Divers fined $12k for taking protected coral near Tannum

'A MISTAKE' cost two coral harvest divers from commercial operator Oz Reef Connections an $8000 fine after they were caught illegally taking coral in a protected Green Zone of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in waters off Gladstone.

The divers, Bradley Jolly, 42, and David Shkreli, 45, pleaded guilty in Gladstone Magistrates Court to the Commonwealth charge of engaging in conduct in a zone/under a zoning plan that is prohibited.

The Cairns men did not appear but their guilty pleas were submitted by their lawyer Tina Hall.

The mistake was blamed on them not having proper maps and "confusion" over the cursor on their GPS screen.

Aquarium diver Benjamin Thomson, 31, from the Sunshine Coast was also fined $4000 after he pleaded guilty to the same charge, the offences occurring at Rodds Peninsula (south east of Tannum Sands) on May 29 last year.

Thomson, a 2011 state spear fishing champion, told the court "it was just a mistake".

2011 state spear fishing champion Benjamin Thomson from the Sunshine Coast leaves Gladstone Courthouse after his $4000 fine
2011 state spear fishing champion Benjamin Thomson from the Sunshine Coast leaves Gladstone Courthouse after his $4000 fine Ross Irby

"It was an honest mistake and we will do everything we can to make sure it never happens again," he told magistrate Richard Lehmann.

"It's not something we want to make a habit by going into a Green Zone. We don't do these things on purpose."

DPP Commonwealth prosecutor Sophie Harburg said the maximum penalty for the offence was $170,000.

Ms Harburg said the divers had 25 pieces of coral and it was only coincidence their illegal activities were discovered by Qld Parks and Wildlife Service rangers who came across their commercial vessel The Hammerhead anchored within the Green Zone.

The taking of marine plants and coral is prohibited in the zone.

Magistrate Richard Lehmann asked her if the divers mistakenly believed they were in a Yellow Zone, or had GPS and maps.

Ms Harburg said the divers had different permits but what they did by taking live coral in a Green Zone was strictly prohibited, and a strict liability offence.

"They did return the coral to the water when instructed by the Qld National Parks ranger," she said.

"But in all likelihood the corals would not have survived.

Coral theft was
Coral theft was "a mistake", the court heard. Contributed

"It attaches to a large group of coral or and it would have been levered off."

Ms Hall said Jolly and Shkreli were both Reef Guardians members and qualified professional commercial divers.

However, she said the divers placed the coral back on the sea floor which would have allowed it to survive.

But the prosecutor did not accept that, with Ms Harburg saying the Crown understood the best chances for survival would be reattaching the coral pieces and they were unlikely to have lived.

Ms Harburg said when rangers came across the vessel, Jolly was onboard and the other two men were diving.

"Mr Jolly says he thought they were in the Blue Zone. Later he says he thought it the Yellow Zone," she said.

"Mr Shkreli surfaced and says he thought it was the Yellow Zone."

Ms Harburg said both Jolly and Thomson say they were confused as to where the vessel was because of the cursor on the GPS screen.

The prosecutor said legislation was in place to protect marine life in the GBRMP from excessive human interaction because of its ecological fragile nature and their offences in failing to comply with legislation puts this in jeopardy in preserving a valuable natural resource.

"Each is a commercial diver and all are experienced. Whether their location inside a Green Zone was intentional or not they are professionals and should know where they are," Ms Harburg said.

"A significant amount of coral was collected and it would be reasonable to assume more would have been collected."

In their defence Ms Hall said her two clients had permits to collect and sell coral and had entered the Green Zone unintentionally.

"They simply didn't realise and were quite shocked when they learnt where they were," Ms Hall said.

"They acknowledge it was their own fault.

"They were on a different vessel that day which didn't have zoning maps."

"The cursor on the GPS was not working properly and indicated they were in a Yellow Zone."

"Mr Jolly says he was gutted. Mr Shkreli says both were devastated. and they are truly sorry for their actions."

Mr Lehmann found their offending was not deliberate with no difference in the level of offending. He fined each diver $4000 and recorded convictions.


The case of illegal collection of coral from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park heard in Gladstone Magistrates Court is the first prosecution of illegal coral collecting since the rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 2004.

A spokeswoman for the GBRMP Authority revealed the successful prosecution of three professional divers was the first such case in its 14 years.

GBRMPA replied to a series of questions sent by this paper:

  • To be part of the coral collecting harvest fishery industry, which is based on individual quotas, you must be licensed by Fisheries Queensland
  • You must also have a permit from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority if the activity occurs within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
  • The coral collecting harvest fishery sector takes corals for the purpose of selling them to the aquarium industry
  • There are currently 22 permits for the coral collecting harvest fishery
  • Coral take for the harvest fishery is not allowed in green zones, and coral can only be taken by hand or by using hand-held implements
  • Regular patrols to detect illegal activities are carried out by field management staff from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

Key points:

The website for Cairns based Oz Reef Connections states it supplies a wide range of Australian corals, live rock, invertebrates and marine fish to retail stores and international outlets.

The family company is a member of Pro-vision Reef, an association of licensed aquarium fish and coral collectors that promotes Sustainable Reef Harvest and they work to help protect the reef.

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