Sydney, Australia, Mar 14 (EFE).- The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia announced on Monday that it had acquired and shelved the last commercial gill net license in the northern Great Barrier Reef, effectively creating a 100,000 square kilometer protection zone for dugongs, dolphins and turtles.
The zone runs from Cape Flattery up to the Torres Strait and covers an area about the size of Cuba.
The environmental organization bought the license, for a “sizeable quota,” for an unspecified amount from a commercial fisherman who was preparing to deploy his gill net for fishing in the zone.
WWF-Australia said it now owns four commercial Queensland fishing licenses and almost all the quota in the far northern reef.
“It’s not normal practice for a conservation organization to buy and shelve commercial net fishing licenses. But it was a practical way to remove the threat of gill nets from a section of the reef incredibly important for threatened species,” said Richard Leck, WWF-Australia Head of Oceans.
Gill nets work like a wall anchored to the seabed and trap and kill fish as well as turtles, dugongs, sharks, rays and other species as bycatch. WWF said they are often described as “walls of death” because they are indiscriminate killers.
“Creating one of the largest safe havens for dugongs in the world is a globally significant initiative. Marine turtles, snubfin dolphins, sawfish, hammerhead sharks and the critically endangered Bizant River shark are just some of the other threatened species to benefit,” Leck said.
“The licenses WWF has purchased will never be used for commercial gill net fishing again. WWF hopes to work with Traditional Owners to give them the opportunity to convert those licenses to sustainable practices such as line or mud crab fishing, or to establish charter fishing and tour guide operations on their sea country to benefit from increasing tourist numbers,” he added.
Despite the purchase, it is the responsibility of the Australian authorities to protect the north Great Barrier Reef from commercial gill net fishing and establish net-free zones, added WWF in its statement.
The initiative is part of the “Net Free North” plan to prevent endangered and vulnerable species such as dugongs, turtles and dolphins, as well as hammerhead sharks and sawfish, from getting caught in commercial gill nets and drowning.
WWF noted that an aerial report in 2020 revealed that there are some 7,000 dugongs and 282,000 large juvenile and adult turtles in the northern Great Barrier Reef. EFE