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Gladstone businessman Bruce Stobo has been working on the Swain Reefs on the southern Great Barrier Reef for 21 years. His boat charter business and dive equipment business in town usually keep him busy above the water, but sightings late last year of an outbreak of the devastating crown-of-thorns starfish in his ‘backyard’ prompted Bruce to dive in to help solve the problem.

Bruce, a member of the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, donated his 25-metre catamaran Kanimbla to take 25 volunteer divers, including representatives from Queensland Parks and Wildlife, out to the Reef to put a stop to the starfish’s coral feast.

“I’ve been working around the Swains for 21 years so it’s no problem giving back,” Bruce modestly said.

“This all started when I reported seeing large numbers of the crown-of-thorns starfish through the Eye on the Reef app and then Queensland Parks went out and did more surveys to confirm the numbers and locations.

“Having seen the problem firsthand, I then wanted to do something about it.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the Reef from extreme weather, bleaching and fishing. If we can help by highlighting that crown-of-thorns starfish are also making an impact and do something to relieve that pressure, then we can give the Reef a better chance of recovering.

“I was just trying to highlight the problem and do something about it at this end of the Great Barrier Reef.”

The Reef spans such an enormous area so the more people we can get to help look after it, the better.

Bruce Stobo

Bruce Stobo

Bruce also encouraged other operators working out on the Reef to take up the opportunity to report sightings to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority via Eye on the Reef.

Eye on the Reef is so easy to use. I’d like to get the people who are out on the Reef every day using the app on a regular basis to create awareness of what’s happening on the Reef. The Reef spans such an enormous area so the more people we can get to help look after it, the better,” Bruce said.

The mission’s volunteer divers worked in teams of 12 to cull the starfish by injecting them with a measured dose of bile salts, diving for up to an hour at a time, three times a day. Similar missions on other parts of the Reef have culled up to 30,000 of the starfish in the same time.

ABC shared the remarkable story online, including an interview with Bruce about the experience.

The mission coincided with the federal government’s funding announcement of $60 million for measures to protect the Reef which includes $10.4 million to control the crown-of-thorns starfish.

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