Reefs off the Sunshine Coast compare to best in the world
REEFS off the Sunshine Coast have been compared to some of the healthiest in the Caribbean by an organisation which monitors reef health.
And the presence of the HMAS Brisbane, sunk off Mudjimba 10 years ago, has been credited with lessening the impact of recreational diving on the network of natural reefs.
Reef Check Australia has been monitoring the Coast's sub-tropical reefs since 2007 and general manager Jennifer Loder said the levels of hard coral found over the years was on a par with the Caribbean.
Hard coral is used as an indicator of broader reef health, as it helps build critical habitat for marine life and is sensitive to environmental change.
Ms Loder said ongoing testing of the Inner Gneerings and reefs off Mudjimba Island, Currimundi and Kings Beach showed an average of 24% hard coral since 2007.
"The amount of hard coral for the sub-tropical reefs on the Sunshine Coast is comparable to Reef Check findings from the Caribbean, which is a popular dive tourism destination," she said.
"This highlights how special these lesser-known reef systems truly are."
The findings come as no surprise to Rob McKinnon of Scuba World, who has been diving local reefs for 15 years.
While he has never dived in the Caribbean, Mr McKinnon said the Sunshine Coast's natural reefs were on a par with those in Fiji and Vanuatu.
"We believe we have some of the healthiest reefs in all of Australia," he said.
"The biggest luxury we have with reefs off the Sunshine Coast is that they are not a dive destination, like the reefs off Cairns.
"Since the HMAS Brisbane was scuttled, for every 10 trips we do to it, we do just one to the other reefs.
"So, for the best part of the past 10 years those other reefs haven't been visited anywhere near as much and the human impact has been much less."
Mr McKinnon said he still took dive groups to the Inner Gneerings but they were mostly locals who wanted something different after diving the HMAS Brisbane several times.
He said the reefs had shown no decline in health since he first dived on them in 2000.
"It's very hard to tell with the naked eye but Reef Check does scientific testing and it is showing they are in really good shape.
"If anything, I think they are getting better.
"I can't talk about the Caribbean but I would compare our reefs to Fiji and Vanuatu."
But it's not all good news, with Ms Loder saying there were some signs of damage to Sunshine Coast reefs.
"RCA surveys have not recorded major changes in hard coral cover at most sites, although Kings Beach indicated major declines after the 2011 floods but seems to indicate signs of recovery now," she said.
"We have recorded some visual signs of reef impacts at most sites, such as low levels of bleaching, physical damage and coral disease and will continue to monitor these for changes over time.
"Corals are sensitive to their environment, so changes in factors such as water quality, temperature or light can result cause stress for corals.
"Ongoing pressures such as sediment and pollution coming from catchments can stress corals and reduce their resilience over time."