'Illegal' warriors

'Illegal' warriors repair the Great Barrier Reef

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IT is the secret underwater gardening practice that has been helping the Great Barrier Reef survive after a cyclone.

Several operators have owned up to the practice of coral flipping, where divers are deployed underwater to, quite literally, turn live coral the right way up after it has been tipped over in a cyclone – much in the same way gardeners replant healthy trees ripped out of the ground.

Coral depends on its photosynthetic algae to survive and if the algae cannot reach sunlight, the entire organism dies.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority takes a common sense approach to the activity, only frowning upon it if the coral is removed or moved somewhere else.

Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators chief executive Col McKenzie said nearly every operator had carried out the practice for years, discreetly.

“People do it on the quiet,” Mr McKenzie said.

“They just ignore the restrictions and just do it. I know as a dive instructor, I would swim along and if you see a bit of coral that’s been turned over from the day before, you just flip it back over. You wouldn’t leave it to die. It would be like leaving an animal on the side of the road and ignoring it.”

Several sections of the Great Barrier Reef received damage during cyclone Yasi at the start of last month.

Mr McKenzie said there were plenty of divers who had been on coral flipping duties since the category 5 cyclone struck.
It has not been uncommon for divers to flip over massive table corals up to 5-6m in diameter.

A GBRMPA spokeswoman said the authority recognised tourism operators needed to carry out minor remedial work on their small reef sites, such as flipping some coral which would otherwise die.


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