'Significant step': NSW government unveils Sydney marine park plan
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'Significant step': NSW government unveils Sydney marine park plan

Twenty-five high-value biodiversity marine sites around the Sydney region will get enhanced protection as part of a long-awaited marine park proposed by the Berejiklian government.

The sites, stretching from Newcastle to Wollongong and taking in parts of Sydney Harbour, include sanctuary zones allowing activities such as boating and diving, and conservation zones where extraction will be limited to such species as abalone and lobster fishing.

Marine park view: Premier Gladys Berejiklian (centre), with Gabrielle Upton, Environment Minister, and Bruce Notley-Smith, member for Coogee, at Thursday's announcement.

Marine park view: Premier Gladys Berejiklian (centre), with Gabrielle Upton, Environment Minister, and Bruce Notley-Smith, member for Coogee, at Thursday's announcement.

Photo: AAP

“NSW’s beautiful marine environment is iconic and the envy of the world," Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday. "We want to keep it that way so that future generations can continue to enjoy it.”

Environmental groups generally welcomed the plan, which is open to public consultation for six weeks. That's despite the sanctuary and conservation zones only covering 2.4  per cent and 2.2 per cent, respectively, of the bioregion known as the Hawkesbury Shelf. Together, the zones amount to about 9100 hectares.

“Today’s announcement is not gold-standard marine park design, however, it is a very significant step forward for a region that has suffered from neglect for decades,” Daisy Barham, a campaigns director at the NSW Nature Conservation Council, said.

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"[It] is clear that there are areas missing out on the protection they deserve, and we will be advocating for that to be improved through the process."

By comparison, the sanctuary zone within the Cape Byron marine park accounts for about a quarter of the park. For the Jervis Bay and Batemans marine parks, sanctuary zones are about a fifth of the total area.

The Berejiklian government is seeking public comment on its proposed marine park that would stretch from Newcastle to Wollongong, and include parts of Sydney Harbour.

The Berejiklian government is seeking public comment on its proposed marine park that would stretch from Newcastle to Wollongong, and include parts of Sydney Harbour.

Photo: Jonas Liebschner

'Holistic way'

Peter Steinberg, director of the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, also welcomed the Sydney marine park proposal, which forms part of the first stage of a 10-year Marine Estate Management Strategy.

“It’s a start," Professor Steinberg said. "It’s the first time that something like this has been attempted in this holistic way in the bioregion [taking in scientific, community, social and cultural values]."

The project took five years of "intensive work" involving scientists and a range of departments, he said.

Professor Steinberg, though, noted the $45.7 million set aside for the marine estate covers only the first two years of the strategy. Of that, $3.7 million will be spent on Sydney's marine park.

Swimmers near Long Bay on Sydney's coastline, an area that will be one of the protected spots within the proposed marine park.

Swimmers near Long Bay on Sydney's coastline, an area that will be one of the protected spots within the proposed marine park.

Photo: James Alcock

“I really do hope the state government is in it for the long term," Professor Steinberg said. "It’s a long-term approach to the coast so it’s really important resources be made available for that."

Sydney has about 600 species of fish alone, or as many as the entire UK, he said. “It’s a remarkably diverse place and really does warrant conservation and sustaining that biodiversity.”

'Sold short'

Labor and the Greens said they would push for changes to the plan.

"A network of protected sites does not a marine park make,” Penny Sharpe, Labor's environment spokeswoman, said.

"This long-delayed step towards some increased marine conservation is important but it sells the environment and our tourism sector short by failing to declare a marine park for Sydney," she said. "This is something Labor will do if elected in 2019."

Justin Field, the Greens marine spokesman, said: “The area of sanctuary protection falls well short of other marine parks in NSW at just 2.4 per cent of the region, but hopefully this represents a first step toward protecting marine life and coastal environments.

“More than 90 per cent of the NSW community, including fishers, support marine parks and sanctuaries - an investment in a healthier marine environment for all."

Professor Steinberg said the plan also recognised the need to adapt to climate change and its effects on Sydney's marine region.

"It's just as important to NSW as it is to the Great Barrier Reef," he said.

The overall marine estate strategy is "the first of its kind", Niall Blair, the Minister for Primary Industries, said. "It will streamline how we manage our 1750 km of coastline, 826 beaches and 185 estuaries in NSW."

Mr Field said the public should provide feedback to other protected regions under review.

“The NSW government is also currently reviewing marine parks and sanctuary areas at Solitary Island and Batemans Bay, and they should similarly maintain or increase protection at these sites,” he said.

Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.