Marine park a balance between environmental protection and community access

Ms Berejiklian and ministers at Coogee
Ms Berejiklian and ministers at Coogee

ANNOUNCING a public consultation phase on Thursday on a proposed Newcastle to Wollongong marine park, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the government was “committed to preserving and protecting our natural environment”.

“NSW’s beautiful marine environment is iconic and the envy of the world,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We want to keep it that way so that future generations can continue to enjoy it.”

With such an introduction, a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that the promised marine park was likely to involve some substantial restrictions on recreation – especially fishing – along some of the most densely populated areas of the NSW coast.

But a closer examination shows that this is not the case. While extremely sensitive areas do deserve special protection, an objective assessment of the health of our estuaries, our beaches and our close offshore ocean waters shows there have been substantial improvements across many areas.  Even so, problems do remain.

One of these is marine pollution, the top concern identified by the government agency in charge of the park policy, the Marine Estate Management Authority, in polls of both the public and the relevant local councils. 

The authority also lists access to foreshores and waterways, water pollution, climate change and coastal hazard management among the major challenges.

In a practical sense, government coastal policy needs to recognise the role of human activity within this environment, and the reality that not all of our coast can be – or even should be – pristine.

By grading the park’s waterways into different classifications, the government says it is aiming to protect the most sensitive areas by creating about 10 “sanctuary zones”, including one at Bird Island, off Birdie Beach, near Munmorah, that would put an end to all fishing in a designated 670-hectare area of ocean.

For the most part, though, the marine park proposal appears to leave ocean and river access essentially as it is at the moment. More detail about the plan will emerge as those interested pore over the material on offer, but at this stage it appears the government has struck a reasonable balance between the needs of the environment and the realities of civilisation.

ISSUE: 38,980.