World's largest marine reserve planned

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The Australian government is planning to establish the world's largest marine reserve in the Coral Sea.

The reserve off the Queensland coast will cover an area of approximately 989,842 sq km – over one and half times the size of France. The reserve will start 60km from the coast and will extend out to 1100km from the Great Barrier Reef to Papua New Guinea in the north and the Solomon Islands in the east.

Currently this area is home to large numbers of sharks, tuna and other endangered animals as well as a recognised historical site, yet only 1% is protected.

The new reserve would impose fishing limits which only allow fishing in certain areas of the reserve. Exploration for oil and gas will also be banned.

The proposal was revealed at te end of last month and is subject to a 90-day consultation, but Environment Minister Tony Burke said the Coral Sea's biodiversity was at the heart of the plan.

"There is no other part of Australia's territory where so much comes together – pristine oceans, magnificent coral, a military history which has helped define us and now a clear proposal for permanent protection," he said.

"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.

"Australia's vast oceans provide a source of food and resources and are a place of recreation. But we cannot afford to be complacent."

Although some representatives of the country’s fishing industry believe that this will restrict commercial fishing, Professor Terry Hughes, director of coral reef studies at James Cook University, called the proposal a "welcome step" that "cements Australia's reputation as a world leader in marine resource management".

"The proposed Coral Sea no-take area is hundreds of kilometres offshore, and will have no impact on recreational fishing. There is very, very little commercial fishing currently operating legally in the Coral Sea today," he said.

Currently the world's largest marine reserve is a 545,000 sq km area (210,425 sq miles) established by the UK around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.

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