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Thursday, 1 June 1972
Page: 2459


Senator WOOD (Queensland) - I express my approval of the Bill which is before the Senate for the establishment of the Australian Institute of Marine Science. I feel that there is a real opportunity for this Institute to do very good work, particularly in relation to the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is a feature which is not only of value to Queensland but also is possibly the greatest international tourist drawcard this country has. I think it is something about which we should know more and of which we should be very proud. There has been a lot of talk - which really does not stand close investigation - about the Great Barrier Reef. A lot is said about pollution, about drilling on the Reef and about how dangerous these things are. But what we have to keep in mind is: What is the Great Barrier Reef? It extends almost from the coast of Papua New Guinea to midway between Mackay and Rockhampton. The actual Great Barrier Reef terminates at Swain Reef which is midway between Mackay and Rockhampton. The tourist resort of Heron Island and the associated neighbouring islands are spoken of as the Great Barrier Reef. There is even the Great Barrier Reef research station there which receives Government subsidies. But that island and the adjacent islands belong to 2 separate and distinct groups known as the Bunker and Capricorn groups.

My own idea of why it is called the Great Barrier Reef is that it is in barrier type formation. When we speak of it freely and easily as the Barrier Reef we are speaking of it wrongly. That is the type of reef. The reef which we are discussing is the Great Barrier Reef - the world's greatest coral reef: In Noumea and other places one can hear people speak of the barrier reef but they mean the barrier-type reef which bounds their islands and their areas. Therefore, if we want to be specific we should refer to this reef of ours as the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is comprised of 3 different types of islands. The first is what is known as the atoll. It is an island which is not completely covered by sand. It has a lagoon in the centre. To my knowledge there is only one along the whole length of the reef, and that is Lady Elliott Island. The second type of island is one where the sand has swirled around and eventually a solid mass of sand has been built up. Heron Island, and Green Island off Cairns, are what we call coral islands. Bushy Island off Mackay is a similar type of island. The third type is what is known as the mainland island, and this is mostly where the tourist resorts are. It is felt, because these islands are mostly mountainous, that at one time they were part of the mainland, that the mainland became submerged and that these are the mountain tops or hill tops protruding above the water. That is how they became elevated types of islands.

The main part of the reef is a barrierlike structure further out again. Generally at high tide the main structure of the reef is covered over. The beauty of the reef is not always just on the top. With the lovely inlets of coral ravines and gorges, where the coral almost overlaps, and with the fish life it is a most entrancing place. If one waits for the tide to go off the main structure of the reef and one walks upon it it may be a bit disappointing because the live pieces of coral are just here and there. But there are lovely lagoons still remaining after the tide has gone out. Viewed from midway across and looking obliquely across it, the reef is like one of nature's glorious flower gardens with all the different coloured pieces of coral edging onto each other. The reef extends a very great distance across, perhaps 40 miles or more. There are rivulets or inlets running through quite a number of these structures. The main structure is not always one solid mass. If one stands on it one will find a scries of waves breaking over it here and there. That is because a number of reefs fit into each other to make up the whole barrierlike structure.

I have been associated with the reef development for many years, lt is over 40 years since I first started to push for the development of the Great Barrier Reef as a tourist rendezvous for Australians and overseas people. In those days the tourist industry was laughed at and sneered at by many people. I helped to pioneer the development of the Great Barrier Reef as a tourist area. I am pleased to say that today the area I sponsored - the Whitsunday Islands and adjacent area - is the major tourist rendezvous of the Great Barrier Reef for Australian and overseas people. Whatever has been done to the present, we have really only scratched the surface compared with what the future holds for these areas. I would like to have seen this institute established a bit closer to those resort areas. Anyhow, it is being stationed in Queensland and I think it will serve a very great purpose.

The matter of pollution of the area has been referred to. We must keep in mind how far the reef goes out. As the reef comes down the coast it goes further out to sea. Some people will say: lt is closer here and it is further out somewhere else, and where it is closer is the best place to go. That is not usually the case. Just as in life and in other things, the hardest things to attain are often the best. So if one has to go further sometimes, it might be better. The further the reef swings out from the coast the less it is affected by the silt, mud and pollution of the coast. Therefore, out hi those areas very often one finds the best types of coral. When I first went out to the main structure of the reef after having established the island resorts, I felt that there was something further that we could find. I did a survey trip out to Tern, Red Bill and Bushy Islands which are directly off Mackay. Of all the areas of coral reef that 1 had seen they easily stood out as the best. The magnificent lagoons are formed because the current stops the sand from completely filling in. Standing on the rocks of Tern Island and looking at the coral lagoons in that area I felt that its beauty was so wonderful that I would never forget it. As we went across from the flat bottomed dinghy at low tide we saw the spit of sand coming out, and acres and acres of beautifully coloured coral. This indicated to me very clearly that the further out one goes for corals the better they are. I have seen none that can compare with the ones I saw at Tern, Red Bill and Bushy Islands - particularly at Tern Island.

