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Australian Government Finalizes Plans for the World's Largest Ocean Reserve Network

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On Thursday, Australia's Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke made the official announcement of the finalized plans for the world's largest network of marine reserves.

The historic network of marine reserves will protect 1.2 million square miles (3.1 million square kilometers) of ocean and will include 44 marine parks.

Australia's announcement comes just days before the official start of the United Nations' Rio+20 conference on sustainable development, in Rio De Janeiro.

The network of marine reserves in Australia adds a much-needed layer of protection that is long overdue. Mr. Burke said, "If it had been on land, it would have had levels of protection years ago, but because it's in the ocean, it's taken some time to get there."

In addition to Australia's announcement, just last week, California's legislature voted to establish the biggest network of marine protected areas in the United States. Both the vote in California last week and the announcement in Australia highlight the importance of protecting our marine ecosystems. Both decisions represent an important step towards proper protection of marine ecosystems, could act to inspire greater dialogue about marine conservation at Rio+20 and will hopefully influence other countries to ramp up marine conservation.

Australia's announcement details their plans to protect more than a third of its waters, including important deep ocean habitats like the Diamantina Fracture zone, Australia's largest under water mountain range. Also set to be protected is a 193,000-square-mile no-take reserve in the Coral Sea.

"Protection for the Coral Sea is a dream come true," said Dr. Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer in Residence. "Not only does this large new reserve protect marine life in sites of historic significance it also helps safeguard the treasured and much loved Great Barrier Reef."

Although some would have liked the marine reserve to completely ban fishing and prohibit oil and gas exploration, ocean supporters are overall pleased by the favorable outcomes announced by the Australian government.

Dr. Earle said, "It make a huge difference in Australia and the world."

Want to do more?
For those interested in publically commenting on the proposed Commonwealth marine reserves there will be a chance to do so in the coming weeks. The Director of National Parks will release a notice inviting public comment on the proclamations. Once the notice inviting comment has been published, there will be a 60-day window to provide comments.

To explore the network of marine reserves through an interactive map click HERE

(This post was originally published on Mission Blue.)

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