In March 2017 severe ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie swept through the Whitsundays region of Queensland devastating both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The tourism industry suffered greatly due to a reduced number of visitors to the region. Some of the most popular tourism snorkelling and dive sites were directly hit by the cyclone and received major damage. This had an immediate impact environmentally and economically. Consequently the tourism industry felt it was important to investigate options to implement restorative actions such as coral gardening at the damaged sites. The Australian and Queensland Governments provided joint funding to the region to promote the development of new industries and infrastructure to support the local tourism industry. Following a competitive Expression of Interest process, Reef Ecologic was successful in being funded for their Underwater tourism infrastructure in the Whitsundays project.
Coral reefs are the foundation of our oceans and without them the ecosystem collapses – without the coral there’s no other marine life — fish, sharks, sea turtles all disappear. With climate change already causing alarming rates of death in corals worldwide and the Great Barrier Reef having been greatly affected by this as well as recent storms, it’s urgent now to invest in coral reef restoration.
Planeterra has supported Reef Ecologic to integrate their reef restoration programs into tourism experiences in the Whitsundays. Planeterra sponsored the development of a new coral garden in the Whitsundays as well as the creation of learning materials for travellers. Reef restoration (marine rehabilitation) involves the collection of coral fragments either from donor colonies where reefs remain healthy or using coral fragments that are generated by disturbances (‘corals of opportunity’) to grow new coral colonies. Fragments are transported to a nursery where they are grown for several months (around 6-12 months depending on the species), using multiple methods.
Through this partnership, Reef Ecologic has secured long term funding for monitoring efforts for the coral garden through tourism. This allows community members actively engaged in reef recovery to use the equipment necessary to see the coral thrive. Reintegrating tourism back into the Whitsundays allows for communities to benefit and the marine environment to begin to thrive once again.