The Whitsundays is a collection of 74 islands off of Australia’s central east coast and part of the majestic world heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef. Second only to Cairns, it is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit the reef. It attracts nearly 600,000 visitors each year with over 300 tour boats in operation. Due to the popularity of this particularly beautiful and accessible part of the reef, much damage has been caused due to the dropping of anchors. This habitat loss has then become one of the most widespread causes of marine species decline on the Great Barrier Reef.
In the late 80s & early 90s the damage to the reef was becoming evidently clear so a group of locals founded the Order of Underwater Coral Heroes, OUCH. This non-profit volunteer organisation has since grown to have a membership of over 100 who are dedicated to the protection of the local marine environment.
The most successful and arguably most important project run by OUCH volunteers is the Reef Protection Marker Buoy Program. This program was created in conjunction with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and its purpose is to reduce anchor damage to corals in a cost effective manner. This is done by installing a marker buoy on the edge of a surveyed reef site deemed a location of medium to high conservation and that is currently under significant anchor pressure. This then means that anchoring is not permitted landward side of these buoys. This program now protects 10 bays with nearly 50 specifically designed reef protection marker buoys and 86 moorings.
This has successfully reduced anchor damage to reefs by an estimated 80% and the marker buoys are now being used throughout the Great Barrier Reef.
Other projects run by OUCH volunteers include the Seagrass and Mangrove Watch. These two programs carry out research on two of the vital habitats in the Great Barrier Reef. This monitoring provides data which shows trends on the health of the important habitats and the species that they support. The Seagrass watch has become particularly successful, with 259 sites being monitored by volunteers, not just in the Whitsundays but in 17 countries throughout the Asia-Pacific.
Finally OUCH provide a wide range of education and outreach programs including; a school group program, one and two day snorkelling programs, an opportunity to join volunteers in the seagrass meadows and an excellent two day Great Barrier Reef tourism staff training course. On top of all this their website itself acts as an impressive information database including interactive Google Maps of the marine habitats in the Whitsundays and the species that depend on them. Exciting opportunities seem endless when signing up as a volunteer for this ever expanding non-profit organisation.
Volunteering in your local community is a wonderfully rewarding way of seeing a protected future for the coastlines and waterways that mean the most to you and your family. Conservation Volunteers helps people do just this by attracting and managing volunteers to participate in projects and inspire change by connecting people with nature. From beginning in 1982 with just a small group planting trees, Conservation Volunteers is now partnered with individuals, businesses and governments and has welcomed hundreds of thousands of volunteers from across Australia and the world.
In 2015 alone 7,000 volunteers were helped to participate in conservation projects around Australia and New Zealand.
In the words of Madeline Townsend, Director with Conservation Volunteers:
‘Looking after our coastlines is vital, and teams from Conservation Volunteers Australia play their part on regular projects including dune restoration, removing invasive weeds, litter and marine debris collection. There are plenty of opportunities and lots to do in order to maintain healthy coasts, and new volunteers are always welcome.’
Conservation Volunteers have a website that makes it super easy to find conservation projects going on in your local area or throughout the rest of the country. Being highly interactive, the website lets you search for your state, a start date and the type of volunteering you would like to become involved in. So all marine enthusiasts can keep their toes firmly near the water by searching ‘coasts and waterways’. The work involved in the majority of the available projects includes planting and weed removal, survey work, beach clean ups, wildlife management and guided bushwalks. Consrvation Volunteers can also be contacted at freecall 1800 032 501.
One fun filled example of a wildlife management project is Twilight Toad busting Tuesdays in the Northern Territory! A free project where you assist in controlling pesky cane toads and then learn how to ‘toad proof’ your own land. It is also worth regularly checking on Conservation Volunteers website to see if a new exciting project is starting in your area soon. This organisation is a fantastic way to easily become involved in an array of conservation projects; the rewards of which will be seen in your own back yard!