All bleached out?

The truth about the Whit­sun­day's coral reefs

Whitsunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Rory Sheav­ils

WE HEAR it all the time – our coral is bleached and the Great Bar­rier Reef is dy­ing. But on the other hand we’re told bleach­ing is at its worst in north­ern sec­tions of the reef, with the con­di­tion of our coral im­prov­ing the fur­ther south we go. So what re­ally is the truth about the Whit­sun­days’ coral reefs? Inside to­day, we bring you: Ac­counts from the op­er­a­tors who visit the reef Up-to-date pho­tos from our dive sites A sci­en­tist’s view on the con­di­tion of coral in our re­gion A warn­ing not to be com­pla­cent about one of our great­est nat­u­ral trea­sures

THERE’S no deny­ing it, coral bleach­ing is an in­ter­na­tional is­sue.

But here in the Whit­sun­days, our op­er­a­tors ex­plain the reef is still beau­ti­ful.

Man­taray Char­ters dive in­struc­tor John Bis­sell said he had seen bleached coral, but the vast ma­jor­ity re­mained un­touched.

“It’s still beau­ti­ful, it’s still lovely,” he said.

“There may just be the odd coral head that’s sort of start­ing to bleach and oc­ca­sion­ally there’s the odd patches.”

Whit­sun­day Es­cape man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Trevor Rees said his cus­tomers re­mained in awe of the reef’s beauty.

“I haven’t had any of our cus­tomers re­port­ing any is­sues in the Whit­sun­days, but they may not know what to look for ei­ther,” he said.

Great Bar­rier Reef Divers spokesper­son Tony Fontes has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence on the reef, say­ing some ar­eas are more bleached than oth­ers.

“(In some ar­eas) I had to look close to find any bleach­ing at all, but I’ve been to sites where you don’t have to look close,” he said.

“(Vis­i­tors) aren’t go­ing to see reef that’s bleached.

“That could cer­tainly hap­pen fur­ther north, but not here.”

Mr Fontes said the reef was still very much open for busi­ness and tourists would still get the full Great Bar­rier Reef ex­pe­ri­ence.

“They’re not go­ing to come here and be dis­ap­pointed any more this year than last year be­cause the bleach­ing has been rel­a­tively low key,” he said.

“It might be a dif­fer­ent story if they went fur­ther north.”

Tourism Whit­sun­days chair­man Al Grundy said we had dodged a bul­let dur­ing the most re­cent bleach­ing event.

“We have been very for­tu­nate that our reefs have not been greatly im­pacted by bleach­ing,” he said.

“The rain with cloud cover in early April cooled wa­ter tem­per­a­tures by a few de­grees.”

This cer­tainly doesn’t mean we should be­come com­pla­cent how­ever.

“When you see pho­to­graphs of the bleach­ing in far north Queens­land it is a worry ob­vi­ously be­cause we don’t want that to hap­pen here,” Mr Bis­sell said.

“The main mes­sage is that if you visit the reef, just re­spect it.”

Mr Fontes agreed, say­ing we needed to take a global and lo­cal ap­proach.

“To pre­tend there is no bleach­ing, I don’t think that’s any good,” he said.

“It’s a big pic­ture and the ac­tions have to fo­cus on the big pic­ture, which is cli­mate change.

“We need to start im­prov­ing the wa­ter qual­ity, which ba­si­cally means reg­u­lat­ing what comes off the land.”

Photo: Ocean Raft­ing

DEEP BLUE: Coral bleach­ing has be­come a ma­jor talk­ing point along Queens­land’s coast, but how do things re­ally stand in the Whit­sun­days?

The coral reefs be­tween Tongue Bay and the north­ern tip of Hook Is­land re­main a riot of colour. Photo: Ocean Raft­ing.

Lun­cheon Bay re­mains a colour­ful par­adise. Photo: Dmitriy Ko­marov / Man­taray Char­ters.

Vis­i­tors to Lun­cheon Bay will still see all the beau­ti­ful coral colours. Photo: Dmitriy Ko­marov / Man­taray Char­ters.

Bleached coral at Bali Hai Reef. Photo Dr Ty­rone Ridg­way.

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