Former diver says marine plan flawed

Bill Sylvester
Bill Sylvester

Bill Silvester, who ran a dive shop at Byron Bay for many years from the early 1970s and who has spent thousands of hours underwater in the bay observing marine life, weighs into the debate over the controversial draft zoning plan for the Cape Byron Marine Park.

It was Christmas 1960 when I stole my first look at the underwater world surrounding the Julian Rocks.

At the time it was the most stunning and momentous dive of my life.

Here was an ecological wonderland where the marine life was so prolific one never knew where to look next, and the whole experience was quite enchanting.

We saw many giant cod, large jewfish and masses of other reef and pelagic species.

In 1963 I again drove north from Melbourne and re-visited Byron Bay and the Julian Rocks.

It was still the great treasure trove of marine brilliance that was enjoyed in 1960.

However, there were not quite so many giant cod.

After returning to Melbourne that year a goal was set to go and live in Byron Bay and develop a dive training and dive charter business.

The goal was achieved in February of 1973.

In the 10-year gap since 1963 I noted some changes in the ecology around the Julian Rocks.

To the average diver it was still fantastic, but to me the reef was under threat.

There were no controls in place to protect this magnificent area from tropical fish collectors, or spearfishermen who at that time were somewhat indiscriminate about what fish they speared.

I set to work to have the Julian Rocks declared a Marine Reserve.

It took nine years, much hard work and heartache and active corroboration with the then Department of State Fisheries and state politicians.

At the same time angst occurred amongst local amateur and professional fishermen who feared that a marine reserve would prohibit their rights to fish.

In 1982 the Julian Rocks was protected and a dream had come to pass - the first aquatic reserve in NSW.

The end result?

A balance which has benefited both divers and fishermen.

In the years from 1960, 63 and from 1973 to 1986 I often dived the Julian Rocks two to three times a day five to six days per week.

I spent thousands of hours underwater physically observing changes to the environment whilst teaching and training others to learn to SCUBA dive.

Now comes a proposal to greatly extend the size of the Cape Byron Marine Park. In looking at the proposal it is my fear and belief that the proposal is going far too far to the detriment of all of who love the sea, both on top and underneath.

It would appear that there is a solid 'green' influence in preparing the draft which has now come into my hands for comment.

The proposal begs the question 'How many men/women on the committee have actually dived the waters of Cape Byron - or anywhere else for that matter?'

If they have, do they have an intimate knowledge of the reefs in the Cape Byron waters, and where they start and where they finish?

Because if they do, they would not have put the proposal as it now stands. To put forward a proposal to lock up 95.68% of the reef to fishermen is absolutely ludicrous and unjustified. Most of the zones that they claim are open to fishermen are sand. The majority of fish are found over reefs.

Many years ago, Ken Thurlow and myself were on opposite sides re Julian Rocks the marine reserve. Since leaving the dive industry and becoming both a recreational diver and fishermen, I am in agreement with Ken Thurlow on many issues.

It would seem one of the reasons given for the proposed total lock up of the Ju- lian Rocks is to help protect the grey nurse shark.

In all the years that I have been in and around Byron Bay, I have never heard of a grey nurse shark either being speared or taken on line - if so it was always released unharmed.

The grey nurse shark mainly visit the Julian Rocks in numbers for less than two months a year. It is part of an annual pilgrimage. They arrive about the Queen's Birthday weekend in June and by the sec- ond week of August they are gone.

If those who are currently pushing to severely reduce activities of both divers and fishermen were to go out and dive the Julian Rocks and actually see for themselves what it is like today, they would realise that the marine life has increased dramatically over the last few years - due to responsible behaviour.

Fishermen and divers alike have realised the importance of taking care of the current marine reserve, obeyed the rules, and the results speak for themselves.

Surely it can be seen by the aggravation, frustration and anger currently exhibited by members of the public, that the Cape Byron Marine Park proposal is flawed in its present state.

The Cape Byron Marine Park is a great concept but out of balance to reality.

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