Ocean Freedom’s commitment to the environment and to its guests

Ocean Freedom…

…is passionate about giving you the most personal, customer-oriented Great Barrier Reef tour possible.

Ocean Freedom is one of two personal Great Barrier Reef Tours operated by Taryn + Perry -owners of Cairns Premier Reef & Island Tours. This locally owned and family operated company was borne from a desire to give travellers the best and most personal, customer-oriented reef experience possible, whilst ensuring a high respect for safety and passion for looking after the reef. Operating for over 20 years, Perry and Taryn personally promise to give all their guests the best possible experience in any conditions that may present on the day.

…is strongly committed to sustainable practices and looking after the reef.

It is of utmost importance to them that their crew also share their passion for customer care, safety, the reef and really connecting with the guests to offer a wonderful everlasting experience of the Great Barrier Reef! By engaging all guests and giving them a real “connection” to the reef – they believe – will make people want to make small positive environmental and lifestyle changes in their lives – the sum of which can lead to great outcomes.

“Our take home message is for all guests to have an appreciation of the incredible coral reef and marine life, and then value and understand the importance of looking after this magnificent icon for the enjoyment of future generations.”

…is strongly committed to following all Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority regulations and guidelines.

All our GBR sites visited are situated in the highly protected parts of the Marine Park and fall under the protecton of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Association guidelines.

“Due to Ocean Freedom’s  commitment to eco friendly sustainable tourism it  is listed as a  “High Standard Reef Operator”

…proudly displays its Advanced Eco Certification from Ecotourism Australia.

Ocean Freedom continues to be strongly committed to maintaining the very high eco and sustainable practises and ongoing commitment  to protection of the environment.

Although the company has always operated boutique-style eco friendly operations since the early 1990’s, Ocean Freedom gained its formal accreditation in 2009 and maintaining this Advanced Eco Certified certification includes their commitment to:

  • Continued education of environmentally safe snorkelling and diving practices
  • Continued annual coin collection every May on the boat with 100% going to local turtle rehabilitation.
  • Continued support for COTS (crown of thorns eradication programme).
  • Continued Support of Marine Tech school.
  • Updated Books Ocean Freedom’s Treasures and Ocean Free highlighting our reef areas with passengers encouraged to become guardians of any marine life they may have photographed on the day.
  • Continued no plastic use for over 20 years we have not used any plastic plates, cutlery, cups or plastic straws on either vessel
  • The stoppage of bottled water sales on both boats since 2017
  • 2020-2021: Updated all site-specific interpretative material on both “Ocean Free & Ocean Freedom” – including site maps and fish ID
  • 2020-2021 Further development of engaging activities with our specific site “Ocean Free & Ocean Freedom” Fish ID card game

What are the most recent projects?

1. Coral Nurture Programme (Since May 2019)

Ocean Freedom is very excited to continue to be part of this unique programme.

We, and five other high standard GBR operators in Cairns and Port Douglas region were invited to  take part in this project.

It follows a successful feasibility study completed by Dave Suggett and Dr Emma Camp of University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in partnership with John Edmonson. We joined with this great team, including Lorna Howlett (a Post Graduate student) – all of us equally passionate people on a project that “sits very well” in our philosophy of “nurturing” nature – not attempting to change it.

“A core objective of this program is to introduce coral planting into localised stewardship and adaption…… The Coral Nurture Program is a new approach for the Great Barrier Reef, initiated by a partnership between science and toursim. Our unique approach is not about “reef restoration” as such, rather long-term stewardship and adaptation at economically valuable reef locations , increasing readily available management tools beyond existing options to include boosting live coral cover by planting corals”

Why “Ocean Freedom” loved this project and was very excited to be part of :

  • We have already been “stewards” and protecting our reef sites for over 24 years – there is no person(s) or group who is more passionate and more protective about their permitted reef sites
  • We have been part of the COTS programme over many years and looked after our sites post cyclone events, and observed bleaching events and recovery levels
  • We have followed strict Marine Park regulations and practised and taught environmentally safe practices for snorkelling and diving  to our crew and guests, even before any Ecotourism accreditation was available – ensuring our reef sites were not damaged by tourism use and in so doing educated thousands of domestic and international visitors on these safe and responsible snorkelling and diving practices
  • Educated thousands of visitors on how to respectfully interact with the reef and marine life advocating also all Marine Park regulations – no harassing marine life, no standing / touching coral/ no feeding the fish, no rubbish overboard
  • We have been the “eyes” for GBRMPA reporting on any suspect behaviour on the reef
  • Part of the “Eye on the Reef” programme
  • We understand that nature is incredible and that whilst we are all excited to ensure the health and vibrancy of this incredible icon, we are also very mindful that any intervention applied to our reef sites must not upset or interfere with the balance of the site’s unique ecosystem
  • we are not out to change the reef’s ecosystem but preserve it as nature intended.

What is the Coral Nurture Programme?

Visit the Coral Nurture Program site here: www.coralnurtureprogram.org

We follow a strict set of conditions set by Dave’s team and under strict permitting conditions of GBRMPA. The area is recorded and monitored regularly.

In practical terms

Coral fragments are “out-planted” (secured onto a natural coral substrate) in areas which have been affected by cyclone damage or a bleaching event and then grow in situ as it would following coral spawning and attaching to the substrate – except it is already a little older! The coral fragment, over some weeks, forms an attachment to the coral substrate and then secures its position in the ecosystem. Only coral from that particular reef site area is propagated and out-planted ensuring that we are just “filling” in the gaps that may have been caused by cyclone damage, rough wave action, or bleaching – essentially just giving nature a helping hand. By doing this, it is hoped that we may be able to give all visiting tourists more consistent reef experiences and that it will hopefully allow the reef to recover from these events in a more timely fashion by also having a “nursery” of coral fragments to outplant after such events.

