Tourism in­dus­try coun­ters bad news

Mas­sive co­ral bleach­ing event makes global head­lines

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS - Madi­son Wil­liams

THE grim news about the ex­tent of the co­ral bleach­ing of the Great Bar­rier Reef north of Cairns is mak­ing head­lines around the world.

On Mon­day night Pro­fes­sor Terry Hughes, con­venor of the Na­tional Co­ral Bleach­ing Task­force, went pub­lic with the re­sults of his re­cent aerial sur­vey of 4000km of reef.

Pro­fes­sor Hughes said 95 per cent of the north­ern Great Bar­rier Reef is se­verely bleached, with only four of the 520 reefs he sur­veyed show­ing no signs of bleach­ing.

“Al­most ev­ery reef we flew across showed con­sis­tently high lev­els of bleach­ing, from the reef slope right up onto the top of the reef,” said Pro­fes­sor Hughes.

Pro­fes­sor Hughes pre­dicts half of the af­fected corals could due dur­ing the phe­nom­e­non.

The story has ap­peared on the Wall Street Jour­nal, UK Tele­graph, the BBC, CBS News and the Daily Mail, and is trend­ing on Face­book.

Lo­cal tourism oper­a­tors and tourism au­thor­i­ties, vi­tally con­cerned for the prospects of the $6 bil­lion in­dus­try which is an im­por­tant em­ployer in Port Dou­glas, this week sought to re­as­sure their mar­kets and stake­hold­ers.

Tourism Port Dou­glas Dain­tree ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Tara Ben­nett said her or­gan­i­sa­tion will be work­ing hard to mit­i­gate some “ex­ces­sively neg­a­tive and un­true com­ments” that have started to cir­cu­late.

“We will be look­ing at the mes­sag­ing that is go­ing out to en­sure that po­ten­tial visi­tors are as­sured the ex­pe­ri­ence will be en­joy­able,” said Ms Ben­nett.

“There’s no way 95 per cent of the reef off Port Dou­glas is se­verely bleached, it’s un­true.

“The reef fleets, the guys that are out there ev­ery day, are deny­ing it’s hap­pen­ing.

“We are get­ting re­ally mixed mes­sages as to the level of bleach­ing that has oc­curred.

“We’re as­sess­ing the situation in col­lab­o­ra­tion with oper­a­tors to as­cer­tain what’s hap­pen­ing in our reef sys­tem.”

Tony Baker, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of ma­jor Port Dou­glas and Cairns reef boat op­er­a­tor Quick­sil­ver said the ghostly white ar­eas are fur­ther north than most tourists travel.

“The ar­eas where it is re­ally bad is Lizard Is­land – we are see­ing min­i­mal, if any co­ral bleach­ing on our tourist sites,” said Mr Baker.

“On the flats and the sur­face co­ral there is pal­ing re­ported but as you go deeper and the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture cools the reef is still healthy.”

Chris Jones, op­er­a­tions man­ager of Trop­i­cal Jour­neys which op­er­ates out of Port Dou­glas, said: “Yes, we have seen it [co­ral bleach­ing] a lot. The ma­jor­ity of it is in the shal­lows, any­thing above four me­tres of depth has been af­fected,” said Mr Jones.

“Talk­ing with the crew ev­ery­one agrees that it is pretty con­sis­tently af­fected across all the reefs in the shal­low wa­ter. I don’t know about ‘se­verely’, al­though it is con­cern­ing.”

Pic­ture: PAUL O’DOWD

Tourists snorkelling on Opal Reef this week

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