Great Barrier Reef health could be improved with 'seaweed tourism'
Posted on 24.05.2016
The Reef Recovery Project hopes to restore health to “smothered” coral reefs by removing 500 kilograms of macro-algae, or seaweed, from Magnetic Island, just minutes off Townsville’s coast.
“As the numbers of macro-algae increase, the number of corals go down, and we are trying to redress that balance and see if what we do in a small scale can make a difference,” Dr Adam Smith, lead researcher and director of project management group Reef Ecologic, said.
Even with an untrained eye, Dr Smith said scientists, tourists and locals had all noticed the depletion in the brightness and colour of the reef.
“Many of us who have been around for a long time were quite used to coming places like Picnic Bay and seeing really healthy coral [with] diverse shapes, sizes, colours,” he said.
“Now if you snorkel in some locations, it’s like a monoculture — there’s just tons of one species and that species is brown sargassum.”
Dr Smith said the trial involved putting quadrants in the water, removing the algae, measuring and weighing it, and watching to see wether those spaces would be more conducive to coral growth.
And while the reason behind the abundant seaweed growth was unknown, it was a problem not isolated to the state’s north.
“There certainly are a number of areas throughout the marine park that have already expressed an interest in trying this,” Dr Smith said.
“That includes the Whitsundays and Great Keppel Islands where they also have concerns about algae.
“Some of the tourists are saying the diving is not as good as it used to be,” he said.
Seaweed tourism, coming to reef near you
Alongside local researchers, the project team has employed international university students to facilitate the trial — a relationship that has enthused local tourism operators.
“There are a number of people in Townsville who are excited about edu-tourism,” Dr Smith said.
I’m calling for some tools to allow people who really care about the reef to make a small difference, and this is potentially one of them.
Dr Adam Smith
One industry hoping for a successful trial is the Townsville to Magnetic Island ferry service.
SeaLink general manager Paul Victory said despite the trial being in its infancy, he saw it as a sign that Townsville and its seaweed could be a real opportunity for the region.
“We’re attracting around 60,000 young people from around the world annually, and they’re looking for a purpose, they’re looking to actually do something beyond just lying on a beach,” Mr Victory said.
“More and more people love to go to a destination to experience nature, and Magnetic Island is a beautiful spot for that.”
He said the opportunity to plant coral, remove algae, and clean snorkel trails in a bid to experience the reef in a different way would be great for the tourism market.
Have a story to tell or news to share?
Let us know by Submitting a News Story