Nineteen marine parks with 83 sanctuary zones to protect diversity off South Australian coast

Marine parks shown in grey-border areas off the South Australian coast. The inset shows green sanctuary zones within a marine park off the south of Yorke Peninsula.

Nineteen marine parks, containing 83 sanctuary zones, came into full force around the South Australian coast from 2014. The sanctuary zones and restricted access zones within the parks are the core of the marine parks’ intent: to conserve the biodiversity of southern Australia’s marine species, with 85% not found anywhere else in the world.

The sanctuary zones, that don’t allow any fishing, have been opposed by professional fishing groups and some communities. but the marine parks have bolstered South Australia’s repute as having among the best fishing management in the world.

The benefits of the sanctuary zones to overall fish stocks have not yet been proven conclusively. But a five-year progress report found 205 species of fish in the marine parks. Offshore island sanctuary zones had the highest abundance of large fish, with the highest overall fish diversity found in Pearson Island sanctuary zone off Eyre Peninsula in Spencer Gulf. The total rock lobster catch off Kangaroo Island for the first three months of the first season of sanctuary zones was 6.7% higher than a year earlier.

The sanctuary zones are working to protect long-lived species that are attached to particular areas. Kangaroo Island’s Sponge Gardens sanctuary zone is an example of an important biodiverse (200 species of plants and animals) refuge for blue groper, blue devils and harlequin fish.

Although sanctuary zones exclude fishing, they are open to special marine experiences, such as snorkelling with South Australia’s iconic giant Australian cuttlefish in the Upper Spencer Gulf Marine Park. South Australia is home to colourful marine sponge gardens, the leafy sea dragon, and marine mammals such as Australian sea lions, whales and dolphins.  

Public support for marine parks has remained high over the 10 years since 2006, and had risen in 2017 to 91%.

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