Great Barrier Reef deaths: New safety guidelines for divers

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Tourists diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. Image supplied

TOURISTS will be compelled to disclose health issues and “at-risk’’ snorkellers made to wear colour-coded equipment as part of reforms aimed at cutting deaths on the Great Barrier Reef.

The State Government has launched a stronger recreational snorkelling code of practice for Queensland and will soon announce revised diving safety guidelines.

It follows a horror run of 10 tourist deaths at the natural wonder in a six-month period last year.

The improvements are based on advice from tourism industry operators and work safety experts.

In The Sunday Mail in February Surf Life Saving Queensland called for tougher safety restrictions and best practice standards after the deaths.

Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace invited the association to join industry representatives at a Reef safety roundtable that helped shape the long-awaited changes.

Ms Grace said the revised code of practice would make the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland’s other waterways safer for snorkellers.

“Queensland has the largest recreational snorkelling and diving sector in Australia and we’re the only state to have specific legislation covering the industry,” she said.

“But given the events of last year, which saw 10 fatalities in Queensland between July and December, we clearly needed an even stronger code of practice.’’

Stevie Barham on Moore Reef, Cairns. Picture: Stuart Ireland, Calypso Imagery

Ms Grace said operators now would be allowed to request declarations from people identified as “at-risk’’ snorkellers, such as older visitors and those with health or mobility issues, prior to them entering the water.

She said automatic external defibrillators would have to be available on all reef tourist vessels to improve emergency response capabilities. Previously, this was voluntary.

“Flotation devices will be mandated for at-risk snorkellers who must now wear a different-coloured vest or snorkel and mask for easy visual identification,’’ she said.

Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators CEO Col McKenzie said the changes would “empower’’ operators, who could now ask visitors to declare any medical history.

“If they refuse to fill it (the declaration) out, then they can be told they are not getting in the water,’’ he said.

“Until now, we have had to let them (snorkel) and wear the consequences.

“If we identify those who may be at risk, including people significantly overweight, with mobility issues or age-related conditions, operators can insist on certain things that will make the reef experience much safer.’’

This includes colour-coded masks and snorkels that allow look-outs to pay greater attention to the tourists more likely to get into trouble.

Mr McKenzie said operators were very happy with the overhaul and the willingness of government to accept industry advice.

Barron River MP Craig Crawford said the new snorkelling code of practice was crucial for far north Queensland’s tourism and the local economy.

“It will ensure Queensland continues to lead the way on reef and water safety and make the reef an even safer place to visit for tourists,’’ he said.

“Local tourism operators support the new code and I look forward to working with industry to ensure it works as intended.”

Ms Grace said the Government was working with stakeholders to finalise a recreational diving code of practice.

Ms Grace said that under the revised code was the family of deceased would be notified of the cause of death within 24 hours, once the cause was known. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and tourism would be notified within 48 hours, and 24-36 hours after this, the information would be publicly released.

“Also resulting from the roundtable, an expert panel will be established to assist the Coroner to analyse any snorkelling or diving deaths on the reef on a case-by-case basis,’’ she said.

Courier Mail reports

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