As countries prepare to meet for the Rio+20 meeting on sustainable development, Australia has launched the world's biggest network of marine protected areas, setting an important precedent for ocean protection.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) welcomed the new system of marine parks that would now cover more than one-third of the Commonwealth waters of Australia, a milestone that the WWF has been working towards for more than 15 years.
The jewel in the crown of the new network is the Coral Sea marine park that, together with the adjacent Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, will make up the world's largest marine park.
WWF-Australian CEO Dermot O'Gorman said Australia has the third largest ocean territory in the world that stretches from the tropics to the sub-Antarctic and is home to incredible creatures such as whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks as well as spectacular corals and other ecosystems.
"By declaring more than one third of its waters as marine parks, Australia has made a major advance in marine conservation that is both nationally and globally significant. Coming on the eve of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development, this is an inspiring outcome for other countries to follow," O'Gorman said.
"In recent times the Australian Government has made it clear that it aspires to be a global leader in marine conservation. Today's decision helps meet this aspiration and WWF looks forward to hearing how Australia will assist other countries in our region to better manage their marine resources at the Rio +20 summit.
The Australian network of marine protected areas was announced by Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke in Sydney on 14 June, 2012 and incorporated places like the reefs of the Coral Sea and the deep sea areas off Western Australia.
In welcoming the announcement, WWF expressed some concern that some of Australia's most critical marine environments had been excluded from the marine park and left vulnerable to industrial exploitation.
"While this is a big step forward, oil and gas rigs are still moving closer to places like the stunning Rowley Shoals and Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia," O'Gorman said.