Australia formally created a massive network of marine reserves Friday in an effort to protect certain areas from overfishing and oil drilling.
The network consists of five zones surrounding the continent, an area totaling more than 900,000 square miles (2.3 million square kilometers) and home to endangered species such as blue whales, dugongs, nurse sharks, and sea turtles.
"Australia is home to some incredible marine environments including the Perth Canyon in the southwest and the stunning reefs of the Coral Sea, and this announcement cements Australia's position as a world leader on environmental protection,” BBC News quoted Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke as saying.
The new conservation network adds to already protected zones around the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere, giving Australia protected marine reserves of about 1.2 million square miles (3.1 million square kilometers) overall.
"There are very few countries in the world that are as responsible for as much of the ocean as Australia is. And our oceans are under serious threat," Burke said, according to Agence France-Presse via Google. “There are a range of actions that need to be taken to turn the corner on the health of our oceans. Establishing national parks in the ocean is a big part of that total picture."
The commercial-fishing industry has criticized the marine reserves, claiming it would lose $2 billion in profits as a result, AFP reported. The Australian Marine Alliance also claimed that 36,000 jobs would be lost.
Burke announced that $103 million would be distributed among affected fishing businesses as compensation, BBC News reported, with the environment minister adding that “this entire project has an impact of less than 1 percent of the total value of production for our wild-catch fisheries."
According to AFP, Burke said, "Even though the new marine reserves have been designed in a way to minimize impacts on industry and recreational users, the government recognizes that there will be impacts on some fishers and we will support those impacted."