Great Barrier Reef: new regulations to be introduced after tourist deaths
While the Great Barrier Reef is a stunning natural wonder, it can also be very dangerous if the correct precautions are not taken. After several deaths in the last 12 months, Australian authorities are stepping up safety precautions to protect tourists.
Health and safety questions raised after swimmers die
New guidelines will require snorkelers to inform tourism operators of any pre-existing health conditions and their level of experience before exploring the natural wonder.
Any swimmers deemed to be 'at risk' such as the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions will be given flotation devices and color coded equipment to make them more identifiable. What's more, all reef boats will have automatic external defibrillators and authorities are looking into having a trained medic on board every boat.
Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts said "It's really important that (these rules) are not just becoming a matter of law, but there is a buy-in by the dive companies,
"It's not just about ticking boxes.
"(Having snorkel declarations) reduces claims for negligence which can only help claims and excesses go down."
In September, a man in his 60s suffered a heart-attack and died while snorkelling. In November, a 60-year-old British man and two French tourists died within days of each other in Cairns and in December a 75-year-old Japanese tourist died while swimming at the Moore Reef.
There have been also been numerous other incidents where snorkellers have been rushed to intensive care after suffering heart attacks or being stung by jellyfish. The Irukandji jellyfish, which has been spotted very frequently this year is thought to blame for a lot of the deaths and injuries.
Every year, over two million people visit the reef, generating more than $2 billion in tourism revenues. Tourism operators were keen to reassure people that the area is safe if the correct safety measures are taken.
Industrial relations minister Grace Grace said "Queensland has the largest recreational snorkeling and diving sector in Australia and we're the only state to have specific legislation covering the industry 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."
Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators CEO Col McKenzie also welcomed the new regulations. In a statement he said: "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."