29th July 2016
Just like the famous clownfish and blue tang of the Disney Pixar films Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, the Whitsundays section of the Great Barrier Reef remains unaffected by recent coral bleaching events. In fact, according to reef tour operators, the reef here is 'super healthy'.
The 'super healthy' term was coined by Reef Check Australia and is backed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in a recent report. Along with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the report states that although there are some problems with the reef further north towards Cairns, the outer reefs of the Whitsundays remain safe from coral loss.
Tour operators said that many visitors have heard about the coral bleaching event and expect to get into the water and see dead reef. However they are pleasantly surprised to see a healthy, thriving and beautiful environment. Occasionally snorkellers will stumble across a small damaged area and will jump to the wrong conclusions, but the reef is a living organism which constantly experiences natural loss before regeneration. It's simply the way the marine ecosystem works.
A new initiative for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is the Eye on the Reef program, which gets visitors involved in keeping the reef safe. Open to everyone from day trippers to marine scientists, those on their own Great Barrier Reef adventure are asked to keep an eye on the reef as they explore and report what they see - good or bad. Snorkelling is the most popular way to enjoy the reef, however there are also options for first time scuba divers. However no matter how you choose to enjoy the reef, those taking part in the program will be asked to keep their eye out for various things as they snorkel or dive Bait Reef.
Most visitors are very keen to take part in the program and help out in any way they can. However once they hit the water, keeping their mind on the task can prove difficult. The majestic marine life and monumental coral are more than distracting. Fish, rays, turtles and sharks glide by while anemones appear like grass blowing in the wind. Blue bait fish dart above vertical drop offs, huge Maori wrasse are big blue-green gentle giants and sea turtles lap languidly around the group, curious in a lazy sort of way. Yes, the reef casts its spell on all who descend beneath its waters and those who were so keen to protect the reef before their dive are positively resolute by the time they resurface.