Groups say huge steps taken forward to protect globally significant marine hotspot

An alliance of leading environment groups has welcomed the Morrison Government’s commitment to create two new marine parks off Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, in a huge step forward for marine protection in Australian waters.

The parks will cover up to 740,000 square kilometers of Australian waters around the islands, an area twice the size of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. 

The commitment, which came out of the Federal Budget 2021-22, includes $5.4 million towards supporting local jobs and economic growth.

Michelle Grady, Director of The Pew Charitable Trusts said: “Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are uniquely Australian and globally significant – there’s nowhere like them on Earth. 

“Most famous for its annual red crab migration, Christmas Island was referred to as one of the 10 natural wonders of the world by David Attenborough himself. Its thriving rainforests, deserted beaches and fringing reef provide a haven for unique and rare seabirds, land crabs and marine life.

“The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are Australia’s unspoiled tropical island paradise. Their azure waters are home to an incredible array of diverse marine life including tropical fish, corals, turtles, manta rays and dolphins.

“Today’s announcement by the Morrison Government is of global significance and a huge step forward towards protecting our national marine treasures,” concluded Ms Grady. 

Darren Kindleysides, CEO of the Australian Marine Conservation Society said: “Christmas and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are recognised as globally significant standout natural wonders.

“Oceans across the globe are in deep trouble from pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and the very real and immediate impacts of climate change. Establishing marine parks to provide a safe haven for our marine life is critical in helping stop our oceans reaching a tipping point. 

“For these reasons, these new marine parks will be a great addition to our growing network around Australia, improving the management and health of our waters for wildlife and people for years to come.”

Christabel Mitchell, Director of the Save Our Marine Life Alliance said: “Healthy oceans and sustainable fishing are central to the Christmas and Cocos Islanders’ way of life, their culture and their livelihoods.

“It’s essential that the government embraces and respects the aspirations of these island communities, working collaboratively with them to co-design the marine parks. 

“Creating world-class marine parks for this region will provide crucial protection for a wealth of marine life, make a significant global contribution to the health of our oceans and support the local communities’ culture and aspirations.

“We look forward to working with the government and the island communities to preserve this unique part of Australia, for our marine life and future generations,” concluded Ms Mitchell.

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