Whitsundays Reef Recovery and Public Art Project


Reef Ecologic’s Whitsundays Tourism Recovery Project commenced in 2018 consisting of coral reef restoration activities to assist the recovery of two location in the region. The project also led the design, creation and installation of 6 Underwater and inter-tidal interpretive art pieces across the Whitsundays region. These art installations are available to visit, while the reef restoration activities continue to assist the recovery of Whitsunday reefs.

Whitsundays Reef Restoration

See below for the history of this project

Innovative underwater, multi-story, ecologically friendly coral nurseries (trays, ropes) established in 2018 at two popular Whitsunday tourism locations were supported by a 6 month bridging grant from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to Reef Ecologic for 2020.

Regular monthly field trips were undertaken by scientists, citizen scientists and tourism industry between January and June 2020 to monitor the coral nurseries and the 357 outplanted and tagged corals. Over 50 people from the Whitsunday tourism industry, citizen scientists and conservationists have been involved in the research project.

Research indicates that coral bleaching in 2020 had the most significant impact on coral nurseries (with a 24% mortality between Feb and April). However, good news is that many bleached corals survived and were healthy for outplanting to the reef in June.

COVID19 impacted severely on the Whitsunday tourism industry and we expanded our project scope to assist with training operators on coral restoration. We chartered a total of five tourism vessels and involved 50 tourism, science and community stakeholders in outplanting coral in June. There were extensive positive communication outcomes from the project. Our metrics indicate over 64 specific communication products with over 4200 engagements with a total reach of over 39,200.


Corals Outplanted

Area Covered m2


The Reef Island initiative aims to protect and restore critical values for wildlife and reef communities in the face of a changing climate. The nature of the opportunity for the Reef Islands Initiative in the Whitsundays leads itself to targeted interventions that capitalise on the strength of the Traditional Owner, tourism and local communities. The project aims to build ecosystem and community resilience across the Whitsundays archipelago, with a strong focus on in-water restoration, to rebuild reef structural complexity and function.

Reef Ecologic has developed and maintained well-supported community coral nurseries at two key sites in the Whitsundays since 2018 and expanded these in 2019. During 2019 we propagated over 1500 corals on the coral nurseries at Blue Pearl and Manta Ray Bay. In June 2020 Reef Ecologic outplanted all surviving  955 coral colonies onto the surrounding reef at Blue Pearl and Manta Ray Bay.

This reef restoration project has been designed specifically to explore and research methods and techniques that will be effective for selected locations in the Great Barrier Reef region. Project progress has been positive with good survivorship of coral colonies and the development of effective results Survival rates for restored corals is relatively high. All coral genera with sufficient replication from which to draw conclusions (>10 studies)) report an average survival between 60-70%. (Bostrom-Einasen et al 2019). Our results indicate overall survival from propagated corals across all sites between January and June 2020 was 955 or 68%. Our results are consistent with other research studies. We undertook a lessons learned exercise to describe what worked well and where there were potential issue and future solutions.


Lessons learned

  1. Implemented scientific research methods effective for community based coral gardening activities.
  2. Using multiple methods supports greater use of source material and species
  3. Multi storey nurseries enhance performance during times of stress. Maximise use of available space.
  4. Underwater putty and cement extremely effective adhesives.
  5. Biodegradable rope fails too quickly for use in coral nurseries
  6. Coral bleaching increased mortality of coral nurseries, although this was mitigated by shading and water depth.
  7. Silicone increased mortality of corals nurseries.

“I enjoyed learning about the coral restoration project hands on, my favourite part was cementing the corals in their new homes and thinking of those as ‘my’ corals. I also learnt a lot about fish identification. The team were very knowledgeable and keen to pass on this knowledge.”

Laura Oates

local community volunteer

Engaging Volunteers and Social Outcomes

Socio-economic objectives are crucial success indicators of in-situ community based restoration programs. Engaging community members and key stakeholders, especially the tourism industry in the Whitsundays reef restoration has been a key element of our ongoing stakeholder engagement throughout the project. Activities have included extensive consultation and communication, sharing the journey with stakeholders as the project progresses. Additionally, we have focused on providing opportunities hands on involvement by community members especially tourism industry staff.

