By Nick Sudakov
The Whitsunday branch of the Queensland Greens has called on the federal government and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to take immediate action to protect the reefs fringing the Whitsunday Islands.
According to Whitsunday Greens convener Norm Van'T Hoff, the fringing reefs are being destroyed by uncontrolled anchoring. Up to 200 vessels ply the waters of the Whitsundays every day, visiting the coral reefs that surround the islands. Massive destruction results from these vessels' anchors and chains dragging across the reefs as they try to anchor as close as possible to the best diving and snorkelling sites.
"This problem has been recognised since the mid-1980s", said Van'T Hoff. "Local divers began to sound the alarm, and the issue was soon being discussed throughout conservation and tourism circles."
In 1991 GBRMPA responded to calls for action by convening public meetings to discuss these problems. The preferred option, GBRMPA decided, would be the installation of moorings at key sensitive sites. It was also decided that a special management area covering Manta-Ray Bay would be declared, thereby excluding anchoring entirely in one of the premier diving spots. This was well received.
Three years later, however, none of this has been implemented.
Damage to Whitsunday fringing reefs has escalated dramatically in the last two years. Yet, according to Van'T Hoff, the federal government has promised to provide only 15 moorings for the whole of the Great Barrier Reef. Of these, only two are destined for the Whitsundays. "As this procrastination continues, the destruction of our coral goes on", Van' T Hoff said.
The Whitsunday Greens are calling for two firm commitments from the federal government and GBRMPA: the immediate installation of a marker buoy system to delineate non-anchoring areas at all sensitive Whitsunday fringing reef sites, and the installation of 90 publicly owned mooring pins on the seabed, which could be leased out by GBRMPA.
"The moorings are long overdue", Van' T Hoff concluded. "As we discuss these issues, anchors and chains are devastating Whitsunday fringing reefs."