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There’s been a lot of talk recently about conserving the Great Barrier Reef and what can be done. At Coral Expeditions, the health of the Reef is of utmost importance, and that’s why we have put in place processes to ensure that we conserve the Reef for generations to come. We are a certified member of Ecotourism Australia, and work closely with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to grant our guests access to exclusive and private mooring sites, ensuring that these areas continue to flourish.
We understand that our guests want to protect the reef, and that’s why we have qualified Marine Biologists onboard to educate all of our guests about the best ways to help.
Below, we’ve interviewed our resident Marine Biologist, Rebecca Finlayson, to give our guests further insight on what to expect and how to help. Rebecca (Bec), holds a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Marine Biology from James Cook University in Cairns, and published a thesis on the productivity of Sand Flats around Hinchinbrook Island. She can also speak whale, and her favourite species is the Moorish Idol.
Nathan Reef > Coral Expeditions II > September 2016
REBECCA FINLAYSON – Marine Biologist, Trip Director, Great Barrier Reef
It is a very bold statement to declare something as ‘dead’, particularly something as large as the Great Barrier Reef. Although certain areas of the reef do not look what they did 10, 100 or 1000 years ago, it can be for a number of reasons; some places will even look better than they did years ago. The whole reef is continually going through different stages of development and replenishment and as a result different areas of the reef will look different to each other.
Bleaching is when the coral expels the microscopic algae that lives in its tissue. This algae gives coral its colour and so when it is expelled what we see is the white calcium carbonate that coral utilizes. It’s a bit like the bones inside of humans; some coral has this calcium carbonate internally, while others use it more like an exoskeleton. The coral becomes bleached when it becomes very stressed, and ‘thinks’ that expelling the zooxanthellae (or algae) is its last chance to survive. Just because coral has bleached does not mean it is dead, but conversely, dead coral will always be bleached. If the stressful factors around the coral are eliminated or reduced, coral can draw back in the zooxanthellae and recover from the event. However, if it remains stressed, it will not draw the zooxanthellae back in, and the result is that it will usually die around 3 months after the bleaching event. On our itineraries, we saw some bleaching in specific locations, with more recovery in some areas and less recovery in others.
On the Northern Expedition I noticed the bleaching a little more, and in some locations, the coral looks a little different to what it used to. Equally through, it has recovered almost fully in other areas. I found the Southern Expedition virtually untouched by bleaching and the coral looks as it always has – beautiful.
No areas of the reef are 100% ‘untouched’ except the designated pink zones. These are the areas most stringently managed in the Reef, and no operator has ever or will ever enter these areas. However with our own private moorings at some sites on all itineraries – including the Ribbon Reefs – usually there are no other ships in sight, and in these locations, the reef is truly spectacular.
In my opinion, the Ribbon Reefs on our Northern Expedition are the most spectacular. But others are also beautiful, including Thetford Reef and Steve’s Bommie.
On the Northern Expedition, we noticed a little bit of bleaching, but equally, we saw recovery in many areas. The main area that is still noticeably different is Lizard Island, however this being a fringing reef goes through large changes quite regularly. It is a learning experience for our guests too to see the differences in not only reef types but bleached, undisturbed and recovering reefs as well.
Usually astonishment – our guests are impressed beyond what they expected! The diversity in fish is something that our guests find magical, but our guests are often most impressed by the coral. We quite often hear our guests remark that the Reef is ‘the only place where the coral is just as interesting to look at as the fish!”
No. Nobody has a crystal ball, and the Reef is the kind of place that you can return to again and again, as it is alive and constantly changing. Sounds like a good excuse for a holiday to me anyway!
We get this question a lot, and it makes us so happy that our Expeditions encourage people to care for us and conserve the Reef. My answer is always the same: don’t litter, no plastic bags and donate to different climate change research and any animal/reef research. Love the Reef and it will love you back for years to come!
Download our Great Barrier Reef > Insiders Guide for further information from our Marine Biologists.
Ribbon Reef #9 > Great Barrier Reef > May 2016
The definition of ecotourism adopted by Ecotourism Australia is:
“Ecotourism is ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.”
The ECO Certification program assures travellers that certified products are backed by a strong, well managed commitment to sustainable practices and provides high quality nature-based tourism experiences.
For further information regarding the health of the Reef, visit the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority website –