Coral reef bleaching at Pt Vernon
MANY people don’t realise there is an “underwater garden” right in their own back yard, says Fraser Coast councillor Sue Brooks.
The dazzling coral reef at Point Vernon, about 50m out from the beach, has provided a lot of enjoyment for Ms Brooks when she visits the area with her snorkelling group – but lately it has also been a cause for concern.
The group was given a grant last year to monitor the coral for signs of disease and bleaching.
During a recent dive the group noticed several white spots on some of the coral, which can be a sign of bleaching.
When water temperatures increase, the small organisms living on the “skeleton” of the coral, called zooxanthellae, are placed under stress and either die or leave.
That exposes the “skeleton” of the coral, leading to a lighter or white appearance.
“When temperatures change it puts pressure on the coral.”
But the good news, Ms Brooks said, was that coral often recovered quickly if conditions returned to normal.
Ms Brooks, along with the other members of the group, took photos of the coral and will now send them to the Department of Environment and Resource Management, which will then determine whether bleaching has occurred and rule out the possibility of disease.
Ms Brooks said she was amazed at the variety of coral to be found at the reef at Point Vernon.
“People don’t realise what a beautiful underwater garden we have,” Ms Brooks said.
From pinks, blues, greens and yellows, coral of all colours, shapes and varieties can be found at the reef, she said.
“I think the reef is an untapped resource for Hervey Bay in terms of tourism.”
Ms Brooks said she was also concerned by the lack of fish to be found around the reef and would be investigating the issue. One of her concerns was that a great number of rare tropical fish were being taken out of the waters of Hervey Bay by collectors.
She also wants to investigate how to protect the coral from anchor damage.
The group’s grant will run out in March but Ms Brooks said members would continue monitoring the coral in a voluntary capacity after that time.
“I hope our children’s children will be able to see the reef.”