Divers call for marine sanctuaries in Sydney waters

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Divers clean up Sydney Harbour

With the NSW state election around the corner, scuba divers are demanding the government change its decision to revoke sanctuary zones in the waters around Sydney.

The dive community are strong advocates for clean oceans, sustainability, and protecting marine ecosystems, according to Sydney dive instructor Jason Bettinger.

“Divers are the first line of defense. We are responsible for educating and creating awareness for people coming into the water,” he says.

Bettinger has taught diving in Sydney’s waters for over 10 years and is founder of the Sydney Dive Club and Ocean Friends, a group mobilising the dive community to campaign for healthy oceans

Sydney’s magnificent array of underwater and coastal habitats are home to more fish species than the entire British Isles.

But Sydney’s dive spots may be threatened by the NSW government’s policy decisions.

Last August, the NSW government announced a plan to boost marine life protection in 25 zones from Newcastle to Wollongong by banning certain types of fishing in some zones and flagging potential new recreational fishing zones.

The proposal didn’t get wide support.

“It was put forward poorly, it wasn’t well explained. The proposal that come out was wishy washy,” says Rosie Leaney, a diving environmental specialist at Dive Centre Manly and organizer for Dive Against Debris.

Rosie leads dives off Manly’s Shelly Beach, one of Sydney’s only fully protected marine sanctuaries with no fishing of any type permitted.

It shows: the dive site here is fantastic, teeming with fish.

“There’s no other fully protected areas here, and there needs to be,” she says.

While the government’s proposition was welcomed by the NSW Greens, the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party and the fishing community have been swift in their backlash.

The backlash from the fishing community has been monumental.

A Facebook group called Stop The Lockout, created two years ago, now has more than 47,000 members

Divers argue that the government’s policy change is based on pressure from the fishing community which has spread false information about the impact of the sanctuaries.

“We have only tried to increase the number of no-take zones by 2 percent in NSW marine areas,” says Rosie Leaney.

International best practice recommends that at least 20 percent of near-shore marine areas be designated as no-take zones to conserve biodiversity.

Although the government’s proposal only included a 2 percent increase in sanctuaries, the fishing lobby responded with aggressive tactics.

Fake maps circulated by lobbyists were reproduced by mainstream media outlets including newspapers and Channel Nine. “They [the fishing community] essentially put a massive scare tactic and it worked. They even gave us death threats,” Rosie says.

She believes that marine sanctuaries will only occur if there’s a change of government.

“It all comes down to the next election which is the 23rd of March,” she says.