Whitsunday tourism operators received a special four-week authorisation to assist reef recovery by reorientating corals flipped over by cyclone Debbie which crossed the coast at Airlie Beach this week.
The Whitsundays is one of the Reef’s visitor hotspots, attracting more than 40 per cent of total visitors to the iconic Great Barrier Reef.
Dr Mark Read from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said the four-week authorisation enabled operators to give corals at their tourism site the best chance of survival after the extreme weather.
“Our thoughts are with the Queensland communities affected by cyclone Debbie and, at this stage, the first priority is public safety,” he said.
“Once tourism operators return to their sites they may see reef damage caused by the cyclone, including overturned coral colonies in some places.
“Touching and moving coral is not normally allowed, but given the circumstances, we’ve provided operators with the ability to restore coral colonies.
“When corals are overturned by extreme weather there’s a small window for recovery if they can be successfully turned back over.
“This can be days for plate corals to around a week or more for other coral types such as branching corals.
“Given the decline in coral cover, the severity of coral bleaching and the crown-of-thorns outbreak, maximising reef recovery is a priority.”
Each authorisation details the conditions for the reef recovery work operators can undertake including the location, methods and reporting.
Dr Read said approvals for infrastructure repairs would also be a focus in the region.
“Over the coming days, when it’s safe to do so, we’re hoping operators will be in a position to check moorings, jetties, pontoons and island infrastructure and let us know of any impacts,” he said.
“Our team will work with operators to ensure they can carry out emergency repairs and prioritise any associated schedule of works that come in from the area.”
There are contingency arrangements for tourism operations impacted by a severe environmental incident, and operators should contact the Marine Park Authority.
A cyclone like Debbie — large, intense and slow moving — can damage islands, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass and other marine systems. The extent and severity of the damage is not yet known.
Cyclone Debbie was the tenth severe category cyclone to affect the Great Barrier Reef since 2005.
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