Reef Ecologic actively engaged with Whitsunday tourism industry (Tourism Whitsundays, WCBIA, Coral Sea Marina and Hotel, Daydream island resort) and local community members as part of the Whitsundays reef restoration project. Providing hands on opportunities was especially important in 2020 following severe restriction of tourism operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 38 people participated in the two field trips to outplant corals. 31 volunteers included 25 tourism industry staff and 4 local community representatives participating as key members of the research team. Read the blog HERE


Enjoyed the whole experience! Best part was seeing a whale. It was so nice to take New Horizon out after 2 months of sitting in the marina. Also, the corals look great and it was wonderful to see everyone working so hard and well together.

Ellie McMaster

Crew, True Blue Sailing

Following participation in fieldwork we asked participants to complete an online survey asking questions about their hands on experience with reef restoration and how it affected their understanding of Reef health, and their role in supporting its ongoing resilience. Survey results collected during this project mirror many of the findings in recent studies reporting the tourism industry’s reasons for supporting coral restoration include a passion for the reef, its potential as an educational and resilience building tool and a way to support their ongoing economic health (Hein et al, 2020).

Survey questions focused on a range of issues that focused on public awareness, personal development, local ecosystem impacts and accessibility issues. 85% of respondents strongly agreed that environmental issues are highly relevant to their lives. Demonstrating that participation by volunteers was dominated by people who had a strong commitment to protecting the environment. 96% of respondents agreed that reef restoration activities can help educate the local community and visitors to the threats facing the reef.

Capacity building is a key element of our community based reef restoration projects. Our training and facilitation are excellent highlighted by responses that showed 85% of respondents strongly agreed that they learned something new from their involvement assisting in the reef restoration activities while 96% found the tasks involved in the reef restoration activities were easy to learn and implement.

“To be able to assist in some reef restoration work in a local environment that I know and have watched the devastation after ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie where most of the coral is dead. To outplant new coral and watch this grow is so rewarding and an incentive to spread the word to friends to do everything they can to reduce climate change.” 

Heather Batrick

Local community volunteer

Whitsundays Reef Recovery and Public Art Project

2018 – 2019

A year after Cyclone Debbie devastated the Whitsundays, Tourism Industry Development Minister Kate Jones announced $2 million to fund six tourism projects in the region. Reef Ecologic have been fortunate to secure funding as part of a $7 million joint State and Federal government funding package set up to help the tourism industry bounce back from Tropical Cyclone Debbie after it crossed the Whitsunday coast on March 28, 2017.

The Whitsundays is one of Australia’s most popular and beautiful tourist destinations. Each year hundreds of thousands of visitors from Australia and abroad flock to the region to enjoy the tropical Queensland sunshine, swim in the sparkling blue waters of the Coral Sea, relax on bright white sandy beaches and explore the kaleidoscopic world of colourful coral and reef fish which lies beneath the water.

Reef Ecologic have identified some great opportunities to improve existing tourism products and attractions and link these with new products and attractions through the development of the Whitsundays reef and island learning trial involving art installations combined with marine rehabilitation. We propose a range of locations and infrastructure. The final locations and details of each product will be decided in partnership and through collaboration with government, industry and the local community as we go through the developmental process.

UPDATE July 2020


During 2019-2020 we propagated over 1500 corals on the coral nurseries at Blue Pearl and Manta Ray Bay in the Whitsundays.  In June 2020 Reef Ecologic outplanted all surviving 955 coral colonies onto the surrounding reef at Blue Pearl and Manta Ray Bay.

UPDATE 20 March 2020

Anthozoa by artist Jessa Lloyd has been installed at Langford Reef in close proximity to Turtle Dream. A brochure of the Whitsunday Ngaro underwater marine sculpture trail including information about the amazing sculptures, artists, locations, water depth is available here (Link)

We are also interested in public opinion on the underwater art and reef restoration. If you visit some of these sites please download this social survey (Link) and return via email to adam.smith@reefecologic.org


The reef restoration project continues well. We have had a reasonably forgiving summer with mild to severe bleaching throughout February. Current windy weather has precluded us from assessing current survival rates through this period. Based on February data we have 396 corals growing in our coral nurseries and 357 have been outplanted onto the reef at two locations.

UPDATE December 15 2019

As the project nears its completion we eagerly await the deployment of the final piece of artwork, Anthozoa, which will be deployed at Blue Pearl Bay in the coming weeks. More details including the location of the installed sculptures, GPS locations and depths of water are in the latest communique.


The reef restoration project continues to develop and improve over time. At present we have 401 corals growing in our coral nurseries and 357 have been outplanted onto the reef at two locations. Read the latest fieldwork summary here and see the latest update video here. 

