Great Barrier Reef tourism operators speak out as coral bleaching threat looms

The latest reports of coral bleaching on our Great Barrier Reef and the forecast for more high temperatures are deeply distressing for the tourism industry according to operators and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

The latest update from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority stated that a very hot February has led to accumulated heat stress, particularly in the inshore areas of the southern Reef. More high sea surface temperatures heightening the risk of further bleaching have been forecast by BOM for the next few weeks.

Reef tourism operators already struggling as a result of the bushfire crisis and coronavirus, are deeply concerned about the unfolding bleaching.

Mark Fraenkel, the owner and operator of Blue Dive in Port Douglas said everyone in the tourism industry was on edge about the ongoing bleaching threat to our Reef.

“It’s not just reef operators who are on high alert, but hotel workers, café owners, hire companies, you name it,” Mr Fraenkel said. “We’re desperately hoping for a rapid cool change from good rainfall to spare the beautiful corals that survived the previous bleaching events, and those that are regrowing.

“It’s clear, however, that rain alone will not save the Great Barrier Reef and our tourism industry.

“Without addressing climate change, the root cause of marine heatwaves, each summer of increasingly hot conditions will continue to threaten our beautiful corals, marine life and tourism industry.”

Cairns-based Deborah Dickson-Smith from dive travel agency Diveplanit Travel said it was important to understand that the reef tourism industry was not a giant multinational that could bounce back from a crisis.

“These are small family-run businesses (like ours) that will struggle to recover – or go to the wall,” she said.

“We need our government to do more to avert this climate crisis. If you factor in fossil fuel exports, Australia is one of the world’s worst contributors to the climate crisis. We need to end this myth that what we do won’t make a difference.

“It’s not out of the government’s hands – with an icon such as our Great Barrier Reef to look after, the Australian government should be taking a leadership role – inspiring other countries to reduce carbon emissions and switch to renewable energy.

“Reef experts have been screaming about climate change for years – and the government has ignored them. This is damaging the tourism industry – and the economy in general.”

AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaigner Shani Tager said: “Our beautiful Reef is in the fight for its life with high water temperatures.

“Our Reef is in hot water at the moment and the best way to turn down the temperature going forwards is to urgently phase out fossil fuels.

“With reef health currently on the edge of a precipice due to hot waters, it is urgent our governments begin implementing a Reef-safe climate policy for the sake of our Reef and our tourism operators,” she said

“We are currently hoping for rainfall and cloud cover to help our beautiful Reef avoid another mass bleaching event. But we can’t depend on the weather forever.

“Unless our governments start taking the climate crisis seriously, urgently phasing out dirty fossil fuels and moving to clean energy, we are going to keep facing these climate change-driven environmental catastrophes on our Reef, and this is going to hit the tourism industry too.”

The Reef is not only a beautiful wonder of the world, it supports the livelihoods of 64,000 Australians and contributes over $6 billion to the Australian economy.

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