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Marine biologist steers Passions

December 22, 2017 Responsible Tourism No Comments Email Email

Marine biologist Gareth Phillips has been fascinated with coral regeneration since he started his career some 18 years ago growing coral in a laboratory in South Africa.

These days he has swapped the laboratory for the Great Barrier Reef in Tropical North Queensland where the annual coral spawn puts on a spectacular regeneration show each year.

“I joined a crew documenting the recent coral spawn and saw the most amazing spectacle. Corals releasing egg parcels and clouds of genetic material, like a fog rising from the huge boulder corals,” Mr Phillips said.

“The coral spawn occurs two to six nights after the full moon in November which this year was early and the water was still cool so we there was a second Great Barrier Reef spawn early in December.

“There has been a decline in coral from the two bleaching events, but there is still more live coral than deceased coral in the places I visit and as this spawning event has been so successful, it is looking good for the recovery of the reefs in the next few years.”

Mr Phillips skippers Passions III for Passions of Paradise, a carbon-neutral locally owned Great Barrier Reef operator, and operates Reef Teach, an entertaining interactive presentation by marine biologists about the Reef.

“I love boats and I’ve always like the ethos of Passions so when I was invited to skipper their new catamaran I was very excited – who doesn’t want a new boat,” he said.

“The crew send passengers who want to know more to talk to me as I have three degrees in marine science and the crew ask questions too which means their knowledge of the Reef is increasing.”

Mr Phillips’ first foray into tourism was in South Africa coordinating a centre for dolphin studies and he still enjoys encounters with the larger marine animals, especially the dwarf minke whales that visit the Ribbon Reefs north of Port Douglas each June and July.

“Some of the more intimate encounters with smaller animals can be just as exciting, for example watching a rock mover wrasse lift up coral and feed on small crustaceans and other tiny invertebrates underneath.

“I also have a few favourite places like Tracy’s Bommie at Flynn Reef which is just stunning with sharks, turtles, immense coral cover and diverse fish life.

“My ultimate place to go is the north-eastern outer shoulder of Thetford Reef where there is almost 100 per cent live coral cover and big drop offs with the potential for mega fauna to be seen.”

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