Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019


Marine Conservation

7:25 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This week, Threatened Species Week, I want to remind my colleagues in the chamber that ocean species are disappearing faster than those on land. Often when we talk about threatened species we forget about our oceans, the biodiversity in our oceans and the threat of the loss of that biodiversity not just to the ecosystems themselves but also to the human communities that rely on the oceans for their future. Marine animals are far more vulnerable to extinction than their earthbound counterparts, and this was shown recently in a groundbreaking study in the journal Nature. They have fewer ways to seek refuge from warming. Ocean-dwelling species are disappearing from their habitats at at least twice the rate of species on land.

It's well worth thinking about Australia's iconic creatures. It was great to go down today to the courtyard, something which has become a bit of a ritual in this building, Australia's Parliament House, and have your photo taken with an iconic, furry and cute endangered species. But we often don't talk about a whole range of threatened habitats and other threatened species that don't get that attention.

As someone who advocates for the oceans—indeed, I have the oceans portfolio for the Australian Greens—I want to make it really clear that we need to spend a lot more time in this place focusing on the impacts that we're having on our oceans: marine invertebrates, marine turtles, migratory birds, seals and sea lions, sharks—especially grey nurse sharks, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks and white sharks—sawfish, whales, and, of course, habitats, as we've seen in Tasmania with the loss of our giant kelp forests, an ecosystem that had been in place for over 10,000 years from the north-east tip of Tasmania, off Mount William National Park, all the way to the south-west of Tasmania and, in its own way, an ecosystem as important to the Tasmanian coastline, Tasmanian biodiversity and Tasmanian communities as the Great Barrier Reef is to Queensland.

Let's not forget about the Great Barrier Reef—without a doubt the most iconic reef on the planet and one of the 28 listed UNESCO reefs. We know it has suffered terrible—almost catastrophic—decline, especially in the last decade, from warming. For those who understand why the reef is so important, it's very simple: the reef provides physical structures that provide protection from predators. As this report in the journal Natureshows, it's because marine creatures have nowhere to go and nowhere to hide, unlike their land counterparts, that we have such a loss of biodiversity in the oceans. So, if we lose a structure like the Great Barrier Reef, those marine animals, very simply, lose their protection. Of course, I've been there and dived on the Great Barrier Reef. I've seen the plate corals and the stag corals and the death of those corals. That is variable and patchy, but, as those structures decline, so will the biodiversity. Of course, there will be impacts on commercial species.

I want, in the little time that I have left, to single out two particular species of sharks: the scalloped hammerheads and the great white sharks. Recently, a report commissioned by the Australian Marine Conservation SocietyAMCS—and Humane Society International called for Australia's independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee to reconsider its recommendation for scalloped hammerheads under the EPBC Act. In 2018, the scientific committee advised that scalloped hammerhead sharks qualified to be listed as endangered but recommended a lesser conservation-dependent listing based on steps that the Northern Territory and Queensland governments could take. HSI had previously nominated this species for an endangered listing. It turns out the majority of those steps haven't been taken by the Northern Territory and Queensland governments.

It is very important that these kinds of species don't escape our attention in an important week like Threatened Species Week and that we don't just pay lip-service to this issue. It is without a doubt a crisis. We have an extinction crisis. I very much look forward to the continuation of the Senate inquiry into the extinction crisis in Australia and why we need to change our nature laws to provide adequate protection for our environment and our wildlife.