Big, Bold and Blue

Big, bold and blue is exactly how I would describe the marine environment. Such simple words profoundly convey the ocean’s expanse, its unexplored depths and soothing aesthetics. Yet, as this book title suggests, they also allude to the aspirations and depths of courage required to address an expanse of environmental challenges our oceans – and our world for that matter – face.

Having recently completed my PhD studies investigating the effects of commercial fishing on shark and ray populations, marine conservation is very dear to my heart. Putting conservation measures into practice is by no means an easy task though. It requires combinations of extensive ecological research, consultation with stakeholders ranging from the recreational fisher next door to multi-billion dollar oil companies, and importantly, sufficient funding and adequate legislation.

Nearly 36% of Australia’s waters fall within a marine protected area (MPA) and increased awareness for the conservation of biodiversity has resulted in a rapid, five-fold expansion of MPAs over the last 15 years. Big, Bold and Blue explores the history of MPAs in Australia and, by examining specific examples such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP), highlights our past mistakes and our triumphs, offering possible solutions to carry forward for the enhancement of marine conservation in Australia. Importantly, the book incorporates a breadth of perspectives crucial to the development of successful MPAs, which include opinions from those in science, law, government, industry, indigenous affairs and the general public.

Structurally, the components of this text are sound and follow a logical and intuitive layout. Divided into five parts, each comprising several chapters (with exception to part five), the book begins in part one by exploring the history of MPAs in Australia and placing them in a global context. Part two delves deeper and investigates MPAs at both regional and national levels, noting the influence of differing socio-political climates, government policies and legislation. A notable case study in part two is the GBRMP, which aside from being one of the seven natural wonders of the world, is also one of the largest and oldest marine national park systems on earth – justifiably earning it the status of ‘the grandfather of modern day MPAs.’ Part three highlights and explains key elements such as ecological theory, legislation and economics to consider when designing, implementing and managing MPAs. Part four is perhaps one of the more interesting sections, as it provides insight into varying perspectives and interpretations of the value of MPAs from experts in academia, indigenous communities, industry and the general public. Finally, part five concludes the book and neatly wraps up what policies and measures work and haven’t worked, as well as the challenges ahead when refining and improving the creation and management of MPAs.

Marine parks are a great source of enjoyment for recreational divers.  Image: Evatt Chirgwin

Marine parks are a great source of enjoyment for recreational divers. Image: Evatt Chirgwin

For me, a stand-out feature of Big, Bold and Blue is the chapter ‘Protecting sea country: Indigenous Peoples and marine protected areas in Australia.’ This chapter is emblematic of a broader, positive, socio-cultural shift whereby traditional ownership and cultural rights of First Peoples are being formally recognised. Rather than focusing on the ecological benefits of incorporating indigenous management practices, the chapter is more concerned with recognition of native title and promoting collaborative efforts between indigenous communities and government. Quite poignantly, the chapter concludes, ‘Government responses in this policy area… [are] yielding multiple benefits both in terms of environmental management and indigenous wellbeing.’

I’ll admit, my strengths lie in animal biology and physiology rather than conservation, but that is precisely why this book is so appealing – it offers the perfect opportunity to understand the real-world, practical foundations behind enacting marine conservation and the development of MPAs. Fortunately, you don’t need a PhD or any university degree to understand the beautifully detailed concepts this books proposes. Graphs, detailed maps and tables are strategically placed throughout to communicate complex management concepts and systems occurring on global, national and regional scales. The diversity of perspectives and expertise by contributing authors also offers solid foundations for any further exploration, whether it be legislation, economics or ecological theory. In essence, the book’s structure, the topics covered, and the use of succinct and simple language make this book accessible to all.

This book belongs on your bookshelf if… you’re interested in conservation management and/or want insight into socio-political influences driving conservation policies.

Head to the CSIRO Publishing website to purchase your copy. 

Leonardo Guida

Following a childhood love for sharks, Leo recently completed his PhD at Monash University investigating the effects of fishing on shark and ray populations. He is Director of Community Operations for Wild Melbourne.

You can find him on Twitter at @ElasmoBro.

Banner image courtesy of Evatt Chirgwin.