CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia moved to set up the world's biggest marine park on Friday to protect vast areas of the Coral Sea off the country's northeast coast and the site of fierce naval battles during World War Two.
Environment Minister Tony Burke said the park would cover almost 1 million square km -- an area the size of France and Germany combined -- and would help protect fish, pristine coral reefs and nesting sites for sea birds and the green turtle.
"The environmental significance of the Coral Sea lies in its diverse array of coral reefs, sandy cays, deep sea plains and canyons," Burke said. "It contains more than 20 outstanding examples of isolated tropical reefs, sandy cays and islands."
The new park would also cover ships sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea, a series of naval engagements between Japanese, American and Australian forces in 1942, considered the world's first aircraft carrier battle.
Three U.S. ships were known to have sunk in the northeastern area of the Coral Sea, the USS Lexington, the USS Sims and the USS Neosho, Burke said.
The government will finalize what limits will be imposed on the Coral Sea marine park, which will be within Australia's economic zone, in 90 days.
The world's largest reserve currently was established by Britain last year around the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, which includes coral atoll The Great Chagos Bank.