Tourism operators unfairly blamed for reef deaths


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Australia has the safest marine tourism industry in the world, according to AMPTO chief Col McKenzie. IMAGE: Pinterest.

TOURISM operators are unfairly blamed for deaths on the Great Barrier Reef. That’s according to reef tourism chief Col McKenzie, who said many deaths attributed to the industry were not even on tourism vessels.

There were 10 fatalities on the reef last year, the most since 1988, which prompted a roundtable with dive and snorkelling operators in Cairns last week.

McKenzie, Executive Officer of the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, said many were unfairly reported and attributed to reef companies.

“An example would be some of the deaths on Green Island are on non-patrolled beaches and the marine tourism industry is blamed when all we did was take the person to an island and the person goes snorkelling or swimming at their own discretion,” he said.

A 67-year old Japanese tourist died while snorkelling at Green Island in October last year. He was on a day-trip to the island and hired his own snorkelling equipment once he arrived.

“The Magnetic Island ferry service does not get blamed for drowning deaths on Magnetic, but we get blamed when a ferry service takes passengers to Green Island and the person drowns on a lifesaver patrolled beach, or even if they drown when swimming in an unpatrolled area,” McKenzie said.

John Edmondson, owner of the Port Douglas based Wavelength, agreed. He said some tragedies were unfairly reported in the media.

“Inaccurate reporting and speculation, such as linking the tragic death of two French tourists with Irukandji stings, is misleading to the public,” Edmondson said.

“The main risk to snorkelers is lack of medical fitness, in particular cardiac disease.”

Edmondson said the roundtable discussion, which was chaired by Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace, was ‘very constructive’.

“There was acknowledgement that Queensland has a very safe marine industry, (and) it was a great way to discuss what, if any, improvements that can be made to the existing code of practice.”

McKenzie said there continued to be a ‘massive overreaction’ to fatality rates of people enjoying the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. He pointed to last year’s figures, which saw 0.4 deaths per 100,000 visitors to Queensland's natural wonder. In comparison, Australia has a nationwide drowning fatality rate of 1.18 per 100,000 people, while eight deaths are recorded per 100,000 Australians visiting Bali.

“You are three times safer on our boats than swimming on beaches and rivers in Australia, and 20 times safer than going to Bali,” he said.

“We are the safest marine tourism industry in the world and very proud of our record.”

A number of Port Douglas operators preferred not to comment when contacted by Newsport in relation to the roundtable meeting last week.

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