Finally, a victory for grey nurse sharks
After more than 5 years of campaigning for protection of the critically endangered grey nurse shark, the Australian Government has today announced the creation of a 300 hectare Reserve at the Cod Grounds, a key aggregation site in Commonwealth waters off northern New South Wales. The Cod Grounds Commonwealth Marine Reserve will come into effect on the 28th May 2007.
“HSI has waited 5 years for this announcement,” said Rebecca Keeble, HSI Program Manager. “The Cod Grounds was recognised in 2002 as a critical habitat for grey nurse sharks in the federal government’s Recovery Plan for the species, and finally, this habitat of immense importance has received protection as a strict nature reserve.”
With less than 500 individuals on the east coast of Australia, the grey nurse shark may actually be one of Australia’s most threatened marine species. The importance of grey nurse shark aggregation sites to their survival has been highlighted widely by scientific research. With the population in such steep decline, it follows that protection of these key habitat sites is crucial for the survival of this species.
“Without doubt the greatest threat to grey nurse sharks is from fishing and accidental hooking,” said Ms Keeble.” Despite legislation prohibiting their capture, the population size has continued to decrease and incidental hooking and capture of the species is still occurring. While all forms of fishing are banned within the Cod Grounds Commonwealth Marine Reserve, it really only effectively protects a 1000m radius of grey nurse shark habitat, and we know that this needs to be increased to 1500m to fully protect their aggregation.”
The species inability to recover from the mass decline in numbers since the 1960s at the hands of spearfishers, recreational and commercial fishers, last year prompted the NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee to propose the uplisting of this species to Critically Endangered under the Fisheries Management Act 1994. Grey nurse sharks are also 1 of only 3 fish species listed as Critically Endangered under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) 1999. Since HSI started its campaign efforts for protection of the Grey Nurse Shark the species has been recognised as a threatened species under Commonwealth, NSW and QLD legislation as the direct result of HSI nominations.
“While today’s announcement by the federal government is welcomed, a further 18 key grey nurse shark aggregation sites exist in NSW State waters, and 4 in Queensland waters,” said Ms Keeble. ”Although some of these are listed under state legislation as critical habitat sites, the vast majority offer inadequate protection to grey nurse shark aggregations, with sanctuary zones that are too small, and line-fishing allowed in adjacent areas. A clear commitment to protecting this species needs to be made by establishing 1500m no-take sanctuary zones at all grey nurse shark critical habitat sites.”
HSI urges the NSW Environment Minister Phil Koperberg, Queensland Environment Minister Lindel Nelson-Carr, and, the Federal Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Malcolm Turnbull to protect all 24 identified grey nurse shark critical habitat sites as a matter of urgency, by gazetting these sites as strict no-take marine reserves and listing them on the federal Register of Critical Habitat under the EPBC Act.
HSI is currently supporting the NSW Nature Conservation Council’s (NCC) legal challenge to increase protection of grey nurse sharks in key habitats along the NSW coast.