New Kimberley Marine Park to rival GBR

By Jacqueline Outred 29 July 2013
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The roll-out of Australia’s second-largest marine park has begun in the Kimberley, Western Australia.

Every winter, the oceans of Western Australia stir as thousands of humpback whales make their arduous journey from Antarctica. The whales travel north for the tropical waters of the Kimberley, seeking a refuge where soon-to-be-mothers can birth their young, and supervise their first adventures in the world.

Upon reaching the Kimberley this population of humpbacks, one of the healthiest in the world, can be found recuperating in the waters of the newly formed Camden Sound marine park, part of the Great Kimberley Marine Park, announced by the WA government earlier this year.

Set to be the second largest marine park in Australia after the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Kimberley Marine Park will eventually encompass the majority of the Kimberley region’s waters, extending from Eighty Mile Beach south of Broome, to the top of the state, just past Kununurra.

John Carey from Pew Charitable Trust, an international organisation involved in the region’s development, says the park will be rolled out in stages over the next 18 months, “like a large jigsaw puzzle”.

Related: Road trip: The Kimberley, WA

Coral and marine life in the Kimberley

The Kimberley is an internationally recognised hotspot for coral diversity, and home to six of the world’s seven marine turtle species. The region also provides a refuge for dugongs, whales, dolphins and sharks.

Jenita Enevoldsen, a marine campaigner with the Wilderness Society, says the state government’s funding will help to bring global recognition to the Kimberley. “We’re confident that they will deliver the same benchmark that was set for Ningaloo, [which is] an amazing tourism icon.”

In addition to sanctuary zones, the marine park will include general recreation zones where snorkelling, fishing and boating will be permitted.

Visitors to the Kimberley can expect a relatively pristine environment, says Professor Jessica Meeuwig, a researcher at the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia in Perth. “People choose to go to a place because it is wilderness, it has wonderful natural environmental values and they’re connecting with that space.”

By establishing parks, Jessica says wilderness immersion becomes a guarantee. “They send a really clear message that this is a wilderness area and we’re taking care of it.”

While industrialisation in the Kimberley has been an economic focus in recent years, environmental groups and local communities have campaigned hard for an alternative vision for the region.

Related: Kimberley corals could hold the key to saving our reefs

Preservation the key for Kimberley focus

John Carey is convinced that a focus on preservation and ecologically-based tourism is a long-term solution that will provide economic stability for surrounding communities for generations.

Jessica agrees, adding that established parks draw interest locally and abroad, and also attract investors to the region. This particular marine bioregion, she says, is “a wonderful example of healthy, tropical communities. In a sense, we’re contributing to global heritage by protecting examples of healthy marine tropical ecosystems.”

Overall, the state government’s strategy for the Kimberley Region is extensive. Funding and resources have been committed over a five-year period until 2015, with a great emphasis on nature-based tourism. It was not that long ago that the state government was facing heavy criticism by environmental groups over activities in the region, but Jessica says the state government is to be commended for taking a proactive approach to protecting the Kimberley into the future.

John agrees. “We see the marine park as cementing the reputation of the Kimberley as a natural wonder of Australia,” he says. “This is just the beginning.”