With No Tourists, Australian Scuba Tours Are Planting Coral Instead

The entire world is halted while awaiting the end of the war against the fast-spreading COVID-19. The dangerous virus keeps taking its toll, and governments have issued various measures in an attempt to flatten the curve and save as many lives as possible.

Yet, instead of complaining that we have to remain at home for our own, and the wellbeing of our loved ones, we could all think of a way to be productive and make a positive change.

In Australia, tour operators decided to use the time for coral restoration missions!

Namely, the tourism economy in the country is currently at a standstill, so tour boats remain empty in the harbors. Therefore, some companies decided to repurpose their vessels and employees, and give back to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most magnificent natural gifts of Australia, and one of the top tourist destinations in the world. It is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and the only living things on our planet visible from space.

The reef is rich in marine life and comprises of more than 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays and hundreds of attractive tropical islands with sun-soaked, golden beaches.

The staff of Passions of Paradise, an Australian dive tour operator,  have volunteered to plant coral there.

Chief Executive Officer Scott Garden explained that the company had donated their state-of-the-art catamaran Passions III and fuel to take four enthusiastic crew and a scientist to Hastings Reef for the Coral Nurture Program.

He added:

“We have been assisting Dr. David Suggett’s team from the University of Technology Sydney who is conducting reef resilience research at one of our 26 reef sites.

I have been working with Passions of Paradise Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Russell Hosp at the site most weeks recording data for the project and establishing a coral nursery.”

Mr. Hosp and Passions of Paradise marine biologist Kirsty Whitman, both Master Reef guides, are volunteers in the project.

According to project coordinator and PhD student Lorna Howlett, the project involves five Cairns and Port Douglas reef companies: Passions of Paradise, Wavelength, Ocean Freedom, Sailaway and Quicksilver Cruises.

Lorna Howlett, Project coordinator, and PhD student, explained: “The Coral Nurture Program aims to give operators yet another stewardship activity they can do at their reef sites in addition to Crown-of-Thorns eradication and the Eye on Reef monitoring program.”

Howlett explains that this is the first time “ on the Great Barrier Reef that tourism operators have worked alongside researchers and the first time that a coral clip has been used to attach corals to the reef.”

She added:

“It involves finding fragments of opportunity – coral fragments that have naturally broken off – and attaching them back on to the reef using a coral clip. We can only use fragments of opportunity found at the site, so Passions of Paradise has installed six frames at the site which can be used as a nursery to grow more corals.

Once they find a coral fragment they attach it to the nursery to grow and as it grows they can take fragments from it to attach to the reef giving them a continual source of new corals. The 12-month project finishes next month, however, the operators can continue to operate the nurseries and outplant the corals.”

Mr. Garden stated that a thousand pieces of coral had been planted on Hastings Reef, so tourists in the future “will be able to snorkel over the site which boasts healthy marine life and corals near the nursery.”

November 19- Passions of Paradise Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Russell Hosp prepares coral fragments for the Hastings Reef Nursery.

Healthy coral reefs are valuable for people, other animals, plants, and fish, so make sure you act in an environment-conscious way when you visit coral reefs or coastal areas.

First of all, avoid dropping the boat chain or anchor nearby a coral reef,  and don’t touch the corals while diving. They create reef structures for decades, so leave them on the reef and don’t give them as presents.

You can affect coral reef health and conservation from home as well:

  • Make smart seafood choices
  • Conserve water and don’t send chemicals into the waterways
  • Volunteer in local beach or reef cleanup