THE Queensland government has welcomed a federal government announcement of a major marine reserve in the Coral Sea.
The reserve, nearly half the size of Queensland off the Great Barrier Reef, is the jewel in the crown in a series of new Australian marine reserves announced yesterday by Environment Minister Tony Burke.
The Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve covers 989,842 square kilometres and protects the area from all mining.
Areas in other States, including the North West Shelf off West Australia, have more limited protection.
Queensland's new park runs east from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park boundary, to the edge of Australia's most eastern economic zone.
The new reserve starts at a point between Cape York and Papua New Guinea and runs south to near Bundaberg, protecting the entire region from oil exploration and development.
Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell said he would speak with Agriculture Minister John McVeigh and representatives from affected industries about the proposal before making detailed comments.
“I do however welcome the Prime Minister's comment this morning that Queensland is the 'engine room' for national economic growth," he said.
"And we will continue to work with Mr Burke and the federal government to balance important economic development and environmental protection."
The newest Queensland marine reserve is more than 106 kilometres from the Queensland coast near Cairns, and 215 kilometres offshore from Mackay.
"This new network of marine reserves will help ensure that Australia's diverse marine environment, and the life it supports, remain healthy, productive and resilient for future generations,” said Mr Burke.
Conservation groups, including the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the Wilderness Society and the Australian Marine Conservation Society welcomed the announcement.
ACF chief executive Don Henry said the reserves would cover the breeding grounds of 45 of the world's 78 whale and dolphin species, six of the seven known species of marine turtle, and 4000 fish species.
“This world class network of marine reserves is a historic conservation achievement that makes Australia a global leader in ocean protection,” he said.
Queensland's seafood industry groups were reasonably pleased with the outcome after being involved in the drawing up of the marine park boundaries.
Queensland Seafood Industry Association director Geoff Tilton said trawler fishermen were happy they were now allowed to fish Swain Reef after maps were redrawn.
Mr Tilton said there were up to 40 trawler boats that could have been affected.
"We were concerned we were going to lose the trawl fishery at the Swain Reef area."
However, Mr Tilton said changes now let trawl fishermen into the area.
"There is an allowance in there for a general use zone, which allows trawling to continue," he said.
"The zone that they have allowed is not as big as we would have wished for, but it will allow trawling to continue as it has done for the past 30 years."
Public comment is open for 60 days and the reserves will be declared by the end of 2012.