Great Barrier Reef, QLD

By: Chris Whitelaw, Photography by: Chris Whitelaw

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  • Trade-A-Boat

The Great Barrier Reef may be under threat, but there are still bastions of thriving coral to explore around Lady Musgrave Island.

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Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is recognised internationally as one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Stretching 2,300km along Queensland’s coast, it embraces 350,000 (about 70 million football fields) of magnificent tropical marine environment and, comprising 10 per cent of the world’s coral, it is the only living structure that can be seen from outer space.

The GBR is also Australia’s most valuable tourist icon, attracting almost 4 million visitors each year, mostly around Cairns. But you don’t have to travel that far to enjoy the Reef’s world-class attractions, for its southern extremity lies just off Bundaberg, only 370km from Brisbane, and can be reached on a day trip with the ‘Lady Musgrave Experience’ (LME).

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Lady Musgrave Island is the second most southerly island in the Reef, part of the Capricornia Cays National Park, within the GBR Marine Park. It is named after Lady Jeanne Lucinda Musgrave (1833-1920), second wife of Sir Anthony Musgrave, Governor of Queensland. The local Aboriginal people aptly call it Wallaginji, ‘beautiful reef’.

This tiny coral cay (14ha) serves as a seasonal habitat for thousands of migratory seabirds and a nesting ground for endangered turtles. A 1192-ha fringing reef encloses a turquoise lagoon, accessed via a deep water channel, that provides safe anchorage to recreational boats and an assortment of commercial tourism vessels that deliver more than 10,000 day-visitors (and 1,200 campers) to the island annually.

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The island is only accessible by boat and the LME flagship is the Main Event, a custom-built 27-metre catamaran, powered by twin 1100hp Detroit engines that can push the vessel to a cruising speed of 24 knots, enabling it to make the 100km (54nm) open ocean crossing out of the Port of Bundaberg Marina at Burnett Heads in about 2½ hours. It’s capable of accommodating 200 guests in air-conditioned comfort over 3 levels, with 126 seats on the main deck, 48 seats in the upper/VIP deck lounge and seating for up to 25 on the open air sundeck.

The day-trip package includes morning and afternoon tea, with a buffet lunch in between, and a licensed bar provides a seemingly endless supply of ‘popular local beverages’.

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It’s not all ‘beer and skittles’, however, for arrival at the island heralds an action-packed program of activities that includes glass-bottom boating in the lagoon, a guided 45-minute nature walk on the island, snorkelling and scuba-diving. Whereas coral in the northern part of the GBR has been dramatically affected by bleaching, the southern offshore reefs, including those around Lady Musgrave, remain relatively unaffected and still provide spectacular underwater scenery.

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It has to be said that the ‘Experience’ isn’t cheap but it’s worth every penny for the opportunity of seeing our magnificent Great Barrier Reef in all it’s glory, perhaps before it’s gone forever. 


Our most valuable tourist asset, the Great Barrier Reef is also the most vulnerable to a whole spectrum of natural and man-made threats–overexploitation by tourism, deforestation, commercial overfishing, floods and farming nutrient runoff, cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish and coastal dredging. But climate change through global warming is clearly the single greatest threat, causing rising ocean temperatures that bleach coral, and increasing ocean acidification due to the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide by seawater. So great is their impact and so rapid the Reef’s decline that some scientists predict the Reef as we know it could be largely extinct by the middle of this century.

It is timely – some would say long overdue–that the Federal Government recently unveiled a $536 million package to help deal with the problems facing the Great Barrier Reef. The funding will go towards improving water quality through changed farming practices, combating the crown-of-thorns starfish, enhancing reef health monitoring and reporting, expanding environmental management and compliance operations, and scientific research to develop more resilient and adaptive coral.

As welcome as this investment is, many commentators believe it is woefully inadequate and fails to address the "elephant in the room", climate change. With the 42nd session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee scheduled for June/July 2018, the world will be watching what we do in protecting and restoring our valuable marine parks. We need to get this right, not just in the short term but for the benefit of future generations.

Check out the full feature in issue #504 of Trade-A-Boat magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest boating news, reviews and travel inspiration.


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