Where do we get the coral fragments from?

They are collected in a couple of ways:

  1. By looking for “opportunity” coral fragments on the site – this may be due to breakages through rough weather, post cyclone where small fragments of coral have broken off
  2. By taking coral fragments from the nurseries* (see below)

These “opportunity” fragments are then either put in the nursery to grow and act as a “source” of coral or directly taken to outplant on the various areas of the reef where coral coverage has been affected due to cyclone or post bleaching event. The coral branches are very cleverly secured to the natural reef substrate by use of a Coralclip (devised by John Edmondson) so no toxic glues or other foreign substances used.

“Nursery” frames are set at certain positions on the reef site (the positions of which is decide by certain criteria).  “Opportunity” coral fragments are “collected” from that particular site and secured to the nursery frame, which then grow on the frame. The frame effectively becomes a “nursery” for coral growth or Coral Propagation – from which fragments can be tapped off and used for more out-planting.

Though, only being involved in this programme for a short time, we have already seen the potential for this simple and effective and “natural” technique.

From past experience following cyclones we had observed that the coral would survive and grow if turned over and placed somewhere secure, so it made complete sense when this new novel approach of securing smaller fragments onto the reef substrate, enabling a large amount of smaller fragments to be “secured”, in the available natural substrate and survive and thrive.

The beauty of this technique is that there is absolutely no interference with the natural substrate of the growing reef and there is no attempt to change the reef structure or species balance but just enhancing what is already there. The nursery frames are there purely to propagate coral from that specific site

So, come and learn about the Great Barrier Reef in a fun and informative way – do all or some of our activities – your choice:J If you are interested make sure you ask our crew – they are always willing to inform!

  • Be mesmerised by our informative Adventure Drift Snorkel tour with our Master Reef Guide or Marine Naturalist
  • Keep dry and jump on board our Glass Bottom Boat Tour
  • Take our optional extra dive and plunge a little deeper to see the Great Barrier Reef up close and personal
  • Be mesmerised by the abundance of reef life and if interested come and see our Coral Nurture programme in action – our crew will point out the nursery areas and some out-planting that has been done

2. Photo Point Enhancement project with Reef Teach

This pilot study was set up in 2019, with the aim of monitoring changes of coral reef over time. Gareth from Reef Teach, and the lead partner in this project, launched this project to promote the use of geo-reference images, which would then be analysed by artificial intelligence at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) – the data collected enhancing the data received through the previously-established Eye on the Reef Programme of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

Plans were to participate with this project in early 2020 – however due to COVID delays we were finally “set up” by the Reef Teach team in July 2020.

In practical terms, for us as tourism operators, our crew were trained to take a set of 20 photos along a pre-established tourism trail, to be repeated at set time intervals during the year. These photos are then downloaded and sent for analysis.

Ocean Free & Ocean Freedom came on board with this project as we feel there is so little known about the complexities of reef and in particular how these may change over time. Using photo analysis with other collected data, collectively providing perhaps a more objective analysis.

3. Tourism Industry Activation and Reef Protection Initiative

This was an initiative set up (Feb 2021 – June 2021) as part of the Australian Government’s COVID19 Relief and Recovery fund to support the marine tourism sector which has been severely affected by the pandemic. It entailed a collaboration between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and High Standard Great Barrier Reef Tourism Operators.

Both Cairns Premier Reef & Island Tours’ vessels “Ocean Free” and “Ocean Freedom” were involved. As experienced tourism operators we have been stewards of our reef sites for over 25 years. This project enabled us to further increase and progress our stewardship activities and importantly also allowed us to give our employees more workdays than would have been possible.

The achievements of Ocean Free & Ocean Freedom during this initiative:

  • Reef Health & Impact Survey (RHIS) / Tourism Weekly Monitoring (TW) – Seven crew were fully trained by GBRMPA’s Eye on the Reef team in RHIS and TW – providing valuable data to GBRMPA and scientists
  • COT’s and Drupella dives at our various snorkel and dive sites – again valuable data to GBRMPA and also protection of tourism sites
  • Training to support a local research initiative between GBRMPA’s Eye on the Reef and Reef Teach – the Photo Point Enhancement Project (Refer “Point 2” above.)

This training also gave our staff:

  • increased knowledge and confidence to better interpret the reef to our guests,
  • empowered them and the company in the knowledge that they are making valuable contributions to the protection and effective management of the GBR by the collection of valuable data for scientists-enabling a better understanding of different parts of the reef system, and a better understanding of corallivore activity

More Interpretative Material:

  • the development of educational ideas for groups other than classical “tourism”
  • more educational and interpretative content

The funding without any doubt allowed the company to survive during these continued uncertain times but also has had beneficial consequences on company and staff morale, provided GBRMPA and scientists with invaluable consistent data, enabled the company the opportunity to develop educational content to attract also an “educational” style of tour for some specific markets and the opportunity to continue progressing research projects we are also involved in namely the “Coral Nurture Programme”.

Our continued philosophy: To provide the most personal, responsible, customer-oriented Great Barrier Reef experience and truly “connect” our guests to this amazing natural icon, with the knowledge that once they have had this surreal experience, they will naturally want to protect it and make little changes in their everyday lives.

 

© Ocean Freedom 2021

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