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Australia To Create World's Largest Marine Reserve Network (PICTURES)

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Australia is to build the world's largest network of marine parks, more than three million sq km in size, ahead of the Rio +20 summit on climate change.

The country's environment minister, Tony Burke, announced the plans on Thursday, which will also see a ban laid down on oil and gas exploration in the area, including the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef.

Burke said that the plans will make the area the "largest marine protected area in the world."

The country currently has a total of 27 marine parks, which will increase to 60 once the new scheme is completed.

The news was met with varied opinion from special interest groups, with some praising the move, while other environmental groups criticised the areas chosen to be cordoned off from development.

great barrier reef

The new plans are an attempt to protect the habitats of the sea creatures in the area

"Offshore petroleum exploration hasn't been addressed properly by this process," one campaigner for the International Fund for Animal Welfare said.

"This is bad news for whales and dolphins because many of the areas where industry operates or wants to operate are also important habitats for whales and dolphins."

The leader of the opposition, the conservative Tony Abbott, criticised the scheme, claiming it would damage the rights of commercial fishers and commercial tourist operators".

great barrier reef

The Great Barrier Reef will be inside the 3 million sq km of ocean protected

However, the WWF welcomed the plan, calling it a "milestone" in environmental policy.

“By declaring more than one third of its waters as marine parks, Australia has made a major advance in marine conservation that is both nationally and globally significant. Coming on the eve of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development, this is an inspiring outcome for other countries to follow,” WWF-Australia's CEO Dermot O'Gorman said.

The announcement comes only weeks after Gina Rinehart, the mining magnate and world's richest woman worth nearly £20bn, had plans for a £4bn mine near the Great Barrier Reef shelved.

Her Alpha coal mining project in the area, which the environment minister labelled a "shambolic joke", has been postponed until its effects on the reef have been investigated.

Click through the slideshow below to see some of the species that the scheme will try to save...

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Australian Sea Reserves Plans
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