It was reported in Australian Antarctic Magazine 4:41 that the Australian Government had declared in October 2002 a 6.5 million hectare, fully protected marine reserve (the world’s largest) in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) region of the Southern Ocean. In early 2003 the AAD received formal authority, under delegation from the Director of National Parks, to administer the new reserve and to prepare the management plan required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
The new management plan will replace the Heard Island Wilderness Reserve Management Plan made under the HIMI Environment Protection and Management Ordinance 1987, which has guided activities in the HIMI Territory since 1996. It will be written to reflect obligations arising from the area’s nationally and internationally recognised natural and cultural values, to take into account up-to-date knowledge of these values gained from recent visits, and to ensure a best practice approach to management of the area. The EPBC Act also specifies mandatory inclusions in the management plan, plus a series of management principles which must be taken into account.
One of the greatest threats to the values of the reserve is the human-assisted introduction and spread of non-native species. To ensure that human activities are managed in a way that will not jeopardise the near pristine ecosystems, the AAD has commissioned a formal risk assessment by an independent expert. Recommendations arising from this assessment will contribute to strategies to minimise the risk of introductions. The AAD is also coordinating a research program in some marine areas adjacent to the marine reserve, to assess these areas for possible future inclusion through expansion of the reserve boundaries.
The EPBC Act requires that the public has an opportunity to provide input to the reserve’s management, and a comment period on the proposal to prepare a draft management plan was held between March and May. As well as being a statutory requirement, this process allowed the wider Australian community, most of whom are never likely to have the chance to visit HIMI, to voice their opinions about how this remote yet potentially vulnerable external territory should be managed. The AAD received several submissions which will be considered in the preparation of the management plan.
Current intentions are to make a working draft management draft plan available to the 2003–04 AAD research expedition to HIMI, to allow valuable field-testing of proposed management measures and to ensure that what looks good on paper is also meaningful and effective on the ground (and in the water, on the ice, etc). Comments arising from on-ground experiences will be incorporated into the draft plan, which will then be subject to a further round of public comment before presentation to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage for approval and, if approved, consideration by Parliament.
Environmental Management and Audit Unit, AAD