Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Marine parks, marine people, and world heritage: how people can be ignored in conservation practice

The Centre for Policy Development (CPD) has to-day published a document by CPD fellow and former Work Bank economist Caroline Hoisington titled Insuring Australia's Marine Future.  I have embedded the document in this post for easy reading or downloading.

The document makes the case for marine protection.  Hoisington posits that Australia's national network of marine parks will act as an insurance policy for commercial and recreational fishing.  I support this concept - in principle.  I have grave reservations about practice based on what I saw happen in my neighbourhood in relation to the World Heritage listed Wet Tropics in Queensland.

The Bluewater Ranges between Townsville and Ingham

It is all very well to provide legislation to protect. But this is not a set and forget game. I used to live in a place where, if you went up to the end of my road, the World Heritage Listed Rainforest began .... and was uttlerly neglected. 

Based on my experience, two things must accompany legislation. Local residents must be involved and supportive. In my neighbourhood I felt like my family were the only people who knew of the close-by world heritage area even fifteen years after its declaration. The locals are important because, if something is going wrong and they are supportive and watching over the area, they will be first reporters. The second thing is that management plans for the entire area must be available immediately or almost immediately after declaration. 

The world heritage area near me - after chasing tiny sleeper cutters out on 31 December 1988 - became an area of great weed infestation and the wild pigs and cattle more problematic than they had been previously. There was no management plan for a very, very long time. The Army and the Air Force had facilities in this area but I saw no evidence that they shared an environmental interest in this world heritage area to the extent of hastening a management plan or assisting in management of the area. 

So as someone who lived beside the reef for most of her life, I am supportive of marine parks, I am also sympathetic - based on my experience of living in the shadow of world heritage - with the fishing family in the Gulf who say they have never been consulted and yet they hold extensive knowledge of the Marine Park. 

I am also unsympathetic to the scientist I saw on the same TV program who seemed to be totally reliant on far-away computer modelling and mapping. This may be a major factor in mapping marine areas. It will not, in one iota, keep marine parks in excellent condition. Only co-operative human interest and involvement at the local level under sound management plans can do this.

Further to my comments about the locals being ignorant that they were living in the shadow of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Listed Rainforest, here is an entry for the town of Bluewater.  There is no mention of the close-by Bluewater Ranges and their world significance.  In my view, this is because local people were not consulted nor were they part of the demands for the world heritage listing. Most of that noise happened in the Cairns region.  The local people feel little or no responsibility for the world heritage area.  Whether people there feel a connection to the area is unknown to me. I only know that my family did.  My late husband was a regular visitor to the area. He formed a friendship with one of the sleeper cutters who had a small mill on the banks of Keelbottom Creek.  We valued that area. Whether the sleeper cutters should have gone and the military allowed to stay, I don't know.  The sleeper cutters were a part of the forest heritage too ... but, to some decision makers, people and their social history have little value.

Further reading:
Reef faces permanent coal, climate change damage

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