LABOR is considering proposals to establish the world's largest marine protected area with 972,000 square kilometres of the Coral Sea to be given differing levels of environmental cover.
The government has the opportunity to leave an environmental legacy of global significance by fully protecting the Coral Sea in a large marine national park”Darren Kindleysides, Director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society
The Age believes the draft proposal for the tropical waters between the Great Barrier Reef and the edge of Australian territory will place about half the total region in ''no take'' reserves, stopping fishing.
The rest of the Coral Sea will be made multi-use, single-use and wilderness conservation areas allowing recreational fishing, some commercial fishing, or both, to differing degrees.
The draft proposal is still being finalised before its release in coming weeks, but falls short of a campaign by conservationists for the entire Coral Sea to be declared a ''no-take'' reserve due to its largely unspoilt environment and military significance.
Director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society Darren Kindleysides said: ''The government has the opportunity to leave an environmental legacy of global significance by fully protecting the Coral Sea in a large marine national park.
''There have always been two important goals since the campaign to protect the Coral Sea began in 2008 - providing a very large safe haven for marine life and recognising the historic significance of the area.
''We'll be assessing the plan to see how it measures up against these two key tests once it is released.''
Environment Minister Tony Burke would not comment yesterday except to say ''a draft bio-regional plan for the east region, including the Coral Sea, will be released later this year and will be followed by a three-month period of community consultation.''
But in an article in Fishing World last week, Mr Burke said he wanted to minimise the effects on recreational fishers from the rollout of marine parks around the country, including in the Coral Sea.
Mr Burke said he wanted no-take zones to be primarily located away from popular recreational fishing spots and that ''exclusive catch and release recreational fishing zones'' could also be used allowing extraction of fish only for immediate consumption.
Commercial fishing lobbies in Queensland are understood to be concerned the Coral Sea proposal locks up too many areas from industry development, notably restricting prawn trawling.
While Labor's proposal is expected to establish the world's largest protected area, it would fall short of being the largest marine reserve due to the size of the zones allowing fishing.
The world's largest reserve was established by Britain last year around the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
The Coral Sea is home to the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle and endangered green turtle along with 25 species of whales and dolphins, 27 species of sea birds and 1500 fish species.