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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 09:06 GMT
Australia life-line for Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef
The Reef is one of Australia's greatest icons
The Australian Government has submitted a plan to parliament to make the Great Barrier Reef the most protected coral reef system in the world.

It wants to increase so-called green zones, where commercial and recreational fishing is banned, from 4.5% of the 2,000-kilometre (1,200-mile) reef to 33%.

The plan, which is expected to be approved by parliament and come into force by the middle of next year, would create the world's largest network of protected marine areas.

More than 2,000 km long
Home to 1,500 types of fish
Only living thing the naked eye can see from space
There are concerns that over-fishing has depleted the reef of marine life, threatening its delicate eco-balance.

WWF Australia hailed the plan as a breakthrough.

"It's groundbreaking, it's visionary," Imogen Zethoven, Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager, told BBC News Online.

"There is no other network on Earth of a similar scale. It doesn't mean that the plan is perfect, but it does mean there's a dramatic improvement," she said.

"What we sought to do is provide a level of protection that assures that biodiversity will be protected while minimising the impact on users," Environment Minister David Kemp told BBC News Online.

Coral welfare

Great Barrier Reef
It is teeming with marine life
There are other factors that damage the reef - global warming, which is believed to be to blame for coral bleaching, and chemical run-offs from cattle grazing, sugarcane growing and urban development.

Ms Zethoven said that restricting fishing around the reef would help mitigate the effects of global warming and pollution.

"It you maintain an ecosystem... with an abundance of life, it has a greater chance of recovering," she said.

The government has also finalised a water quality protection plan, which seeks to regulate land management to reduce pollution from agriculture and horticulture.

Ms Zethoven said the administration now needed to address greenhouse emissions, which should be cut "dramatically and urgently".

Prime Minister John Howard last year refused to sign the Kyoto protocol on climate control.

The Great Barrier Reef, situated off Queensland state in Australia's northeast, injects an estimated A$1.5bn ($975m) into the economy each year through tourism and fishing.

Companies and individuals caught breaching green zone rules will face heavy fines.

The commercial fishing industry has warned the plan could devastate fishing firms and small communities.

Mr Kemp said the government was in consultation with the community to formulate "appropriate adjustment assistance", which could include buying out licenses and helping people into other careers.

Algae threatens great coral reef
27 Nov 03  |  Science/Nature
Australia acts to save Reef
02 Jun 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Australia slammed over environment
19 Aug 02  |  Asia-Pacific

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