Whitsundays Reef Recovery and Public Art Project


Reef Ecologic’s Whitsundays Tourism Recovery Project will lead in the design, creation and installation of underwater and inter-tidal interpretive art pieces across the Whitsunday region, coral restoration and educational activities. These projects are designed to support tourism in the region.

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 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

Video of detailed reef restoration site inspections.

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.

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