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By Mark Beale

FOR the first time in its chairman’s seven-year reign, the board of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has come to Airlie Beach.

Russell Reichelt, who is both chief executive of the organisation and chairman of its board, arrived in the Whitsundays on Monday, meeting up with his associates Melissa George, Tony Mooney, Jon Grayson and Margie McKenzie, for what he described as a “multi-purpose” trip.

The first thing the board members did was to get out on the water and visit some of the area’s most iconic locations, such as Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach, which are soon to come up for review. Mr Reichelt explained that the current system of zoning around the Whitsunday islands and reef, and the associated plan of management, determining each area’s level of use, was about to be re-visited.

“There’s a limit to how many places you can anchor and have big tourism operators working – and look, it’s been pretty stable and we haven’t opened that for review now for six years – and it’s time to look at it,” he said. Travelling to the Whitsundays from destinations as far apart as Melbourne and Cairns, were members of the Superyacht industry, who wanted to have their say on restrictions to use of the marine park (full story page 3).

After meeting with these representatives and Abell Point Marina owner Paul Darrouzet, it was time for the board of GBRMPA to face the tourism operators of Airlie Beach.

While some have been quite vocal about the marine park authority’s role in the ongoing Abbot Point dredging debate, the mood at a function held at Marina Shores was upbeat.

Addressing representatives from the Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association (WCBIA) such as Tony Brown, Al Grundy and Peter Claxton, who have been at the forefront of the ‘no sea-dumping’ fight, Mr Reichelt was both appreciative of their efforts and optimistic about the future of the tourism industry and the reef.

“I’ve seen a terrific change in [the] Queensland and Federal Governments and we in the authority are in a position now to be more strongly asserting that the focus on water quality should extend to all developments, including ports, and minimising the impacts or footprints of ports, which is a long-held view of ours,” he said.

“Dredging won’t go away – we need to maintain our harbours and things but I think we can take a breath and look at the bigger picture for a little while now.”

As for the zoning and management review, Mr Reichelt said he expected it to be open for public comment within a few months and ready to act upon in about a year. “By the end of June next year would be optimistic, but we’ll shoot for it,” he said.

Yesterday, the board held their regular meeting in Airlie Beach before leaving the area, with Mr Reichelt heading to Mackay.

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