The Coral Sea Particularly Sensitive Sea Area
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The Coral Sea Particularly Sensitive Sea Area

September 4, 2019


(music) The Coral Sea is a remote ocean
ecosystem located to the northeast of Australia. The region is considered one of
the most distinctive and undisturbed natural systems in the
world. It is recognized for its unique physical, ecological and heritage values and
provides refuge for a wide range threatened, migratory
and commercially valuable species. The environmental significance of the
Coral Sea lies in its diverse array a sandy cays
and islets, deep sea plains and canyons, seamounts and coral reefs. The Coral Sea is also home to the Great Barrier Reef, which at over 2,300 kilometers long is the largest coral reef ecosystem on the
planet and was designated a World Heritage Area
in 1981. In 1990, after a submission by
the Australian Government the International Maritime Organization
declared the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park the world first Particularly Sensitive Sea Area. This area was then extended in 2005 to create the Great Barrier Reef and
Torres Strait Particularly Sensitive Sea Area. Designation as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area helps to protect seas where significant ecological, socio-economic or scientific
features may be vulnerable to damage by
international shipping. The Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait
region has an impressive array of protective measures that allow the safe and efficient
operation of international shipping. These measures include a comprehensive
network of aids to navigation, a coastal vessel
traffic service supported by a mandatory ship reporting
system a dedicated emergency towage vessel ship routeing measures and a regime of designated shipping
areas. Additionally there are International
Maritime Organization adopted Associated Protective Measures in place
within the Particularly Sensitive Sea Area. In order to ensure that the
appropriate level of protection is in place to protect this vulnerable region, the
Australian Government continues to monitor shipping volumes to identify potential hazards and areas
in need of additional protection. Over time as the Australian economy has
grown, shipping in the Coral Sea has increased. Like the Great Barrier Reef, the south west Coral Sea contains areas that can be challenging to navigate with narrow channels and shallow waters
around the numerous reefs, cays and Islands lying close to shipping
lanes. To address this Australia has
proposed to extend to the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Particularly Sensitive
Sea Area to the south west portion the Coral Sea, as there are a number of shipping hazards not covered by the current arrangements. The new area will cover approximately 564,000 square kilometres and represents approximately 12 per cent
of the entire Coral Sea. This area lives within Australia’s
Exclusive Economic zone and the Coral Sea
Commonwealth Marine Reserve, an area of approximately 972,000
square kilometres protected by the Australian Government
under national environmental legislation. The proposed extension
covers the waters of the Reserve in which the risk of impacts from shipping
activities is highest. The Coral Sea contains critical habitat for a rich diversity of species, including some of the world’s most unique and
significant marine creatures like the Green Turtle, Hump head Maori
Wrasse and the Nautilus. 341 species found in the Coral Sea have been listed for conservation and
many of these species are listed as threatened, or migratory, or
both Importantly while more than half of these
species show declining population trends worldwide many are still found at healthy levels in the Coral Sea. The area also contains a large number of historic shipwrecks and is of great significance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. For those areas in the Coral Sea
considered particularly vulnerable to impacts from international shipping three Associated Protective Measures are proposed. These are, a new Area to be Avoided and two supporting, five nautical mile wide, recommendatory two way routes The first route lies in Diamond Passage and is approximately 60 nautical miles
long. It aims to separate opposing streams of traffic and aligns with the existing traffic pattern. The second two way route lies west of
Holmes reef and is approximately 53 nautical miles
long. The proposals seek to separate and
formalize these well-established traffic patterns while also keeping ships clear of the
new Area to be Avoided. The proposed Area to be Avoided contains
many reefs, cays, islets, sandbars and shoal patches. Establishing Areas to be Avoided
increases ship safety by keeping traffic away from
the many navigational hazards within the area. This reduces the risk of groundings and allows more time for intervention in
developing situations, such as a ship suffering a mechanical
breakdown. Each year approximately 430 ships traverse these
waters while traveling to and from Australian ports. with many vessels already avoiding the
area. The new two way route off Holmes Reef will formalize current practices while adding only an extra 11 nautical
miles to a ship’s overall voyage. This represents a 0.3 per cent increase to a typical voyage distance of 3,800
nautical miles between a Queensland port and Shanghai. The extension of the Great Barrier Reef
and Torres Strait Particularly Sensitive Sea Area and the
implementation of new Associated Protective Measures provide a
means of protecting the unique physical, ecological and
heritage values of the Coral Sea while having a minimal
impact on international shipping. It demonstrates a commitment to sensitive marine environments while
ensuring international shipping remains safe,
viable and efficient.

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