Paradise Lost? Fishers; Divers at odds on reef damage
Conflicting views about damage to the Great Barrier Reef caused by recent category five cyclone Hamish has involved both state and federal government, commercial fishing and recreational diving industries.
The Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA) says the reef suffered significant damage from Cyclone Hamish and wants the Queensland Government to declare a natural disaster over the southern part of the reef so QSIA members can be compensated for the loss of fish stock caused by cyclone Hamish.
However, dive operators in the Whitsundays say attaching the term 'disaster zone' to the southern section of the Great Barrier Reef will give tourists the wrong impression.
Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett says the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is keeping a close eye on conditions.
"The reef is our most important national and international coral reef system and it's a treasure of Australia's which requires us to have the most exacting and absolutely comprehensive protection," he said.
Mr Garrett says he has not received a formal proposal, but he is monitoring the situation.
Whitsunday Charter Boat Association representative Greg Lambert says dive operators in his group have not seen any significant damage.
He says using the term 'disaster' would be wrong.
"You can imagine if you're a tourist wanting to come from overseas and dive the Great Barrier Reef and you read in the media that it's been destroyed, declared a national disaster area, you're not going to come," he said.
QSIA spokesman Neil Green said after speaking to State Government ministers, he was confident the disaster zone would be declared.
"Half the reef has been completely overturned from Bowen South. It'll affect tourism, it'll affect certainly commercial fishers - about 50 per cent or 300 jobs are at risk with 30 guys put off yesterday," Mr Green told ABC radio.
"There's just nothing left out there to fish on."
"We've had our boats out there working this week for the first time after the cyclone and people with 20 years experience can't recognise the damage being done," Mr Green said.
"Their catches where they'd catch 150 fish a day have been down to five fish a day."
Any decision to declare the reef a disaster area would be a first, according to the Department of Primary Industries.
However, the tourism industry is wary of such any association between the "disaster area" and the Great Barrier Reef.
"It would be very unhelpful for the tourism operators up and down the coast," The Queensland Tourism Industry Council's Daniel Gschwind said,
"We're very keen to make sure that the public is not driven into believing that it's no longer worth going to see the reef," he said.
Local diving operator Mike Daley of Whitsunday Dive Adventures this week said while some coral suffered damage, it was mainly soft branching corals that were more easily damaged but were also faster growing.
"No. The reef isn't destroyed. The reef has a wonderful ability to be sustainable. That's not to say it isn't under pressure. However for inner reefs siltation from onshore construction runoff has been more of a problem."
"There is little chance that meteorologists can solve the mysteries of weather until they gain an understanding of the mutual attraction of rain and weekends"
Fair winds to Ye!