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Abstracts of Conference Papers

Spreading the word about Syngnathids

Astrida Mednis
Department of Environment, Sports & Territories

The Commonwealth Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982( the Act) has recently been amended so that all syngnaths ( seahorses, pipefish and seadragons ) and solenostomids (ghost pipefish) are subject to export controls as of Jan 1 1998. Recognising the international interests and demand for synnathid species, particularly in the traditional Chinese medicine and marine fish aquarium markets, as a precautionary measure, these species are now subject to export controls to regulate and monitor the export trade.

Where it is proposed to export these species (including live animals and products derived from these species) the grant of an export permit/authority from Environment Australia will be required. Export permits will only be granted where these species have been obtained from either an approved breeding (aquaculture ) operation (operated in a manner that satisfies Regulation 8 of the Act) or taken under an approved harvesting regime under section 10A of the ACT.

Southern Biodiversity: what is it and how do we protect it?

Dr Mark Norman
Melbourne University
Department of Zoology

Southern Australian waters contain a dazzling array of marine organisms found in no other region of the world. Many of the plants and animals along this temperate coastline have origins dating back to the break up of the Gondwana continent and the long slow drift north of Australia. Others are more recent invasions resulting from the Australian landmass gliding into tropical latitudes.

When we talk of the diversity of life in this region, we need to both define what we mean by the term "biodiversity" and how we might go about protecting it. Biodiversity means different things to different people:

  • to some it means sheer numbers per unit area.
  • to others it means diversity in form and biology.
  • to others it may include some measure of the "unique-ness" or restriction of fauna or flora.
  • to politicians or government bodies it may mean obligations as signatories to international treaties.
  • to some researchers it can be a label used in attempts to secure research funding.

If we intend to educate about biodiversity, we need to make clear decisions on our interpretation of the term. If it means sheer numbers of species/unit area, what do we do with counts of 700 invertebrate species in a single square metre of sand in Bass Strait?

Do we draw a taxonomic line and only concentrate on the "higher" levels? Or do we concentrate on charismatic megafauna such as dolphins or seahorses and hope the rest are carried along with it?

In the current political and economic climate, priorities are often decided as to where funds will be spent. If priorities need to be made, we need to present hierarchies of importance or urgency. I propose that there are three top priorities for the protection of southern Australian biodiversity:

  • Visible and accessible marine national parks for areas experiencing highest fishing pressures: e.g., intertidal and subtidal sites in Port Phillip Bay and Western Port.

  • Visible and accessible marine national parks for representative habitat types across all of southern Australia.

  • Review of destructive and potentially destructive practices outside these protected areas, particularly: fishing practices (particularly deep sea) and fast-tracked developing fisheries and aquaculture of exotic species.

Finally we need to examine and discuss our own complicit involvement in processes destructive to southern Australian marine flora and fauna. The following questions need to be asked:

  • Do we know where our seafood comes from and how it is harvested? Should we be educating on the destruction condoned by eating a fast food fish-fillet burger made from a century old deepsea fish?

    Should we be fighting for more transparent origins of our seafood: should there be turtle- or dugong-friendly prawns, or common names which reflect origins, dispensing with generic marketing terms such as "trevally", "dory" or "flake"?
  • Should we be turning instead to consumption of exotic species (such as European Carp) or abundant native species (such as flathead or eels)? Perhaps we should be looking for more environmentally-sound protein sources, in much the same way that kangaroo can be justified over hard-hoofed cattle or sheep.

  • Do our promotions of issues backfire into raising the market profile of certain species? Has publicity of seahorse harvesting elsewhere in the world lead to increased interest in our local stocks?

    Early alarm over protecting our southern seahorses (which were not being harvested) has lead to commercial and pseudo-aquaculture interest. If these industries take off, will the conservation movement be implicated in advertising the presence of these animals in southern Australia? Will poaching become the next problem?

  • Should scientific research be put under the spotlight? Do projects using sexy phrases such as biodiversity or ecological sustainability do anything to protect the subject matter or are we just documenting the demise?

The role of conferences such as this one should not be to preach to the converted or stay with the safe easy topics for marine education, but rather to debate issues such as these and decide on meaningful priority areas and achievable goals.