Welcome to Western Australia! Part two of the WCMT adventure awaits...

So it’s been some months since I updated this blog and came back from California, where I learnt a huge amount about what makes marine reserves work (or not). Since coming back, the issue of highly protected marine reserves has been getting more attention in the UK, with the Government promising to take “an active approach” to having more reserves in English waters. It feels like there could be a political space opening up for more such reserves in the UK, which hopefully will be taken.

And with that in mind, it’s back on the road to complete my WCMT journey, this time in Western Australia!

I’ve been to WA on two occasions and absolutely love it here. Stunning coastline, warm weather, friendly people, great coffee and beer, amazing marine biodiversity. What’s not to love! When the idea of my WCMT fellowship was just a seed in my brain, I instantly thought of WA to explore how they have incorporated marine reserves, or “sanctuary zones”, into their network of marine protected areas. These zones sit within the wider boundaries of WA’s marine parks, and are “look, don’t touch” areas: low impact public activities such as walking, diving, surfing and kayaking are welcome, but activities such as fishing, dredging and dumping are not.

WA’s waters extend 3 nautical miles from the coast, beyond which is the responsibility of the Australian Government, which also has a network of MPAs including marine reserves. Collectively, around 36 percent of Australian waters are in some form of MPA. The federal version of marine reserves is broadly known as “national park zones” and have similar rules and regulations to WA’s sanctuary zones”.

WA’s MPA network. As well as Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve, WA’s marine reserves are known as “sanctuary zones” and form part of most marine parks. Image: WA Parks and Wildlife Service

WA’s MPA network. As well as Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve, WA’s marine reserves are known as “sanctuary zones” and form part of most marine parks. Image: WA Parks and Wildlife Service

WA’s marine parks, including its sanctuary zones, are established and managed under the 1984 Conservation and Land Management Act . Crucially, this legislation explicity requires and defines the idea and rules of sanctuary zones in legislation, noting in particular that drilling, commercial fishing, recreational fishing and aquaculture all cannot take place in a sanctuary area. Interestingly, the concept of “special protection zones” is also established, which provides for slightly more tailored protection (so for example, you could protect a seabed habitat while allowing fishing that doesn’t touch the bottom). Not every marine park has a sanctuary zone, however.

As of June 2018, according to the Annual Report of the Conservation and Parks Commission, to which the marine parks are responsible, around 4.4 million hectares of WA waters, or 44,000 square kilometres, are within marine parks. That’s around 35-40% of WA’s coastal waters. Around 4% of waters are in sanctuary zones.

Map of Australia’s SW MPA network, including several national park zones which broadly equate to marine reserves. Map: Parks Australia

Map of Australia’s SW MPA network, including several national park zones which broadly equate to marine reserves. Map: Parks Australia

On this trip, I’ll be visiting four of these marine parks with sanctuary zones to get a sense of how they operate, how they are managed and monitored, and how they are performing. Week one will be based in Perth, visiting the Shoalwater Islands and Marmion marine parks to understand how urban pressures apply to highly protected marine reserves, while in week two, I’ll be driving north, stopping at Shark Bay Marine Park and Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve (home of the famour stromatolites"), before ending at the world-famous Ningaloo Marine Park. Exciting!!

Watch this space for more news as I go.

NIngaloo Reef, here I come…

NIngaloo Reef, here I come…