UPDATE October 18 2019

Five of the six major sculptures (Turtle Dream, Maori Wrasse, Manta Ray, Migration of the Mantas and Bywa) have been installed in the Great Barrier Reef under Marine Parks permit G19/41557.1. More details including the location of the sculptures, GPS locations and depths of water are in the latest communique.


Reef restoration activities continue with mixed results at both Blue Pearl and Manta Ray Bay. All coral nurseries are performing well maintaining their survival rate at a high level of 77% across all methods and locations. In August we outplanted an additional batch of 169 coral colonies, 76 at Blue Pearl Bay and 93 at Manta Ray Bay. This takes total outplanted coral colonies to 357 at both locations. A recent visit highlighted predation by Bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) on outplanted corals in Blue Pearl Bay. The news wasn’t totally unexpected as monitoring by the tourism industry had informed us Parrotfish had been grazing on the newly outplanted coral colonies. Thankfully some of the colony still remains but we still need to determine how to reduce additional predation in the future.

UPDATE August 1 2019

Four of the six major sculptures (Turtle Dream, Maori Wrasse, Manta Ray and Migration of the Mantas) have been installed in the Great Barrier Reef at popular tourism sites damaged by ex-Cyclone Debbie. A huge thank you to the expert team from David Edge Marine Contracting, Whitsunday Mooring and Marine Constructions, artists, QPWS and GBRMPA for working collaboratively with Reef Ecologic to successfully deploy the sculptures. Bywa will be installed in Horseshoe Bay during August (weather permitting). Anthozoa is under construction and anticipated date of completion and installation is September. More details including the location of the sculptures, GPS locations and depths of water are in the attached communique.


Reef restoration activities continue positively at both Blue Pearl and Manta Ray Bay. All coral nurseries are performing well maintaining their survival rate of 80% across all methods and locations. Recent research on the 188 outplanted corals have indicated they are doing well with survival as high as 92% in Manta Ray Bay in the two months since outplanting onto the natural reef. Over the past two months Reef Ecologic have entered into new partnerships with organisations to support the expansion of reef restoration activities in the Whitsundays. International tour operator G Adventures and their not-for-profit partner Planeterra Foundation through local tourism group Explore Whitsundays, are providing financial support to continue and expand reef restoration activities both locations. Stay tuned for some major upscaling of our reef restoration project in the region.

UPDATE June 14, 2019

Five of the six major sculptures have been completed and several are on public display. Turtle Dream (artist Col Henry) and Maori Wrasse (artist Adriaan Vanderlugt) are on display at the Bowen Information Centre. Manta Ray (artist Adriaan Vanderlugt) is on display at Proserpine Airport. Bywa and Migration of the Manta (artist Brian Robinson) are close to completion and Anthozoa (Arts Based Collective – Jessa Lloyd, Caitlin Reilly, Kate Ford) is progressing. We have collaborated with Whitsunday Regional Council and Bowen Tourism & Business Visitor Information Centre to place the sculptures temporarily and designs education signs about the reef, underwater sculptures and education.

We are working closely with government and the tourism industry on permit processes and Environmental Management Plan. We are working in partnership with local dive and salvage business to develop an Installation Plan for the underwater sculptures and associated moorings. We plan to install the sculptures in mid to late July for a launch date in early August to coincide with the Whitsunday Reef Festival.


In April and May we had the pleasure of outplanting our first nursery reared corals onto the Reef. This is an exciting step representing a crucial stage in the recovery of these locations. We outplanted 88 coral colonies at Blue Pearl Bay and 100 coral colonies at Manta Ray Bay in 25m2 quadrats. Twenty percent of the colonies have been marked with small tags for continued monitoring (Pictured below left and below right). Simultaneously we propagated our rope nurseries with an additional 180 coral colonies in Blue Pearl Bay and 210 coral colonies in Manta Ray Bay. This work was made possible with fantastic support from the local community, like local champion Tony Fontes (pictured centre below). Overall survival for all coral colonies propagated remains high at 80% across all locations and methods which is a very positive result. You can read the full summary of our recent fieldwork and progress report HERE


As part of the Whitsundays Public Art and Reef Recovery Project, we are proposing to install artistic sculptures/installations in the Whitsundays region. Between February 27 and March 29 we will be undertaking public consultation as part of the GBRMPA permitting process. Our full Whitsundays Public Consultation Package can be downloaded HERE. We appreciate any comments or feedback that can help us guide this project to enhance the socio-economic and ecological values of the Great Barrier Reef.


