Exploration near Rowley Shoals to be restricted

Environmentalists say a Federal Government decision to restrict oil and gas exploration near a protected reef off Western Australia's Kimberley coast, does not go far enough.

An exploration permit to allow companies to drill less than 10 kilometres from the Rowley Shoals Marine Park, was not taken up, and the Commonwealth will not re-issue it.

The permit was offered last year.

The Federal Resources Minister says no companies applied for the permit which is partly why it will not be re-issued.

The decision follows a campaign by environmental groups to halt drilling around the site which is hailed as the one the world's pristine coral reefs.

Australia's World Wildlife Fund's Paul Gamblin welcomes the news but says the reef is still under threat.

"This is an important decision but it is only a temporary reprieve for the Rowley Shoals," he said.

"What we need to see is the Government follow up by creating a marine park, or at least an oil and gas exclusion zone around the shoals, so the community be confident they'll be protected into the future."

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