Protecting marine tourism: Divers at work on Great Barrier Reef coral nursery
Great Barrier Reef supports a $6 billion a year tourism industry
A team of seven Reef Restoration Foundation divers are continuing to maintain coral nurseries and plant corals off Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef with more than 270 dives since work resumed in April.
Reef Restoration Foundation Chief Executive Officer Rob Giason said the not-for-profit organisation developed a COVID-19 response plan to meet government requirements and support the maintenance and science programs for their two nurseries at Fitzroy Island and Hastings Reef.
“April was our busiest month with the dive team traveling on Seastar Cruises to work at the nurseries while regular Great Barrier Reef trips were suspended,” he said.
“We were pleased to see that the 20 coral trees at Fitzroy Island had not been affected by bleaching following high sea surface temperatures in February.
“The dive teams were able to lower those trees from a depth of 5 metres to 10 metres when the water temperatures started to increase.
“However, warmer temperatures had already hit Hastings Reef by the time we lowered those trees which resulted in a small level of mortality from bleaching.
“The corals located on the lower branches of the 10 trees at Hastings Reef showed the least evidence of bleaching and have recovered well.
“This month we are reviewing the data to assess how we undertake a partial restock of the Hastings Reef nursery to bring it back to its full capacity.
“Corals at the Fitzroy Island Nursery have shown healthy growth rates and the onset of the southeast trade winds from mid-April cooled water temperatures allowing 394 corals from the nursery to be outplanted to the reef slope off Bird Rock at Fitzroy Island.
“Reef Restoration Foundation has planted a total of 849 corals from the Fitzroy Island Nursery and stabilized 1651 broken pieces of coral from the seabed as part of the Corals of Opportunity program.”
Mr Giason said Reef Restoration Foundation had partnered with Cairns family-owned Seastar Cruises to develop the nursery near their Hastings Reef mooring, 56km off Cairns.
“It is the first of four outer Great Barrier Reef nurseries approved by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority with plans to establish the next one at Moore Reef in September, a program made possible with the support of the NAB Foundation.
“We want to work closely with tourism operators to develop a viable business model to restore and maintain high-value coral reefs that can be expanded to other sites on the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.
“The Great Barrier Reef supports a $6 billion a year tourism industry and approximately 40,000 tourism jobs, so this project aims to assist tourism operators to care for the health of the section of reef they operate in.
“The marine tourism industry relies upon a healthy and resilient reef and is urgently seeking appropriate management techniques that support the values of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, while also enabling sustainable tourism operations to occur.
“Many of the high-value sites utilized by the tourism industry are situated in Marine National Park Green Zones, which places strict protections on the activities that can be undertaken in these zones.
“Coral reef restoration is a priority initiative in the Great Barrier Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan and coral gardening activities have been undertaken internationally for more than three decades.”