2018 hasn’t been a great year for the Great Barrier Reef. Constantly in the news for all the wrong reasons: A multi-million dollar Federal Government grant to a virtually unknown organisation, cyclones and the threat of a new coal mine aren’t helping. But, it’s not all gloom and doom. No bleaching events were recorded last summer and locals are teaming up with scientists to save one of the world’s most precious natural wonders.
Despite all their hard work, other Aussies think that coral bleaching means the entire 2,300 kilometre Reef is dead. Extensive bleaching did occur in 2016 and 2017, mostly in the far north. Bleaching is simply a defence mechanism like a fever to infection. While significant, especially combined with cyclones and crown of thorns starfish, the Reef is regenerating.
The building blocks of this incredibly diverse ecosystem, coral provides shelter, food and so much more to all the other life that lives here. The Reef is one of Australia’s most valuable tourism regions, employing thousands and contributing tax dollars to the economy. Recognising this value to the community and the health of the planet, the Reef Restoration Foundation is saving the GBR one coral at a time.
Reef Restoration Foundation
Keen diver Gary McKenna has long been fascinated with finding how best to help the Great Barrier Reef’s coral. After researching ‘reforestation’ projects elsewhere, Gary joined a social enterprise program where he was mentored by Stewart Christie. Former frontman of Advance Cairns and many other international infrastructure projects, Stewart recognised the possibilities of the technique to regenerate Queensland’s high-value reefs.
Similar to a Florida Keys project, small cuttings of heat-resilient coral are attached to growing frames or ‘trees’. After a lot of red tape and perseverance, the Reef Restoration Foundation was granted its first licence. A pilot, ocean-based coral nursery was installed at Fitzroy Island in December 2017. Seed-funding came from Fitzroy Island Resort, the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, Gem Pearl, Cairns Dive Centre and the Australian Government’s National Science Programme. Earlier this year, both the National Australia Bank and JTB – Japan’s largest travel agency came on board with significant grants.
Volunteer divers collected 24 corals which had survived two years of high water temperatures from a reef near Fitzroy Island and cut them into 246 pieces. “These were attached to coral tree frames in the underwater nursery and monitored weekly by volunteers with many of the corals growing 2.5 times in six months”, said Stewart. Now transplanted to a degraded section of the reef at Fitzroy Island, they’re thriving with both species showing hints of colour including blue, pink and purple.
Making a difference
Volunteers are instructed by Fitzroy Island Resort’s resident marine biologist, Azri Saparwan. Azri trains the divers to clean the coral (with toothbrushes) keeping it healthy and free from pests. New pieces continue to be attached to the nursery’s 10 coral trees with the goal of 1000 pieces before the end of the year. Now 25 species of fish call the nursery home.
Following this success, the RRF is in the process of applying for permits to expand the nursery program. Four high-value reefs off Cairns would add another 120 tree frames. The RRF hopes to grow 25,000 new corals on the GBR by 2021.
Become a Coral Crusader
The Reef Restoration Foundation wants Australians to really think about their Christmas giving this year. You can become a ‘Coral Crusader’ and make a difference. You can adopt a coral for $50, $500 for a branch or $10,000 to tend a tree.
Become a ‘Coral Crusader’ at reefrestorationfoundation.org/pages/crusader and follow Reef Restoration Foundation on its journey at www.facebook.com/reefrestorationfoundation/ and www.instagram.com/reef_restoration_foundation
You can also donate via https://exploreinawe.com/
The other most important thing you can do is visit the Reef. Spend your holiday dollars supporting businesses and workers who all do their bit every day to save the Reef.