Aussies say community input important in marine park planning

  • Mar. 28, 2008 5:00 p.m.

By Heather Ramsay–As plans move forward on the Gwaii Haanas Marine Conservation Area, two blokes from Down Under brought positive messages about the challenges and rewards of marine planning. Graham Scott and Russell Butler, Australians who live in different regions near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, talked about how important community input was to a successful marine plan during a free meeting at the Haida Heritage Centre on March 26. Mr. Scott is a civil engineer and charter boat owner from Rockhampton on the southern end of the reef. He told the group at the meeting, many of whom were members of the recently formed Marine Advisory Committee, why he got involved in the GBR rezoning plans. The GBR spreads out along 2,000 kilometres of coastline in the state of Queensland. Several communities are found along the coast including several cities with populations above 100,000. All manner of activities are allowed in the marine park, but certain zones were defined, he said. Only 3 percent of the marine area was designated a no-take or green zone and this was one of the reasons rezoning got underway, he said. “Everyone agreed that was too little,” he said But at the first meeting, Mr. Scott was dismayed at how badly informed his fellow community members were and how a few angry people at the back of the room were able to dominate the agenda. So he set about trying to make the process work for all involved. He says setting rules and objectives are essential, so that conversations among stakeholders, when they get heated, can always return to the basics. For example, in the GBR they decided that up the no-take areas to 20 percent was the goal. Then when the maps were drawn and fishermen didn’t like the look of the Green Zones, they could come back with suggestions that would meet the requirements of the rule book. “Leave your guns at the door. Learn what is going on and how to change it,” Mr. Scott says of a community-driven planning process. Mr. Butler is a Bandjin Traditional Owner from the Hinchinbrook Island area. He got involved in the rezoning process to ensure his people had a say in the management of the sea country. His people don’t spend much time on the reef, he said, because “none of us own big boats.” “When we do go its for a special reason to get a big fish,” he said. Nevertheless they always had rules for sea. “We never kill anything for fun, and when we kill it we eat everything. There is no waste.” His tribal group agreed finally to participate in the plan after the elders decided it was time. Mr. Butler said they then worked on fitting a Traditional Use Marine Resource Area (TUMRA) into the plan. Although by constitutional right Aboriginal people can use any area, the Bandjin don’t use the no take and no go areas either. He says employment for his people has been created out of the work on marine planning, like ranger programs, compliance officers and other jobs. The Bandjin also have knowledge of the area from their stories that is now being borne out by science, like the whereabouts of fresh water holes from rivers that once ran out to the continental shelf and are now covered by the sea. He said a lot of people are negative about indigenous rights and uses of the area, but the positive side is to ensure fisheries are healthy until the future. “We all want to be here, we can’t break this place. It’s a beautiful thing,” he said. Terrie Dionne, communications consultation officer with the proposed Gwaii Haanas Marine Conservation Area said the timing for the presentation could not have been better. “We are embarking on something that hasn’t been done before and the options of how to go about creating this plan seem to be endless,” she said. “The real hands on experience shared by Russell and Graham and the success that they have had,provided “proof” that it can be done and I hope served to energize people with the positive.” The Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve project team (comprised of Parks, CHN and DFO) are currently working on the Interim Management Plan, a step required by the National Marine Conservation Areas Act, she says. An interim zoning plan will be included in this document which will rule the park until the official Management Plan is completed. The 12-person Marine Advisory Committee is working with the project team on the interim plans now.

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