Environment Minister Matt Kean has publicly offered to take Bega MP Andrew Constance diving at Montague Island and says "science" will decide Batemans Marine Park no-take zones.
The NSW MP was responding to a question on sanctuary zones at the Nature Conservation Council annual conference on Saturday, October 31, held via an online platform.
Asked in a videoed segment if he would take "urgent action" to fully restore no-take zones opened to recreational fishing in December, 2019, Mr Kean said: "Well, the simple answer is 'yes'."
"We're going to work with the scientists, we're going to work with the experts and we're going to make decisions based on their advice," the minister said.
Mr Kean said any decision must wait until the current review of no-take zones was completed, but "I'm going to take the same approach to marine parks as I do to climate change".
"Let's listen to the science, let's listen to the experts, and let's make policy in line with that advice," he said.
Mr Kean then flagged a dive trip with Mr Constance as part of an "environmental diplomacy" campaign to convince Coalition members of the benefits of "environmental treasures" - a campaign he said would not be "easy".
"I'm heading down to Montague Island very shortly," Mr Kean said.
"I'm going to be taking the local member diving at Montague Island so he too can see what a wonderful environmental asset this is.
"This is what I call 'environmental diplomacy'. I'm going to convince some of my more sceptical colleagues about the wonderful treasures and assets we have in our environment.
"It's not an easy task, but it is one worth fighting for.
"I am going to back myself to convince the most sceptical of people in the Coalition about the importance of this agenda."
He said his goal was that "we leave our planet, leave our assets like Montague Island and the Batemans Bay Marine Park better than we found it".
Australian Community Media has sought comment from Mr Constance.
The Nature Coast Marine Group, which has been campaigning under the banner "Save our Sancturaries", welcomed Mr Kean's comments and his proposed visit.
Spokesperson Bill Barker said: "This is the first reassuring news we've heard from the NSW Government since it announced the surprise scrapping of these sanctuaries in December 2019."
"This gives us hope that the NSW Government is finally prepared to listen to the science and hear first-hand what our local community has to say about our valued marine assets," Mr Barker said.
"But the timing is now urgent given recent revelations that Montague Island's global conservation standing is in jeopardy due to the removal of 'no-take' sanctuary protections."
Mr Barker said Montague Island Nature Reserve was placed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) green list in 2014 - one of only two other NSW sites and 46 around the world.
"IUCN green listing recognises excellence in protected area management," he said.
"Achieving this important international accolade was a tribute to years of work by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, in collaboration with Aboriginal groups, the local community and dedicated volunteers.
"The Montague sanctuary zones (South and East) provide habitat for the critically endangered grey nurse shark, as well as fur seals, little penguins, migrating seabirds and also the ecologically important blue groper.
"Many of the species around Montague now face greater risk of injury from accidental hooking, vessel strike, anchoring and entanglement. These risks will escalate over summer as the sanctuary areas are heavily targeted by fishers.
"Montague Island is a magnet for visitors who come here to see a haven for thriving wildlife.
"We are confident that when Matt Kean and local member Andrew Constance go diving into the bio-diverse waters off Montague Island, they will appreciate just how important it is to protect this remarkable marine habitat."
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