Nine presenter enjoys clear waters after Debbie recovery
THE irony of immersing herself in the spectacular beauty of the Great Barrier Reef on a picture-perfect morning - exactly three months after Cyclone Debbie tore through the Whitsundays - was not lost on Sylvia Jeffreys during her recent trip to the region.
The Channel Nine Today Show presenter said visiting the reef, from a reopened Hamilton Island four weeks ago, was a "remarkable" experience.
"It was so nice just to put my head under the water and see all the marine life. It's all about being up close and personal with the reef and there is something truly awe-inspiring when you first see all that life under the water," she said.
"As soon as your face breaks the water and you see all these marvellous fish and colours zipping around the coral, you really have this humbling feeling of 'this is their territory and I'm really lucky to be here'.
"It's a unique natural icon that is bigger and better than anything else like it in the world.
"It's something that we're very proud of in this country and the reality is that if we want to hold onto our boasting rights when it comes to the reef… we have to take responsibility for its future and its sustainability and I think a big part of that is being there and supporting the tourism industry there.
Ms Jeffreys said she believed it was important to educate ourselves about the reef and take some ownership about how to keep it thriving.
Her comments came as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) voted not to add the Great Barrier Reef to its list of sites in danger.
The decision was a relief to the tourism industry with the reef now estimated to be worth $56 billion.
Tourism Whitsundays Chief Executive Craig Turner said the Great Barrier Reef remained a "world-class" destination.
"If anything the experience you'll get at the Great Barrier Reef post Cyclone Debbie is probably better when you consider the improvements to the facilities," he said.
Mr Turner said visitors were still getting the best when it came to snorkelling and diving, but facilities such as the pontoon at Reef World had been improved.
He said tourism at the reef was experiencing "solid" numbers and was back to business as usual.
"The Whitsundays on their worst day are better than most places on their best day. We're still a beautiful destination with blue water, the trees are green, the beaches are white; those inherent values that we have are abundant and they're ready to be enjoyed by our visitors," he said.
"That's not to say people aren't still hurting in some businesses, but as a region we're going alright, we're toughing it out.
"People are still gobsmacked by how beautiful the destination is."
Mr Turner said the industry was working hard and was determined to return to record pre-cyclone visitor numbers.
While tourism is expected to flourish, the highly anticipated decision from UNESCO did include concerns about the reef's health and it urged improved water quality targets and land clearing laws.
Whitsunday conservationist and diver Tony Fontes said although the UNESCO decision to keep a watch on the reef (The World Heritage Committee will next consider the health of the reef in 2020) provided an air of relief, the natural wonder remained in danger because of climate change.
"Overall it's best to keep the world heritage listing and the government is indicating this is a win, but the fact that it potentially could be put on the list is a terrible thing," he said.
"People have to recognise that it's not listed as a danger but it's certainly under pressure and if we want to maintain its glory there's a lot of work to be done that's currently not being done by our State and Federal governments."
Mr Fontes said water quality regulations needed to be introduced and enforced to ensure better land use practices.
"(But) obviously the big elephant in the room is climate change, which is fuelled by global warming, which we know is fuelled by burning fossil fuels and until Australia gets serious about their climate change policy then we're not exactly leading the world … and yet we're the custodians of the Great Barrier Reef and we've got more to lose than anybody else."
Mr Fontes, who has been diving since 1978, said he "absolutely" feared for the future of the reef and believes it would be "selfish" of us not to maintain the reef for future generations.
"At the same time I'm hopeful because of the resilience of the reef," he said.
He said the Great Barrier Reef was an economic powerhouse and to lose the reef also would mean to lose a tremendous income and generator of jobs.