Save Our Marine Life
Save Our Marine Life

Middle Australia supports sanctuaries

Throughout the nation, Australians are enthusiastic in their support for marine sanctuaries, particularly once they have experienced them first hand. They make their support known through surveys, in the hundreds of thousands of submissions sent during consultation processes, in their communications to the nation’s leaders, local MPs and in their enthusiastic attendance at local marine conservation events.

Evidence of the breadth and depth of support, and awareness of the benefits of marine sanctuaries:

Australians share an appetite to learn about what is unique about the marine life and marine environment, particularly near to where they live (Essential Research 2008a)

Qualitative research has also found that widespread concern exists that so little of Australia’s oceans are protected from the impacts of oil and gas drilling, and over-fishing (Essential Research 2008a).

In follow-up quantitative research, people randomly selected from among the middle ground of Australian opinion and also people who identified as recreational fishers were asked how much of the oceans around Australia’s coast should be protected from such key threats. Few nominated low levels of protection (20 percent of less) and few opposed very high levels of protection (50 plus percent) (Table 1).

In fact, across the spectrum from those who never fish to those who fish regularly, more than half of respondents believed at least 50 percent and as high as 60 percent or more of our oceans should be protected (Essential Research, 2009b).

While there is broad agreement that fishing and oil and gas resources continue to be important for economic and social reasons, there is almost no disagreement that an imbalance exists between resource extraction and conservation of marine biodiversity (Patterson Market Research 2011; Essential Research 2008b).

Quantitative research in 2009 (Essential Research 2009b; national online poll, sample size n=4074) and then later in 2011 (Pattersons Market Research 2011; Western Australian telephone poll, sample size n=604) identified significant common ground between people who fish and the rest of the community on the question of how much protection should be put in place to protect the marine environment.

Irrespective of whether people fished or not, very low numbers of people believed only small amounts – 30 percent or less – of our marine environment should be protected.

The survey results reflected the findings of qualitative research conducted in both metropolitan areas (Sydney, Perth and Brisbane) and in regional areas (Albany and Esperance) in 2008 (Essential Research, 2008b).

Participants in the qualitative research program were recruited on the basis that they did not self-identify as environmentalists or supporters of marine protected areas, however most expressed shock when informed of the small percentage of Australia’s ocean territory that was protected from extractive impacts.

When asked how much they thought should be protected, participant responses reflected the survey results in 2009, that at least 50 percent or more of Australia’s oceans should be protected.


The NSW experience:

In two key NSW marine parks – Solitary Islands and Jervis Bay – where local opinion had been mixed particularly during the establishment period, government-commissioned surveys have tracked the evolution of community attitudes. Support for the marine parks is now high across local communities, with support for ‘no take’ sanctuary areas at 80 percent or higher (McGregor Tan Research 2008a)

In the region surrounding Solitary Islands Marine Park, surveys have found the marine park is widely accepted and supported by the general community. In January 2008, an attitudinal survey of 407 local residents found 87 percent support for the conservation of the marine environment (McGregor Tan Research 2008a). This level of support was demonstrated among both non-fishers (88 percent in favour of the marine park) and fishers (82 percent in favour of the marine park) (McGregor Tan Research 2008a).

Sanctuary areas in the marine park were also highly supported – by 80 percent of all respondents. When asked to rate a list of reasons for protecting the marine park, half (50 percent) of those surveyed indicated that it was to support a diversity of marine and bird life. The next two most supported reasons were: allowing future generations to enjoy the marine park (44 percent) and protecting natural habitats (42 per cent) (McGregor Tan Research 2008a).

In January 2008, an attitudinal survey of 402 local residents surrounding Jervis Bay Marine Park found that 84 percent supported the marine park, with only four percent in opposition. Sanctuary zones in the marine park were supported by 82 percent of the respondents, with only five per cent in opposition. Among fishers, 76 percent supported the sanctuary zones, while support among non-fishers was higher at 84 percent (McGregor Tan Research 2008b).

When asked to nominate a benefit of marine parks, an overwhelming majority (89 percent) of those surveyed were able to name at least one benefit. The four main benefits identified were: ‘Preservation of the environment for future generations’ (51 percent); ‘Protection of marine habitats’ (47 percent); ‘A better environment’ (21 percent); and ‘Increase in fish stocks’ (20 percent) (McGregor Tan Research 2008b).


The Queensland experience

Three years after the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was rezoned in 2004 and the ‘no take’ sanctuary area increased from 4.5 percent to 33 percent of the park, a survey of recreational fishers was conducted. A majority of fishers believed the rezoning was necessary and had little impact on their fishing activity (Sutton 2009). The survey results revealed not only the high levels of support for conservation measures among recreational fishers, particularly if they are consistent with their values.

The findings of qualitative research by Essential Research in Queensland in February 2012 both reinforced the findings above and provided further insights into the common ground that exists between fishers and non-fishers.

Participants for four focus groups were recruited in Brisbane and in Gladstone to test attitudes to established marine protected areas at Moreton Bay and on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as to explore opinions of proposals for new protected areas off the Queensland coast (Essential Research 2012b). A mix of male and female participants were selected on the basis that they were not members of an environmental organisation or were supporters of marine protected areas. Instead, recruitment was narrowly focused on people who identified as being a fisher or were interested in issues affecting the marine environment.

Most believed there was no one main threat, but a number of threats to the marine environment. Unprompted, the reasons, in order of priority, were ‘pollution from the land’, ‘overfishing’, and ‘damage from oil and other industrial spills’.

Among the Gladstone participants and, more specifically, the recreational fisher participants, there was agreement that fish stocks were nowhere near as good as they used to be and, as one said, “You can’t even reach a bag limit for many species any more.”

Recreational fishers expressed a preference for seasonal closures as an approach to improve the health of fish stocks and marine life, however there was almost universal agreement that sanctuary zones protecting feeding and breeding areas are necessary and beneficial. The majority of participants agreed that marine protected areas would help to sustain fishing and the fishing industry. Regional participants also nominated a further benefit of marine protected areas was that they would enhancing tourism opportunities.




Essential Research (2008a) ‘Report on qualitative research of public perceptions and attitudes to unspoiled areas of Australia, June 2008’. Pew Environment Group and The Nature Conservancy, Sydney.

Essential Research (2008b) ‘National poll of perceptions and attitudes to environment issues, September 2008’. The Nature Conservancy and Pew Environment Group, Sydney.

Essential Research (2009b) ‘Results of national polling, conducted online over four consecutive weeks, testing support among the general public and fishers on marine protection. Sample size:  4072, August 2009’. Save Our Marine Life alliance, Perth.

McGregor Tan Research (2008a). ‘Final report, Solitary Islands Marine Park Community Survey, for the NSW Government, February 2008’

McGregor Tan Research (2008b) Final report, Jervis Bay Marine Park Community Survey, for the NSW Government, February 2008’

Patterson Market Research (2011). ‘Western Australian Community Attitudes Towards Marine Sanctuaries, April 2011’. Save Our Marine Life alliance, Perth.

Sutton SG, Tobin RC (2009) Recreational fishers’ attitudes towards the 2004 rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Environmental Conservation 36, 245-252.

Essential Research (2012b). ‘Report on qualitative research of public attitudes towards Queensland’s marine environment and fisheries, February 2012.’ Graeme Wood Foundation, Brisbane.

Marine sanctuaries at risk