PARK WATCH Article December 2023 |

VNPA has been at the forefront of driving marine spatial planning since the 1970s says Shannon Hurley, Nature Conservation Campaigner

Half a century ago, the Victorian National Parks Association developed a strong appetite for improving the laws that govern Victoria’s seas and shores.

Any substantial cook-up involving policy and legislation requires time, patience and the right ingredients. Marine and coastal reforms were no exception. After years of kneading, at long last during the 2014 state election, the then Andrews Government committed to uniting management and protections in one bowl. This resulted in a new Marine and Coastal Act in 2018, a Marine and Coastal Policy in 2020 and the Marine and Coastal Strategy in 2022.

A core theme of the work was finding a tool to plan and coordinate the many uses of our big blue backyard. Solving this challenge is essential to future-proofing our ocean body of health. With today’s pressures of fossil fuel exploration, offshore wind development, climate change impacts on our shores, along with fishing and tourism, we are hungrier than ever for proper planning and coordination!

This much needed, long overdue solution – marine spatial planning – helps industry, government, and community better plan their thirst for activities in the marine environment. It’s only recently the marine world has begun to catch up with the more established planning systems used for land.

The Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action’s recent ‘Planning areas and marine spatial planning guidelines‘, defines eight geographic areas where a plan can be baked along the coast, and the recipe for how to do it. Now the environment minister needs to green light a marine spatial plan at one of the areas, as required under the Marine and Coastal Strategy.

At the moment, Western Port Bay has no overarching plan to look after its future. Its health is in serious decline, and it faces multiple conflicts of use. We need a holistic, coordinated approach to minimise impacts on the bay’s marine web of life. We’ve been advocating for area 1 (around Portland), and area 5 (Western Port Bay) to be considered as ideal for testing these guidelines and putting the marine spatial planning process into action.

Consider this a call for swift baking of a marine spatial plan, for our ocean deserves to have their cake and eat it too.