Seventeen marine tourism operators are splashing into conservation activities along the Great Barrier Reef as part of our Tourism Industry Activation and Reef Protection Initiative. Since getting underway in late February, they’ve notched up an impressive 177 days on the Reef, with 49 vessels at over 200 locations on more than 100 reefs.
The $3.2 million initiative aims to support existing frontline jobs in the Reef’s tourism industry, while simultaneously helping conserve high-value tourism sites along the Reef. Activities undertaken by operators are helping ensure that key tourism sites are maintained and ready to welcome visitors as COVID-19 travel restrictions continue to ease.
To date, this initiative has enabled 1230 days of employment for existing staff and the completion of hundreds of hours of site stewardship activities.
In February, our team kicked off the initiative by conducting training from the Far North to the Southern Great Barrier Reef, teaching over 80 tourism staff members to monitor and survey Reef health. Tourism partners are frequently out on the water, and can provide us with valuable information about changes in the environment they visit regularly and know well.
We use this data to track reef recovery after mass bleaching and gain an understanding of the bigger picture, which helps inform how we manage the Reef. Since the beginning of the initiative, marine tourism operators have submitted 562 Eye on the Reef surveys. The Eye on the Reef monitoring and assessment program enables anyone who visits the Great Barrier Reef to contribute to its long-term protection.
“Through this very intensive program, this important work will support and help improve reef resilience. The environmental information collected will in turn help the Reef Authority make important management decisions within the marine park.” - Doug Baird, Quicksilver Group Environment and Compliance Manager
In addition to these surveys, operators are completing in-water activities that support reef resilience, including removing macro-algae and culling crown-of-thorns starfish and Drupella snails and coral gardening.
Planting loose coral fragments on the Reef can help build new stable areas of live coral. This initiative has so far supported operators to undertake 84 hours of Reef research and plant 5626 coral fragments over 156 hours of work.
“Not only does this initiative provide vital information to reef authorities, it is a great opportunity for our team to dive deeper into the wonders of our fringing reefs! By providing more in-depth knowledge and research opportunities to our crew, we're excited to be able to further pass on this knowledge and information to our guests.” – Ocean Rafting
Operators are encouraging their guests to take part in the initiative when they visit the Reef, enriching their experience of this spectacular ecosystem. Knowledgeable staff improves the quality of tourism experience. When operators like Ocean Rafting communicate ecological processes to tourists, it increases awareness of threats to the Reef in the wider community.
Crown-of-thorns Starfish and Drupella
Operators are controlling pest species such as crown-of-thorns starfish and Drupella. These snails use their tongue, called a 'radula,' to eat live coral tissue and leave white feeding scars that can merge to form large areas that can become covered by algae.
Coral predators like Drupella are a natural part of a reef ecosystem, however if present in high enough numbers can have a big impact.
From late February until 30 March, the seventeen operators have removed 10,549 of these snails and 205 crown-of-thorns starfish culled, requiring 458 hours of site stewardship.
Marine tourism operators will continue to complete activities to protect and conserve the reef as part of the initiative until it wraps up on 30 June 2020. This initiative is part of the Australian Government’s $1 billon COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund to support regions, communities, and industry sectors severely affected by the coronavirus crisis.