Chris McLennan

Reef alive and beautiful

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 record- breaking 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.”


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