Andrew Forrest has accused the government of orchestrating the largest ever rollback of marine protection as he commits $100 million towards saving the world’s oceans.
Speaking aboard his family’s recently bought Pangaea Ocean Explorer, a state-of-the-art deepwater marine research vessel, Mr Forrest warned that the nation was “losing sight of our responsibilities to sustainably manage the vast seas under Australia’s control”.
“We need to recognise from a recreational and business perspective, not just an environmental perspective, that looking after our oceans is a vital duty we owe to our children and grandchildren,” he said.
Mr Forrest is studying a PhD in marine ecology at the University of Western Australia and has been investigating ways to invest and help improve marine sustainability and conservation for the past two years.
The $100 million donation through the Forrest family’s Minderoo Foundation will fuel its Minderoo Ocean Research initiative, which aims to track global fishing patterns, fund research into ocean plastics pollution and develop a world class research facility at Exmouth near the pristine Ningaloo Reef to study the migration of sea life through the Indian Ocean.
It will also create a global fishing index to expose countries that over-fish their marine resources.
The initiative adds to $400 million committed by Mr Forrest and his wife Nicola to fund a range of causes stretching from ending Indigenous inequality to finding a cure for cancer and ending modern slavery.
Blaming the government
Mr Forrest took aim at the government’s marine park management plans, putting the Fortescue Metals Group chairman at odds with federal energy and environment minister Josh Frydenberg.
The plan maintains existing boundaries for marine parks, which cover 36 per cent of Commonwealth waters, but rezones areas within the boundaries to allow for a range of activities besides conservation.
“We are opening up marine parks to be fished by other countries, by industrial fishing factories and there just seems to be no reason at all,” Mr Forrest said.
“We know through science that marine parks are the greatest aggregator and propagator of fish. Why would you close them down when that is our future source of fish for this generation and others to come?”
He said rolling back marine parks was “negligent” on recreational fishers, on business and on the economy.
“I’m asking the Australian government to pause and think this through and I’m asking the Greens and the Opposition not to point score off it.”
In a statement, Mr Frydenberg said five new management plans covering 44 Australian marine parks that came into effect on July 1 meant Australia was actively managing the second largest system of marine protected areas in the world.
“The management plans have a broad cross-section of support including locally in Western Australia from RecFish West and the WA Fishing Industry Council, striking the right balance between conservation, recreation and economic development,” Mr Frydenberg said.
The Greens are pushing a disallowance motion to kill off the marine park plans.
Mr Forrest said catches from wild fisheries in Australia had dropped 30 per cent over the past few years and were still falling.
He said partially protecting the parks was like suggesting partial sexual protection when you were hoping for full protection. In other words, it would not work.
“Australia leads the world in many areas of ocean research and conservation, but there’s so much more to do once we realise the dire shape our oceans are in.
“These [marine park] plans sorely let down Australia’s tourism and recreational fishing sectors by opening up our marine parks to aggressive and unsustainable industrial fishing.”