On 17 January, 2019 Reef Ecologic undertook a maintenance and monitoring visit to the coral nurseries at Blue Pearl and Manta Ray Bay in the Whitsundays. The purpose was to check on the condition and health of both the coral nursery frames and the corals themselves.

Tasks completed include

  • Quantifying survival of all coral colonies (90%)
  • Assessing the condition of the coral nursery frames (good)
  • Cleaning of coral nurseries (ropes, tables, frames, attachments, floats and signs)
  • Installing or repairing research signs.
  • Establishing repeat photopoint monitoring stations for each nursery
  • Read Summary report HERE


The public art research project at Langford Reef was completed in November. The six major sculptures are progressing with planning, design, models and engineering certification. A permit application has been submitted to GBRMPA for the installation at four sites. Two of the sculptors are collaborating with local indigenous artist Nicky Bidju Prior and one of the sculptures is collaborating with Arthur Gaby.

On the 8th of November Reef Ecologic received approval from GBRMPA for the commencement of coral nursery reef restoration project. Under the auspices of permit number G18/41180.1 Reef Ecologic was assisted by 11 volunteers representing Queensland Parks and Wildlife service, the Order of Underwater Coral Heroes (OUCH) and the local tourism industry over four days to install the coral nursery frames and propagate corals at Blue Pearl Bay and Manta Ray Bay. A total of 425 coral fragments are now growing successfully on the coral nursery frames at Blue Pearl Bay (225) and Manta Ray Bay (200). Corals represent four different genera and over 10 species of coral.

‘We preferentially chose coral species that are currently absent from these locations’, Reef Ecologic’s marine scientist Nathan Cook said. ‘We hope to increase the genetic diversity of the resident population and increase the speed of recovery at both Blue Pearl and Manta Ray Bay’. Representatives from the local community and tourism industry will be required to assist with future monitoring and maintenance. You can register your interest in either activity by emailing


The public call to artists as part of the Whitsundays Public Art and Research Project was a huge success. The response was fantastic with 73 separate submissions of public artworks for consideration. An independent selection panel considered all the applications and agreed on six sculptures to be commissioned.

The subjects of the sculptures include Turtle, Manta rays, Maori wrasse, Coral polyp and an indigenous sculpture ‘Bwya’ containing 12 local species of fish and sharks. The largest sculpture is 6m. The sculptures are made from a variety of materials including concrete, stainless steel and aluminium. The plan is to locate the sculptures underwater where they can be viewed by snorkelers and SCUBA divers. There is ongoing discussion with GBRMPA, QPWS and stakeholders about the preferred location(s) of the artworks in the Whitsunday’s region. One of the objectives of the public art project is to provide new or enhanced tourism experiences at sites damaged by Cyclone Debbie. With the art pieces having a marine wildlife theme, we believe they will provoke conversation, education and deeper consideration of the marine environment.


A key component of this project is for the community and key stakeholders to be involved and empowered. Throughout the month of June we have continued our extensive consultations with key stakeholders throughout the region by phone, email, conference calls and face-to-face meetings. We have participated in over 100 consultation activities involving over 200 people so far.

PUBLIC ART INSTALLATIONS: Marine public art is well known and admired in the Whitsundays region. Underwater art installations are increasingly being considered as a strategy for increasing public engagement and awareness around coral reefs and the challenges they face, and for complementing the range of tourism opportunities provided by natural features.

UPDATE JUNE 12, 2018

In May 2018 we consulted widely with the community and conducted site assessments at 11 sites across Bowen and the Whitsundays. The video below briefly summarises some of the findings from our site assessments. Please also read the communique for a current update on the project progress and status.


The ‘extended video of site assessments’ is an extended mix of underwater and above water footage from our site assessments in the Whitsundays which may be useful to artists or other individuals interested in developing ideas for this project.

Coral in West Butterfly Bay

Bare reef rock in Manta Ray Bay

Media Releases

4 August 2018

Great news for the Whitsunday region with collaboration by government, industry and stakeholders for a new reef research project and tourism attraction to be installed at Langford Reef. Read the minister’s press release HERE

Art research project at Langford Reef

2 October 2018

Tourism Whitsundays and Reef Ecologic have welcomed the appointment of three individual artists and a team of three for the design of six artworks for the Whitsundays Reef Recovery and Public Art Project. Read the press release HERE

Key Partners

This project was funded as part of the joint Queensland and Australian Government’s Tourism Recovery Fund.