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A New Hope: Policy Asks to Protect our Ocean

Monday, 30 May, 2022

The results from the 2022 Federal Election have clearly demonstrated that Australians want decisive, meaningful action on climate change. Given the vital role that the ocean plays in regulating climate – acting as a giant “carbon sink” – the need for action to protect our ocean has never been greater. 

Sign our open letter to the new Federal Environment Minister


It’s a new dawn of politics in Australia, with a new Federal Government and Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek. The people of this country have voted for new leadership because they believe that climate action and our environment are political priorities.

At this critical moment in history, the actions that we and this Government take will determine the health of our blue backyard for future generations. From helping to stop runaway climate change and protecting the health of our coral reefs, to halting the extinction of critical marine species like Australian sea lions.

Why is protecting the ocean so important?


The seas around Australia’s coastline are home to a diverse array of marine species - many of which occur nowhere else in the world.

But that’s only the beginning. The ocean is also the beating blue heart of our planet. It shapes climate and weather and holds most of life on Earth. Its health is inextricably linked to our own, and in the words of Sea Shepherd’s Founder Captain Paul Watson: “If the ocean dies, we die.”

There’s no time to lose in fighting for its protection. So, as our new Government finds its feet, we want to make sure the preservation of our ocean is firmly embedded in its policies. We need leadership and commitment to action now.

Demand Action from our new Government


It's our job to ensure that the pre-election promises that were made about our ocean are not only followed through but strengthened!


By working together, we can make sure our voices are heard and our precious ocean is protected.

To protect our blue backyard and ensure a liveable climate for future generations, Sea Shepherd is calling for a public commitment from the new Labor government to the following actions;

1. More ambitious targets to reduce emissions by 2030.

To keep warming to 1.5 degrees, as set in the Glasgow climate pact, Australia needs a 75% emissions reduction by 2030. Currently, Labor’s 43% reduction target does not align with this.

 

2. A rapid and just transition away from polluting fossil fuels.

Currently, Labor plans to open 116 new coal and gas projects. Polluting fossil fuels are one of the largest drivers of climate change. The International Energy Agency makes it clear that for the world to hit net zero emissions by 2050, there should be no new fossil fuel developments.

 

3. An end to shark culling in Australian waters.

As apex predators, sharks have a critical role in the marine food web and are vital to ocean health. Despite their numbers plummeting all around the world, sharks are routinely slaughtered for cruel and outdated government-run programs in Queensland and New South Wales that do nothing for beach safety. The majority of the targeted species in these programs are threatened with extinction globally and require concentrated effort to ensure their survival. Nearly five years of inaction have passed since the Senate Inquiry that called for the immediate replacement of lethal drumlines and the phase-out of shark nets in NSW and QLD for scientifically-supported non-lethal alternatives that are available now. Working with a coalition of other organisations, we have costed beach safety alternatives that are backed by science and can be deployed along the Queensland coastline. The full report is available here. 

 

4. More action on plastic pollution. 

80% of all the plastic in the ocean comes from land-based sources and most travel to the ocean via stormwater. Sea Shepherd would like to see a “Zero litter to Ocean” target set nationally,  mandating that all new developments must have stormwater filters installed with a full maintenance program. As part of the mandate, stormwater filters must be serviced on an ongoing basis with enforcement and fines issued for non-compliance. This should be followed by a rollout program set to install Stormwater filters in all existing stormwater drains. The application of stormwater filters would stop over 600 wheelie bins of plastic from entering our waterways every day saving countless marine animals. 

 

5. Permanent protection for the Great Australia Bight.

The Bight is home to endangered Australian sea lions. It is a nursery for endangered Southern Right whales and a culturally significant site for the Mirning People, the Traditional Custodians of the land. Permanent protection of this unique and globally significant wilderness area should include the removal of the current oil leases, the prevention of new leases for oil exploration, and an end to seismic testing. 

Southern right whales seen in the waters of the Great Australian Bight. Photo: Eliza Muirhead

6. Effective protection of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

The GBR is a World Heritage listed area of vital ecological importance and it is currently under threat from climate change and other human-made impacts. To protect the GBR, we need a commitment to no new climate-destroying fossil fuel developments as well as the preservation of sharks that, as apex predators, play a crucial role in the maintenance of the GBR ecosystem. The extraction of these predators has been identified as a threat to the health and sustainability of the reef. As sharks are slow-growing and produce very few offspring, they are very susceptible to even incredibly low fishing pressures. As highlighted in the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan 2021–2025, sharks desperately require concentrated and immediate action to ensure not only their survival, but also the survival of the reef itself.

 

7. Expansion of Australia’s ‘No-Take’ Marine Park Zones.

Sea Shepherd commends your proposal to expand Australia’s Marine Parks as part of a ‘30 by 30’ commitment to the protection of the sea, however, we would like to see these specifically designated as “no-take” zones. In 2021, ​​75% of Australia’s marine protected areas were afforded only ‘partial’ protection, with vast areas allowing fishing, aquaculture and mining exploration. A 2019 study found that one hectare of the ocean in which fishing is not allowed produces at least five times the amount of fish as an equivalent unprotected hectare. 

 

8. More action and robust recovery plans for species that are threatened & endangered.

Sea Shepherd would like to see drastically increased legislative protection for our marine life to align the nation with our international commitments to marine conservation. These efforts include increasing the listing of scalloped hammerhead sharks to endangered and listing more sharks on the EPBC Act. Additionally, increased funding should be dedicated to conservation efforts to facilitate more recovery plans and follow-through on recommendations from Parliamentary Inquiries.

 

9. Ongoing consultation with First Nations people for the management of Australia’s marine and coastal areas.

Aboriginal culture is the longest continuous culture on earth and for Aboriginal communities, the ocean has always been a sanctuary, their livelihood and a repository of spiritual knowledge. Future ocean and coastal governance by the new Government should include First Nations people at the earliest project stages. Opportunities for working in unity with First Nations people are listed in the Sea Country: An Indigenous Perspective report and include; equity in marine resource allocation and usage, representation for Traditional Custodians in marine environmental and resource management decision-making and participation in environmental impact assessments for new marine and coastal development. 

 

10. A highly precautionary approach when planning, constructing, operating and decommissioning offshore wind farms.

Sea Shepherd recognises the rise of offshore wind as a renewable energy source but believes this must not be at the expense of sustainability and protection of the surrounding marine environment. Installing offshore wind farms requires many high-impact procedures, which are often undertaken with little consideration of their effects on the delicately balanced ocean environment. As a result, “quiet foundation technologies” should be used during the construction of offshore wind farms as well as technologies that minimise the generation of carbon emissions from inspection and maintenance activities, such as robotics. Additionally, Sea Shepherd believes that there are areas of Australia’s coastal environment that are too sensitive for human development and these areas should not be considered for offshore wind production or development of any kind.

Humpback whales are one of the many species found in Australian waters. Photo: Craig Parry
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