A Solid Foundation

Helicopter over Heart Reef

Helicopter over Heart Reef

One of the natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is a precious, yet delicate living thing that needs the protection of institutions like the Fantasea Foundation to ensure its survival for the future.

STORY: Pete Mc Carthy PHOTOGRAPHY: Countesy of Fantasea Foundation

Visible from space and awe-inspiring up close, the Great Barrier Reef is a fascinating, living thing that has for years, captivated travellers from all over the globe. Covering a massive area of some 3,000 square kilometres, the Great Barrier Reef, or simply the reef as it is known, is home to millions of living creatures – some microscopic, some amongst the largest creatures on earth – coexisting and indeed relying on one another for survival. Even relatively small changes in climate for example, can cause considerable damage to the whole ecosystem.

Threats to the very survival of the reef are both man-made and naturally occurring, but regardless of their origin, require the dedicated and continuous support of organisations like the Fantasea Foundation to ensure the reef’s survival.

Established in 2006 by award-winning tour operator Fantasea Adventure Cruising, who operate many tours out of Hamilton Island, the Fantasea Foundation is a nonprofit organisation that works closely with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), James Cook University and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct important research to help understand and better protect the reef.

Perhaps best known in the region for its tourism work and of course its famous Reefworld at Hardy Reef – home of the world famous Reefsleep – Fantasea Adventure Cruising’s contribution through the Fantasea Foundation is invaluable, each year allocating more than $100,000 to study and observe the reef, monitor and manage its own activities in the area as well as implementing education programs.

The Fantasea Foundation is managed by Emily Smart, one of four full time Marine Biologists employed by Fantasea, and her knowledge of and passion for the region stands her in good stead in this important role. Although the job is many faceted and the Fantasea Foundation is involved in studying and monitoring a range of areas, Emily Smart says climate change is high on the list of things to watch.

Just a modest increase in temperature will lead to greater coral bleaching in the region and could wipe out vast areas of coral completely. The good news though, is that awareness of the problem is becoming more widespread, which can only help in the long term.

“It’s predicted that the green tourism dollar will drive the future of tourism,” says Smart, and research by Tourism Australia seems to bear that out, with strong indicators that travellers from the UK, China and Japan in particular rank climate change in their top three issues of concern and importance.

Whether it be hosting Reef Check Australia surveyors (part of a global monitoring program) or assisting James Cook University students in their research programs, Fantasea is heavily involved.

Monitoring the effect of climate change is an important area for the foundation, but its activities are many. Keeping track of crown-of-thorns starfish and the destructive Drupella snails, looking for evidence of coral bleaching and conducting water analysis (to provide information on how the water is being affected by land runoff), are all important areas for the Fantasea Foundation, as is monitoring the sighting of unusual animals or events in the area. As part of the GBRMPA Sightings Network, Emily and the other biologists regularly report on sightings of tagged, rare or injured marine life in the area and each winter (usually between the months of June and September), keep a close watch on the humpback whale migration, their data used by researchers at the University of Queensland, studying the habits of these magnificent creatures.

The foundation is also heavily involved in the collection and monitoring of data for the GBRMPA Eye on the Reef program, designed to provide early warning signals of change as well as long-term information for GBRMPA and its researchers.

Although largely unseen by the general public, the work of the Fantasea Foundation is vital to the long-term survival of this natural asset. Whether it be hosting Reef Check Australia surveyors (part of a global monitoring program) or assisting James Cook University students in their research programs, Fantasea is heavily involved.

Even Fantasea’s Reefworld, a favourite for those wanting to experience a unique perspective on the reef, is integral in the program, housing a remote weather station for the Australian Institute of Marine Science that sends weather information back to their HQ every half hour.

Every bit helps, and the Fantasea Foundation’s ongoing work with the relevant marine bodies are vital to ensure the Great Barrier Reef’s survival so that it can be enjoyed by generations to come.

The Above Article was originally published in the January 2011 Edition of REEF Magazine