Despite issuing a pre-Easter warning, Great Barrier Reef authorities were disappointed to encounter a high volume and array of illegal activity threatening the health of the Reef, and the communities dependent on it, over the long weekend.
While data is still coming in from partner agencies, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority alone detected 39 illegal activities across the Marine Park.
This included everything from fishing in protected no-take green zones, entering no-access pink and orange zones, and unpermitted activities by commercial vessels.
The two commercial detections were from a helicopter which sighted these vessels trolling within a no-take green zone (note: not commercial fishing).
Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays was a hotspot for illegal recreational fishing with nine offences detected on Easter Sunday. The Newry Islands off Mackay were also a hotspot with six detections over the break.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Reef Joint Field Management Program director Chris Cochrane acknowledged it was a difficult time for everyone, but it did not excuse illegal behaviour.
“The Zoning Plan is one of the key tools we have to protect the Great Barrier Reef and the communities, livelihoods and cultures dependent on it,” Mr Cochrane said.
“When people don’t use zones the way they should – whether it’s because they don’t know, or think they can avoid detection – they are undermining the Reef and its ability to recover from impacts like bleaching and cyclones.
“We understand this is a challenging time for the whole community, but the Great Barrier Reef is under pressure now more than ever, particularly in the face of severe and widespread coral bleaching and we need people to do the right thing.”
The Marine Park Authority and its Reef Joint Field Management Program partner, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, are continuing enhanced patrolling efforts both in the air and on water, to match the ongoing good weather, with use of the Marine Park expected to remain high throughout the remainder of the month.
“Community members should ensure they are up-to-date with all government health and safety requirements at this time and follow that advice,” Mr Cochrane said.
Anyone visiting the Reef should understand where they’re going and what’s allowed by using a free zoning map, understanding how to use their chart plotters, and downloading the free Eye on the Reef App, which works outside of mobile range to pinpoint the on-water location, identify the zone, and show the relevant rules that apply.
Fishers can find more information about the app and how to help protect their special patch of the Reef: http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/access-and-use/zoning/protect-your-patch.
Suspected illegal activity can be reported to 24-hour free hotline 1800 380 048, or online: www.gbrmpa.gov.au/report-an-incident.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service are partners in the Reef Joint Field Management Program: a 40-year program dedicated to protecting the Great Barrier Reef.
Image caption: Easter patrols detected 39 illegal activities across the Marine Park, © GBRMPA.