners. Also, a sack full of letters expressing people’s concerns has been sent to local State Member of Parliament, Peter Besseling and the Minister responsible. 

The latest public meeting at Harrington was attended by more than 160 people: residents, members of the local and Taree Fishing Clubs, Harrington Chamber of Commerce and the Harrington Resident Action Group.

In attendance was local State member Peter Besseling, who assured everyone he was behind their push and had already asked several questions in Parliament pertaining to the proposed marine park. The evening ended, with a motion unanimously passed to campaign and ‘stop’ the establishment of a park.

This latest push would have dire consequences for the region – affecting the future of local coastal communities who rely on fishing, tourism and boating as a tool to attract tourists, investors and retirees. Being picturesque and having attractive waterways, these areas have become a major drawcard for a relaxed holiday lifestyle that includes a wide range of activities such as fishing, snorkelling and spearfishing. 

Losing these activities through imposed restrictions would put all towns severely at risk: limiting their potential growth and their ability to maintain a growing stream of tourists. Visitors to these regions have become the lifeblood of these towns – which also have the added responsibility of servicing the many camping and day trip spots like Blackhead Point that are located along the coastline. 

It is difficult to understand why governments spend millions of dollars to entice populations to these destinations, promoting the area’s obvious benefits, then move the goal posts. It’s a paradox: why introduce new parks and still promote these destinations as attractive fishing and water leisure spots? 

The appeal of this area is that it has no obvious commercial hype and there are an abundance of theme parks and other attractions to amuse families, which would act as an alternative. Tourists are attracted by the village atmosphere and a quieter environment, promoting the perfect holiday.

Former Greater Taree City Councillor and Harrington resident Bob Smith is leading the fight to stop the proposal and believes these conservation groups should direct their efforts in other areas.

He said, “Existing marine parks only target fishing, while the real threats to bio diversity, such as toxic runoffs, sewage, blue green algae, habitat destruction, erosion, and massive siltation problems leading to poor water quality and flow are killing our marine life.” 

He added that reports show up to 50 percent of our east coastal fish stocks are lost due to environmental problems. This view is supported by developer Bill Roach, who believes: “The environmental problems concerning bio diversity should be addressed by the environmentalists and conservation groups. It is a wide issue, with marine life not affected by fishing but by the many other elements poisoning our waterways.”

Not being one who wets a line, it is hard to argue with the many anglers I have spoken to, as they sit waiting for the signal that their patient wait has been fruitful. All say that with bag and size limits, they believe their recreational activity is not a threat to any species or will produce a reduction in fish numbers.

Most are concerned that the wide and ranging ‘maybes’ contained in the regulations are a major problem. The long list includes walking dogs, driving on beaches, and restricted areas for casting a line – with the restrictions and zonings supposed to be developed in full consultation with the community.

But does this occur after consultations?

The State Government has a history of doing its own thing, ignoring the debates and public protests and putting politics first – instead of listening and using rational thinking. It appears to be a one-way street in the political arena: seeking and supporting the vote of the Green parties to ensure legislation is passed and to gain their Green preferences at voting time.

There is significant evidence in the Northern Territory and Tasmania that the establishment of marine parks that allow recreational fishing works. Surveys show this precedent has not affected marine life or sensitive environmental areas. 

These two regions are zoned for multiple uses such as fishing and recreation and has not affected the protection of the parks. 

According to the New South Wales Government, the successful operation of marine parks depends largely upon the ability of the relevant ministers, the Marine Parks Authority, and park managers to ensure that all activities within the marine park are sustainable. 

An interesting comment, as the ability of all of the above must come under question: previously there has been little room for negotiation. 

Everyone is aware of our responsibility to bio diversity and wants to protect the environment – particularly our flora and fauna including fish, whales, seabirds and marine vegetation. It is time the yappers targeted the real marine terrorists – the ones who poison our waterways. 

We have enough regulation in our life – what next?

Will we be banned from entering the surf and enjoying the saltwater?

Although we are in tough economic times, our region is defying the trend, with a recent steady stream of tourists. I am sick and tired of governments restricting responsible use of our natural waterways and national parks; they are simply taking all the pleasure out of life.

We should be banning whaling and other barbaric practices that affect the waterways – not families or individuals who just want to relax and enjoy life.

So grab your pen and paper, object to our local member Peter Besseling: PO Box 1898, Port Macquarie NSW 2444 and the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Carmel Tebbutt: Governor Macquarie Tower, Level 30, 1 Farrer Place, SYDNEY NSW 2000.