by Joshua Robertson, The Guardian, April 28, 2016
North Queensland tourism operators are routinely refusing to take media and politicians to see coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef for fear the attention will trigger a collapse in visitor numbers, it has been claimed.
Several major operators with the backing of industry heavyweights refused to ferry Greens senators Richard di Natale and Larissa Waters to reefs off Cairns, the backdrop for their election campaign announcement on reef policy on Thursday.
They were just the latest in a string of operators denying media requests to help them obtain pictures and footage and report on what scientists say is the worst bleaching event in the reef’s history, according to dive operator, Tony Fontes.
“I’ve had lots of people call me asking for contacts and I know obviously lots of dive operators up [in Cairns] and I’ve contacted them saying, ‘Would you be willing to talk to the media about this?’” the Whitsunday-based Fontes said.
“Nine out of ten refuse, politely, to talk to the media.
“I’ve heard first-hand [of] operators refusing to talk about it [and] going so far as to not allow press or Greens’ senators or anybody that might speak about the bleaching event, [go] beyond the small circle of Cairns.
“It seems to be quite prevalent, even amongst fellas that I know are truly green at heart and run eco-tourism operations where they put the reef first and foremost – they won’t talk with media, won’t take media out on their boat,” said Fontes.
Daniel McCarthy, a charter boat provider and president of the Cairns professional game fishing association, told News Limited that he and other operators objected to the Greens’ “publicity stunt”.
“They told me they wanted to see badly bleached areas, which obviously suggests they want a doom and gloom story,” he said.
“It’s quite obvious to me they want a very negative story to ramp up their argument about coal mining and are quite willing to sacrifice the reputation and thousands of jobs that rely on the health of the Great Barrier Reef to push another agenda.”
Steve Moon, who heads up peak diving industry body Dive Queensland, told News Limited the Greens’ media opportunity represented “a big kick in the guts” for an industry only recently recovering from the global financial crisis.
This year’s bleaching event – which hit 93% of north Queensland’s coral reefs, according to a survey by scientists from the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce – drew global media coverage from the BBC to the New York Times.
Di Natale, Waters and their entourage eventually found a berth with Marine Encounters owner John Rumney, who Fontes described as one of the few Cairns operators willing to publicly speak out on what coral bleaching means to the industry.
“I’m in the camp that says that we’ve got this great bleaching event and if we’re serious about the reef and the future, people need to know about it,” Fontes said.
“So I’m not at all afraid to talk [about] coral bleaching and I’m really disappointed in the major operators and even minor operators putting their head in the sand and refusing to, not so much acknowledge the bleaching is serious, but thinking if the world knows it’s bleached they’re not going to come here, so let’s try and hide it.
“Well, they can’t hide it and it’s not going to go away.”
This article was written by Joshua Robertson from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.