Australia has announced plans to significantly expand its ecologically important marine park, nearly tripling its current size to encompass an area larger than Germany. The remote Macquarie Island Marine Park, located in the Southern Ocean between Tasmania and Antarctica, will see its size increase to 475,465 square kilometers (about 184,000 square miles).
This expansion aims to protect the diverse and vulnerable marine life that inhabits these waters, including seabirds, seals, whales, and various penguin species.
Protecting a Rich Ecosystem
The Southern Ocean surrounding Macquarie Island is home to numerous threatened species, including nesting albatross, elephant and fur seals, and the unique royal penguin, found nowhere else on Earth. To safeguard this rich ecosystem, approximately 93% of the expanded park will be designated as a fully protected marine sanctuary, prohibiting fishing, mining, and other extractive activities.
Australia’s Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, emphasized the importance of conserving the region’s unique biodiversity for future generations. The expansion of the Macquarie Island Marine Park follows an extensive public consultation period, with more than 99% of the 14,700 submissions expressing support for the initiative.
While the majority of the park will be off-limits to fishing and mining, existing fishery operations for the Patagonian toothfish will continue in the area.
Environmental Groups Applaud Expansion
Environmental organizations have applauded the move, highlighting the positive impact it will have on the region’s marine life. The Macquarie Island Conservation Foundation emphasized the vital role the waters around Macquarie Island play in the food chain for the region’s unique wildlife. With significant protection measures, these species are more likely to thrive for future generations.
Fiona Maxwell, national oceans manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts, commended the Australian government for achieving a balance that protects the marine life around Macquarie Island while accommodating the sustainable Patagonian toothfish fishery.
Protecting a World Heritage Site
Macquarie Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, recognized for its outstanding geological and natural significance. The marine park surrounding the island establish in 1999 to help protect the island’s unique ecosystems and vulnerable species.
As global temperatures rise and ice loss accelerates in the Southern Ocean, conservation efforts like this expansion are vital to preserve marine life, foster resilient ecosystems, and protect against growing threats, including seabed mining and industrial fishing.
Darren Kindleysides, chief executive of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, emphasized that marine sanctuaries are critical for protecting marine wildlife, maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems, and promoting sustainable commercial fisheries.
In a changing environment where temperatures are rising, rapid ice loss is occurring, and industrial activities pose risks to biodiversity, strong sanctuary protections are essential to safeguard the Sub-Antarctic marine environment.
Australia’s decision to expand the Macquarie Island Marine Park reflects its commitment to preserving unique and vulnerable ecosystems while balancing the needs of sustainable commercial fisheries. The move is welcomed by conservationists as a significant step toward ensuring the long-term protection of the region’s globally important marine life.