Marmion Marine Park and the importance of monitoring

On Wednesday, I took the car and drove up to Perth’s Northern suburbs, to visit the first ever marine park in Western Australia, Marmion Marine Park. Designated in 1987, it’s now over thirty years old, and protects the intertidal rocks and subtidal reefs, seagrass beds and habitats for sealions and birds. You can drive right up alongside it, and there are amazing beaches all along for surfing, swimming and snorkelling. Also in the middle of it is the major complex of Hillarys boat harbour, with the Western Australian Aquarium and Nandos among others.

Given its proximity to some expensive neighbourhoods of WA’s capital and its history and intensive use, you may expect more people to know about Marmion, or for it to have embedded itself in people’s identities here, but this hasn’t been the case. Aside from one informatio board at the harbour, I was struck that the average person would struggle to know that there’s a marine park on their doorstep. Sometimes, age isn’t always everything when it comes to marine reserves.

View back towards Trigg Rock and the surfers at Trigg Beach

View back towards Trigg Rock and the surfers at Trigg Beach

In terms of protections, there are three tiny sanctuary zones within the park, as well as a “recreation area” that allows line fishing from the beach, a key stakeholder group in this region and across Western Australia. There’s also a ban on spearfishing out to 1800m from the coast. I heard from Mel about the challenges of Marmion, resistance to further sanctuary zones, and its outdated management plan, that dates back to 1992! Luckily, there are plans to renew this in the near future and hopefully this will bring people’s minds back to what a fantastic resource they have on their doorstep.

Some impressive rock formations - natural or human?

Some impressive rock formations - natural or human?

Later in the day, I headed over to WA’s Department of Biodiversity and Conservation, where I met up with Alan Kendrick. Alan heads up the strategic monitoring programme for WA’s marine parks and I wanted to get some lessons from his long experience about how monitoring the sanctuaries works, how long is enough to show the benefits of these zones and plans for the future.

Marmion’s marine zones (sorry for blurry pic)

Marmion’s marine zones (sorry for blurry pic)

Alan was pretty clear on a number of points: first, the marine parks process has been highly political, and the lack of sanctuary zones has often been down to political trading rather than scientific consensus. Ningaloo is a positive example, where an election commitment led to the rezoning of the park to increase the sanctuary zones to around 34%, but elsewhere this has not been the case. There is also infighting within government departments that can stall things, and there is a strong “I fish, I vote” culture in WA. Secondly, there is a real need to look to the long term with sanctuary zones and marine parks - getting them in albeit not perfectly at least gets them going, drives resources for monitoring, and the ten year review cycle for WA’s marine parks can allow rezoning in the future. And Thirdly, never get complacent: link the monitoring straight to the management effectiveness of the marine parks - you can never know if (the management in) a sanctuary zone is working or not if you don’t monitor the condition. To do that, you need at least 10 years of good data - only now at Ningaloo do they feel confident about making a judgement on the management effectiveness of the park. These are also lessons I heard in California.

Yesterday was mainly a day of catching up on other work, and a walk into Fremantle for a pizza and beer at Little Creatures Brewery - today though I’m heading up to Ningaloo! First stop, Geraldton…..

Viewpoint over the marine park

Viewpoint over the marine park

Marmion’s management plan - a little dated now but plans to update it!

Marmion’s management plan - a little dated now but plans to update it!

Mullaloo beach

Mullaloo beach