The Coral Sea must be declared a protected zone to save sharks and some other marine species from rapid extinction, says the conservation group WWF.
The organisation says two separate reports show many Coral Sea marine species are isolated and vulnerable to overfishing.
It is home to populations of whitetip and grey reef sharks, nautilus, maori wrasse and other fish species, which WWF says have been decimated in similar habitats around the world.
“For this reason alone, we are renewing our calls to the federal government to declare the entire Coral Sea a marine protected area,” WWF spokeswoman Gilly Llewellyn said.
“Without protection, these species are highly vulnerable to human impacts which could easily and quickly wipe them out,” Dr Llewellyn said.
Andy Dunstan, author of the report, Coral Sea Biodiversity Review: Sharks and Fish, said the vulnerability of marine populations in the Coral Sea was exacerbated by the fact many Coral Sea shark, mollusc and fish species live in close association with individual reefs.
They have minimal range and little or no movement to surrounding reefs.
“The restricted movement of these animals makes their populations highly susceptible to human impacts,” he said.
Preliminary findings from another piece of research, conducted by shark expert Richard Fitzpatrick, also suggests the limited range of some of the Coral Sea species puts them at great risk.
A recent satellite tagging and listening research expedition led by Mr Fitzpatrick revealed the range of endangered local whitetip, silvertip and grey reef sharks was restricted to between one and three kilometres around Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea.
“Whitetip, silvertip and grey reef sharks … are remarkably endangered, even listed on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species,” he said.
He said Australia had a global responsibility to ensure oceanic reefs and inhabiting marine life within its jurisdiction are given the protection they deserve.