ALIVE AND KICK­ING

Tourism oper­a­tors re­fute re­ports of mass dam­age to reef

Whitsunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - Louise Shan­non

SO­CIAL me­dia posts and news cov­er­age high­light­ing the on­go­ing detri­men­tal ef­fects of Cy­clone Deb­bie to the Great Bar­rier Reef have caused con­cern among some Whit­sun­day tour oper­a­tors who are wor­ried peo­ple will lose hope in the reef.

Red Cat Ad­ven­tures sales and mar­ket­ing man­ager Chloe Autridge said she had seen im­ages on­line of peo­ple snorkelling amid brown wa­ter “which is ab­so­lutely not what it’s like at the mo­ment”.

She said her tour com­pany had re­ceived calls from peo­ple want­ing to check if they should bother com­ing to the Whit­sun­days which was “quite detri­men­tal”.

“We are back up and run­ning. There was dam­age sus­tained, but there’s so many snorkelling spots… the ones that weren’t shel­tered were af­fected, but we’ve gone out and searched and been re­ally suc­cess­ful in find­ing new sites,” she said.

Ms Autridge said although there were a lot of neg­a­tive sto­ries af­ter the cy­clone it was im­por­tant to re­gain hope, stick to­gether as a com­mu­nity and help each other.

Man­ager of the Great Bar­rier Reef Marine Park Author­ity’s Eye on the Reef pro­gram, Fiona Merida, said sur­veys of dam­age to reefs had shown sur­pris­ing re­sults, as one part of the reef could be com­pletely af­fected, while 300 me­tres away there would be an area un­touched by the cy­clone.

Her pro­gram aimed to iden­tify sites which still pro­vided beau­ti­ful co­ral so th­ese ar­eas could be given good pro­tec­tion for regeneration and also for tourists to visit.

The Queens­land Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice (QPWS) was also busy dur­ing June, look­ing at 13 off­shore reefs in the Whit­sun­days to de­ter­mine the ex­tent and sever­ity of dam­age from Cy­clone Deb­bie.

Man­ager of op­er­a­tions sup­port in the field man­age­ment unit for GBRMPA, Mark Read, con­curred the dam­age was patchy, so while some parts of the reef had lost co­ral, other parts of the same reef were left with live co­ral that was un­harmed.

“And that’s cer­tainly what they found when they looked at those 13 reefs off­shore from the Whit­sun­days,” he said.

Mr Read added it was im­por­tant to con­cen­trate on the over­all re­silience of the reef and fac­tors we could con­trol such as wa­ter qual­ity, zon­ing, pro­tec­tion from the crown-of-thorns starfish, col­lab­o­ra­tion with tour oper­a­tors, and con­trol­ling fish­ing.

Ocean Raft­ing owner Jan Clax­ton agreed.

“We lost some of our favourite snorkel spots which were com­pletely dev­as­tated. But now we’ve found tracks of co­ral that you wouldn’t even know had been through a cy­clone,” she said.

Full story and pho­tos at whit­sun­day­times.com.au

PHOTO: RED CAT AD­VEN­TURES

FULL OF LIFE: A vis­i­tor with Red Cat Ad­ven­tures en­joy­ing a pos­i­tive reef ex­preience post Cy­clone Deb­bie.

PHO­TOS: OCEAN RAFT­ING/GBRMPA

NOW: A snorkeller and (in­set) Elmer Ten-Haken con­duct­ing reef health im­pact sur­veys.

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