Sydney Harbour would become marine park under state Labor

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By Nicky Phillips

Originally published: Sydney Morning Herald online, September 29 2014, 5:57am.

Sydney Harbour would become a marine park that extends from Pittwater to Port Hacking under a Labor election promise announced on Sunday.

If established, the Sydney Marine Park would have a mix of sanctuary areas, where recreational fishing is banned, and general use zones. It would become the seventh marine park along the NSW coast.

Opposition Leader John Robertson, who announced the commitment while on board the timber ship, the Yukon, on Sydney Harbour, said recreational fishing and boating would continue, but a marine park would also offer additional protection to the Harbour's marine life that currently did not exist.

Opposition environment spokesman Luke Foley said the harbour's unique range of plants and animals were under pressure from pollution such as micro plastics and climate change.

"An established marine park would ensure engineering solutions to cope with sea level rise were compatible with protecting animals," he said.

While there would be no change to existing rules for fishing, Mr Foley said an advisory committee of harbour users including fishers, tourism operators, conservation groups and marine scientists would be established to advise on the location of specific zones within the marine park.

"I suspect [that process] will take two years because it will be done in consultation with the community," he said.

"I am confident that this can be a process that delivers wins for conservation and for people who want to use the harbour for fishing, diving or whale watching."

But Mr Foley said rules around spearfishing would need be reviewed and restrictions would likely be introduced in some areas.

"Taking out the top predators [can] have damaging impacts on the food chain," he said.

Marine ecologist David Booth, from the University of Technology, welcomed Labor's announcement and said countless studies had shown that marine parks were successful for conserving native species.

"Sydney is the jewel in the crown of the NSW coast and it is highly urbanised so the real pressures on the marine environment happen in Sydney, so it needs a break," Professor Booth said.

He said while the harbour's water quality had improved in the past couple of decades, areas of sediment were still significantly contaminated from previous industries.

Twelve separate aquatic reserves, two with fishing bans, protect some parts of Sydney Harbour. Commercial fishing is also banned inside Sydney heads.

Mr Foley encouraged the state government to support the creation of a Sydney Harbour marine park.

"The Coalition's own scientific audit said this bio-region deserved a marine-protected area," he said.

Originally published as: Sydney Harbour would become marine park under state Labor