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Our Living World is Dying

Stacey Worman, 2006-2007 Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellow



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Date: October 17, 2006

To: Undisclosed recipients

Re: Ends Justifying Means?


Last email I wrote about the Great Barrier Reef 's rezoning which is, " recognized as one of the most comprehensive, innovative, and exciting global advances in the systematic protection of marine biodiversity and marine conservation in recent decades."

Flipping to another page published in a pamphlet by GBRMPA is the claim that it was, "One of the most comprehensive processes of community involvement and participatory planning for any environmental issue in Australia 's history, including over 31,500 public submissions." GBRMPA's task of rezoning the entire park required them to weigh and make decisions regarding a range of competing and conflicting views and interests.

And the new management plan has indeed been embraced by conservationists, the tourism industry, and the Australian community at large. But it has simultaneously sparked a large controversy with commercial and recreational fisherman, two local user groups that have been particularly affected by the final outcome. The emphasis is placed on local users to stress the fact that these two groups are unlike remote conservations with "green" agendas for "untouched" landscapes...and these two groups are unlike tourists who visit, snap photos, and leave...and these two groups are unlike the general Australian people who tend to have little daily affiliation with the reef. Instead, these two groups depend on the reef for their economic and/or social livelihoods...they were out there yesterday, they are out there today, and they will be out there again tomorrow. And so it's not hard to image why the rezoning, which has placed stricter limitations on extractive uses of the reef (increasing 'green zones' or 'no-take zones' from 4.5% to 33% of the total area), has adversely impacted these two local user groups.

And last time I posed the question, Environmental victory because...more protection is always a good thing, right?

"Not a single person doesn't agree with the Great Barrier Reef needing protection, it's just the way they went and did it that was unfair," Lance Murray of Sunfish Mackay (Source: FutureEye Report).

And this environmental victory has turned into a political catastrophe. And so it is a matter of also asking whether or not the end justified the means.

[[Excerpts from the FutureEye Report, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Enhance Community Partnerships ]].

  • "Some people feel that GBRMPA selected its winners and losers at the start of the process. They believe that tourism was always going to emerge victorious from the process and that commercial and recreational fisherman were always going to lose. Federal MP Warren Entsch argues that GBRMPA has a "tendency to pick winners and losers" and feels that the organization aligned themselves with the stakeholders they were interested in, were more tolerant of these groups, and "much less cooperative with the fishing stakeholders." Peter Packman, Ocean Pacific Seafood, argues that GBRMPA "just implemented their agenda come hell or high water. Affected user groups were not given time or information to assess the full impact of the rezoning.""
  • "Many stakeholders interviewed were appreciative of the fact that GBRMPA had consulted them and many believed that their suggestions for the zoning plan would be incorporated. However, when the final Zoning Plan was made public, following approval by Parliament, many stakeholders became upset as they believed their suggestions had been ignored. As a result, they feel the authority wasn't listening to them and was only paying them lip service to the process of consultation."

And if you talk to commercial and recreational fisherman up and down the coast, you'll quickly discover the bad taste that the Marine Park Authority has left in their mouths. Fishing is an extremely important economic and social activity in this country, and GBRMPA's tact has upset a rather large group of people, costing them a huge amount of public and political support.

But there is always an exception.

When you talk to recreational fisherman in the Capricornia Region of the Great Barrier Reef (located at the very southern tip of the reef), they will tell you that they feel largely unaffected by rezoning. Up and down the coast, community members came up in arms to the public meetings that GBRMPA held and said, 'You can't do this.' And the Marine Park Authority's response was essentially, 'Yes we can and yes we are.' It became an "us vs. them" situation, which only perpetuated angry and frustrated sentiments all around...

But instead of getting infuriated, the recreational fisherman in the Capricornia region decided to get organized. To prepare for their public meetings with GBRMPA, they'd get together among themselves first. This allowed them to blow off the steam and to collectively decide their course of action. If the Marine Park Authority wanted 30% more of the reef closed to fishing, they didn't show up to the public meetings to say, 'You can't do this.' Instead, they went calm, cool, and collected to say, 'You want thirty percent? OK, we'll give you your thirty percent...but now let's talk about where exactly that thirty percent will come from.'

They engaged in a constructive dialogue and both sides made compromises. And when the final plan was drawn, Capricornia's fishing community retained most of their important fishing zones and secured 95-98% of what they had proposed to GBRMPA. Compare this to every other region up and down the coast, and in addition to a bunch of upset fisherman, you'll find zones that were drawn almost exactly where the authority originally wanted them to be.

But despite their victory, the community's task is far from over. They know that the new management plan will be up for review in 10 years time. And so they are out there...collecting data at boat ramps, interviewing fisherman, and capturing underwater footage to monitor fish behavior in the different zones. They are doing all of this so that in 2014 they will be able to go to GBRMPA to say, 'This is what has happened (socially, economically, environmentally) to our fishery as a result of the 2004 rezoning'. And with all of that information in hand, both sides can work together to make the best possible decisions for the future.

The community has paved the road to finding the middle road...and lessons have been learned on both sides...

There are clearly ways to do things and ways not to do things....

Until next time,

Take care,


P.S. I'm heading down to Tasmania on Friday!

P.P.S. I got my hair cut by the woman who used to cut Jimmy Buffet's hair! Same scissors and everything!


September 28, 2006, Close Together, Worlds Apart...

September 10, 2006, Final Thoughts, the Life/Work Dichotomy....

September 7, 2006, The Party Eventually Ends...

September 4, 2006, Under the Sea, with Scientific Spectacles...

September 3, 2006, Off the Ship...

August 8, 2006, Back on land, but not for long...

June 24, 2006, Our maiden voyage(s)...

June 19, 2006, Not another mass email...