Australia has announced an ambitious plan to create the world's largest network of marine reserves, with fishing to be restricted and oil and gas exploration banned in the most sensitive areas.
The network will encircle the continent, covering 1.2 million square miles of ocean – an area roughly equivalent to India, and encompassing one-third of Australia's territorial waters.
It will mean increased protection for threatened and endangered marine species such as the blue whale, green turtle, grey nurse shark and dugong, all of which breed and feed off the coast.
The announcement by the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, came a week before world leaders gather in Rio de Janeiro for the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development. "It's time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans, and Australia is leading that next step," Mr Burke said.
However, all this will come at a cost, particularly to commercial fishermen, some of whom fear they will lose up to 30 per cent of their business.
"This is devastating, and those that will suffer most will be coastal communities," said Dean Logan, chief executive of the Australian Marine Alliance.