WHAT LIES BE­NEATH

Reef in spot­light as Cabi­net comes to visit Whit­sun­days

Whitsunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - Sharon Small­wood Sharon.Small­wood@ whit­sun­day­times.com.au

A Whit­sun­day tourism op­er­a­tor who vis­its the reef on a daily ba­sis tells the truth about the con­di­tion of our coral. The good news is it’s alive and well

A lo­cal farmer shares his path to best prac­tice on im­prov­ing wa­ter qual­ity for the Great Bar­rier Reef

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Steven Miles de­fends the level of fund­ing at­trib­uted to the Whit­sun­day reef but prom­ises more will be spent

Cit­i­zen science? Just how do our eyes on the reef shape up?

GARY Kilby has been snorkelling and div­ing on Whit­sun­day reefs for more than two decades and says Hardy Reef is in the best con­di­tion he has seen for more than 20 years.

Now the gen­eral man­ager of op­er­a­tions for Cruise Whit­sun­days, Mr Kilby is as baf­fled by the lat­est in­ter­na­tional me­dia re­ports about the Great Bar­rier Reef’s sup­posed demise as many other tourism op­er­a­tors in the re­gion.

“Of course there are on­go­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal threats to the reef like Crown of Thorns, Dru­pella Snails, tem­per­a­ture and other weather fac­tors, and we can never be com­pla­cent about our role in car­ing for the reef – but it’s been dis­ap­point­ing to hear con­tin­u­ous neg­a­tive re­ports about the reef being dead when that’s sim­ply not the case here in the Whit­sun­days,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to its op­er­a­tions at Hardy and Knuckle reefs, Cruise Whit­sun­days also vis­its fring­ing is­land reefs as part of its di­verse range of day tours, with an ac­tive on-board ma­rine bi­ol­ogy team.

“We have found that in all ar­eas of our op­er­a­tion there has been lit­tle to no dam­age to lo­cal coral reefs as a re­sult of the coral bleach­ing event,” CEO Nick Hor­tle said.

Mr Hor­tle’s state­ment is backed by an As­so­ci­a­tion of Ma­rine Park Tourism Op­er­a­tors sur­veil­lance pro­gram un­der­taken in Septem­ber 2016, which found the most no­table dam­age was storm dam­age “due to the na­ture of the site – a steep slope dom­i­nated by branch coral”.

“Over­all the Hardy Pon­toon site is healthy with a high coral cover and abun­dant ma­rine life,” the report said.

Fur­ther data col­lected by Cruise Whit­sun­days showed wa­ter tur­bid­ity re­mained sta­ble with only a slight tem­per­a­ture in­crease.

Great Bar­rier Reef Ma­rine Park Au­thor­ity in­dus­try en­gage­ment of­fi­cer Chris Jones said no other op­er­a­tor on the Great Bar­rier Reef had ever used all four meth­ods of GBRMPA data col­lec­tion at such fre­quency as Cruise Whit­sun­days.

“It re­ally is the poster child for what we would like the whole in­dus­try to be do­ing,” he said.

Queens­land’s En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter, Dr Steven Miles, said being in the Whit­sun­days for Com­mu­nity Cabi­net, it was “pretty easy to see why tourists from all over the world flock here”.

Frus­trated him­self by “ir­re­spon­si­ble me­dia re­ports”, Dr Miles con­firmed for­tu­nately the Whit­sun­days had es­caped the worst of the bleach­ing event ear­lier this year, with the most se­vere oc­cur­rences in the re­mote north­ern third of the ma­rine park, which ex­pe­ri­enced the great­est heat stress.

“The Great Bar­rier Reef Ma­rine Park Au­thor­ity’s pre­lim­i­nary find­ings in­di­cate a coral mor­tal­ity of 22% but they are do­ing more surveys this month,” he said.

Dr Miles said the re­cent bleach­ing event was trig­gered by record­break­ing sea sur­face tem­per­a­tures caused by global ocean warm­ing through cli­mate change com­bined with a strong El Nino.

“Whilst this is deeply sad­den­ing in it­self, the reef is re­silient,” he said.

“Re­cent stud­ies have shown that in the three years prior to the bleach­ing, coral cover in­creased by 19% across the ma­rine park.”

Peter Far­rell, who co-owns Reef Sa­fari, the com­pany con­tracted to Cruise Whit­sun­days for its dive op­er­a­tions, said in 30 years this year was lit­tle dif­fer­ent to oth­ers.

“Ear­lier this year there was a lit­tle bit of bleach­ing you could see – and I mean a lit­tle bit – and only in very shal­low wa­ter and near the sur­face,” he said.

“And re­mem­ber just the fact coral has bleached doesn’t mean it dies and al­gae that’s been ex­pelled can’t move back in.

“(That being said) coral is an an­i­mal and all an­i­mals do die at some point but you also have re­gen­er­a­tion and growth.”

Over­all the Hardy Pon­toon site is healthy with a high coral cover and abun­dant ma­rine life — AMPTO

PHOTO: CHRIS MCLEN­NAN / CRUISE WHIT­SUN­DAYS

COLOUR BE­LOW THE SEA: The scene at Hardy Reef, where op­er­a­tors say the coral is alive and well with min­i­mal ev­i­dence of bleach­ing.

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