Reef Relief in Queensland
A new environmental mission – the Great Reef Census – is underway and superyacht charter guests are being invited along for the ride.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef inevitably appears on most superyacht bucket list destinations. The region’s renowned diving opportunities are an obvious draw, along with the staggeringly beautiful scenery and glorious weather. Now, there’s another, more unexpected pull, for guests who are as keen to save the oceans as they are to play in them.
The Great Reef Census was developed in 2019 by Cairns-based charity Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef. The project is essentially a mammoth effort to survey the reef, which has never been even close to fully monitored. Like so many places in the world, the reef is under threat and climate change is the main culprit, causing rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification and extreme weather events. The Census aims to deliver vital insights into the state of the reef and engage the community in its future via education, storytelling and action.
“The Great Barrier Reef consists of close to 3000 individual coral reefs stretching over 2300 km, an area larger than Germany,” says Andy Ridley, CEO and founder of the charity. “Utilising the assets already out on the reef every day to support critical research and critical monitoring will become even more important in the coming years”.
His team developed a device allowing any vessel to upload survey images of the reef to a central source from remote offshore locations. Over eleven weeks last year, a collection of boats, from fishing vessels to superyachts, were mobilised – and together captured thousands of images critical to help scientists improve coral recovery and also available for researchers, regulators and students to analyse, view and study.
One of the superyachts involved was Beluga, part of the Ocean Alliance fleet, which was recently crowned Yacht of the Year at the Boat International Ocean Awards 2021 in recognition of its efforts in the project. The owners gave up the yacht post charter on a leg from Cairns to Lizard Island, offering it to scientists from the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, who were able to complete surveys, test new equipment and pilot research and development to support the inaugural census.
“Ocean Alliance partnered with Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef several years ago with a combined interest to connect the superyacht industry with citizen science initiatives such as the Great Reef Census,” says Joachim Howard, CEO of Ocean Alliance, the Australian charter broker who alerted the Beluga team about the opportunity. “When a vessel was required to assist with testing new technology ahead of the first Census, it was only natural for us to approach Beluga as the owners are actively involved in ocean conservation.”
Beluga will be used on the project again this year. For charter guests, this means there is a potential to charter the yacht while making a significant difference to the very marine ecosystem they are holidaying in. And there are hopes for many more yachts to join in.
“A yacht willing to take part will simply need to place the special device on board, have a few underwater cameras at the guests’ disposal, and consider the survey sites provided by the Citizens team and Ocean Alliance. Guests can be in the water for as little as ten minutes, and upload their photos once back on board,” says Howard. Ocean Alliance are also able to arrange for a marine biologist to join the charter – or for Andy Ridley himself to come on board and help guests analyse their findings.
For Howard who has spent a career in the world of superyachts, there is an increased thirst in this kind of yachting with purpose. “Most of the yachts in our fleet at Ocean Alliance have committed, at least in part, to being sustainable, eco-friendly, or whichever label we want to give it.” He cites Silentworld by way of example. “The owner is involved with Australian Maritime Research, and in 2017 won the Inaugural Australian Voyager Award for a 10-day itinerary specifically aimed to discover shipwrecks and relics on the Great Barrier Reef.”
Charter guests, too, have proved keen to make a difference. “We had one recent charter with an American family who dedicated themselves to cleaning up a beach on a really remote island in Fiji, and another committed to equipping a whole Fijian school with laptops.”
As far as the Great Reef Census is concerned, the hope is that 2021 will see even more boats taking part, building up the image bank and helping scientists make a difference. “We want to use the skills, vessels and knowledge of many passionate people to build a 21st-century research flotilla,” says Ridley. The Reef awaits.