Anne Majumdar

The challenges facing the Great Barrier Reef are “not something you can market your way out of”, Tourism Australia managing director John O’Sullivan has admitted following news of extensive damage to the natural wonder.

Back-to-back annual coral bleaching events are believed to have affected two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef, a new aerial survey has revealed.

Scientists last week said record-breaking warm waters along the Queensland coast had triggered widespread bleaching over 1500 kilometres of the World-Heritage-listed reef over the two summers.

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Image credit: ARC Centre for Excellence Coral Studies

While the extent of the damage will come as a shock to many, bleaching has long been recognised as a global issue, affecting reefs all over the world.

“We can’t say that the reef is untouched by bleaching because we all know there has been a bleaching event which has affected the Great Barrier Reef,” O’Sullivan told KarryOn.

However, he insisted the reef is “better placed” than others due to its size and diversity, along with “gold standard management practices”. He also highlighted the role the tourism industry is playing in its conservation through programs like the Great Barrier Reef Marine Protection Agency’s Eye on the Reef.

“What we’ve focused on is more around telling the story to the tourism trade about the condition of the reef in the main tourism areas which is, by and large, very healthy.”

TA MD John O'Sullivan 2

The tourism marketing organisation recently held its summit in Pasadena and dedicated a chunk of the proceedings to promoting the health of the reef as part of a collaboration with Tourism and Events Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority. A live cross took the audience to the Great Barrier Reef where a diver answered questions from the audience and showed them the reef and its abundance of marine life.

Later this year, a targeted famil also in partnership with TEQ will bring key influencers from western and Asian markets to Australia to see the reef for themselves and talk to scientists about its condition.

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“So for us, it’s really about educating the trade and key influencers about health of reef in tourism areas because one of the things people forget is that the reef is a very big expanse, not just the reef used for tourism purposes – it actually goes all the way south to the Whitsundays and then further north to the northern  tip of the country,” O’Sullivan said.

“Certainly a lot of tourism activity is in the southern zone and parts that are off Cairns like Agincourt Reef that are still quite healthy and we’ve been working on that with operators in publicising that and showing footage that’s been shot and interviews with tourists to say it’s very healthy.

“It’s very important we push the message that the reef is very much open for business.”

Last week, a study by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority showed several of the reefs around the Whitsundays had either been destroyed or badly damaged by Cyclone Debbie which ravaged the islands with wind gusts of up to 260 kilometres per hour.

Image credit: The New Daily

Image credit: The New Daily

So far, it has found extensive damage to popular snorkelling spots such as Blue Pearl Bay near Hayman Island and Manta Ray Bay off Hook Island.

Reefs off Hook Island’s Luncheon Bay, Maureens Cove and Butterfly Bay have also been partly destroyed.

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