Nature builds these marvellous things but nature also destroys. Some years later, after a very heavy fall of rain - we had 44 inches of rain in 3 days in Mackay - I took the late Director-General of the Queensland Government Tourist Bureau, Mr Alf Cole, a very fine personality who did much for the tourist industry, out to view this beautiful coral. But what had happened? Nature built this magnificent area of coral which was the best I had ever seen. When we went out it appeared just like a heap of stones. As nature had built so had nature destroyed. Because the tide was down for so many hours each day and because so much fresh water had fallen on the coral the reefs were destroyed completely. I have not had the opportunity to go out since, but I have spoken to a person who goes out in that area. He informed me recently that the coral had grown again and that it was, in his terms, better than ever. So nature does rebuild.

We have had trouble with the crown of thorns starfish. In certain areas of the reef there has been devastation. One of my colleagues from Townsville - Senator Maunsell or Senator Lawrie - said that the reef further north has grown again. Probably the devastation by the crown of thorns starfish has passed for some time and the same rejuvenation has gone on in that area as has taken place at Tern, Red Bill and Bushy Islands. There again nature, through one of the forms of marine life which it has created, has destroyed its own natural beauty. As far as my area is concerned - the Whitsunday islands and the Cumberland group - so far the crown of thorns does not seem to be making any inroads. We do not know why plagues such as the crown of thorns and various others take place. It is possible that the Marine Science Institute will tell us the story behind it. As Senator Georges said, it could be a cycle that has taken place or it could be some special epidemic. I was interested to read that a plague of starfish has affected not only the Australian Great Barrier Reef but also other reefs near Fiji and places further north. It could be some epidemic in the life of the reef or it could be something else. Let us hope that these are the things that the Marine Science Institue will find out for us. If it is necessary and if any control can be exercised, the Institute should develop it. Whilst we might be upset about some development and some adverse action of nature in the form of destruction, we have to remember that nature not only builds and destroys but also rebuilds.

In regard to pollution of the area, the better and more colourful reefs are mostly further out. We get very worried about certain possibilities. For instance, drilling for oil on the Reef has been talked about and there has been a great clamour about the great danger in it. But in many years of drilling there have been very few blowouts at sea. There was one at Santa Barbara and one somewhere else. These things can happen. But the greatest danger to the Great Barrier Reef from oil pollution is posed not by drilling on the Reef, should it take place, but by the tankers that ply up and down the channels of the Reef area. They go up and down those channels day in day out, week in week out, year in year out. If one of those tankers struck a rock it could do much more damage to the Reef than could the drilling for oil about which so many people are so greatly concerned. We have to keep in mind the relative risks and values of the different operations in which we engage. Despite the fears held about drilling for oil on the Reef, a far greater danger is posed by the ships plying up and down the passages, such as the Whitsunday Passage and the passages further north, where if a ship went on the rocks it could do a great deal of damage. Not so many years ago in the English Channel a ship ran aground and broke up, and as a consequence there was oil pollution on the beaches. The greatest danger of damage is posed by the size of tankers and the amount of oil they can carry.


Senator Georges - But it is an extra risk, is it not?


Senator WOOD - Yes. We have to keep a balance in our minds between the risks and the gains. I have always been a very keen conservationist. In fact, long before people who are now talking about the preservation of the Reef began doing so, I was one of the people who talked to the Queensland Lands Department and helped in the agitation that took place for the preservation of the islands in order to make them national resorts. As a consequence, most of them now are national resorts. When certain people moved, I supported them in various ways. In my district of Mackay, through my own agitation the Eungella National Park - 120,000 acres of the most beautiful rain forest or tropical jungle that one can see - was set aside as a national park so that present and future generations might see the glorious beauty of that country. I do not decry people who are keen on conservation, because I am a preservationist myself. But we have to strike a balance between what we can extract for our use and what we can preserve for our use. If we do that, we will achieve some sense in the matter.

The Great Barrier Reef is the greatest tourist attraction we have in Australia. Senator Gair, as a former Premier of Queensland, will know of my association with the Great Barrier Reef development over many years because he was in the Queensland Parliament for quite a long time when I was engaged in this work. I am very keen that we should do everything possible to find out everything - the whys and the wherefores - about the Great Barrier Reef, in relation to not only the coral but also the life in it and the possibilities for it. An institute such as this could very well give us the answer to the question: How should we go about keeping this wonderful heritage which we in Queensland, in particular, have and in which Australians generally can share? So, with those words, 1 commend the Bill now before the Senate and sincerely hope that the establishment of the Institute will bring to each and every one of us the fulfilment of the dearest hopes of those of us who have a true love of this country and the great assets we have, such as the Great Barrier Reef.







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