Australian underwater tourism company Passions of Paradise is repairing the Great Barrier Reef during a coronavirus-caused quiet period.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the Cairns-based company to cancel tours during lockdown. During their time off, CEO Scott Garden said that the family-owned company is assisting marine biologist David Suggett’s team from the Sydney University of Technology in their reef resilience research.
Passions of Paradise volunteered a state-of-the-art catamaran, fuel, and four crew to accompany a research scientist to Hastings Reef for the Coral Nurture Program. The program has planted over 1,000 pieces of coral so far, utilizing underwater frames and “coral clipping.”
“It involves finding fragments of opportunity,” Garden told travel company Karryon. “Coral fragments that have naturally broken off—and attaching them back on to the reef using a coral clip.”
The crew also installed six frames at the site which can be used as a nursery to grow more corals. While the 12-month Coral Nurture Program technically finished last month, the Passions crew will continue to operate the nurseries and outplant new corals.
“There are two new things about this program,” explained Garden. “It is the first time on the Great Barrier Reef that tourism operators have worked alongside researchers and the first time that a coral clip has been used to attach corals to the reef.”
Passions of Paradise was one of five participating companies from the Cairns and Port Douglas area. Other participants include Wavelength, Ocean Freedom, Sailaway, and Quicksilver Cruises.
“The Coral Nurture Program aims to give operators yet another stewardship activity they can do at their reef sites in addition to Crown-of-Thorns eradication and the Eye on Reef monitoring program,” said project coordinator and Ph.D. student Lorna Howlett.
The Great Barrier Reef
The climate crisis has had a huge impact on the Great Barrier Reef. In particular, back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 killed almost 50 percent of the coral. The Great Barrier Reef itself contains 10 percent of the world’s total coral. In 2018, the Australian government pledged more than $500 million AUD to the protection of the reef against climate change.
“Environmental sustainability is the life and soul of Passions of Paradise,” says the company’s website. “For many years positioning our business as a benchmark Eco-tourism operator has been at the forefront of our operation.”