The Museum of Underwater Art plans to create a new underwater museum on Magnetic Island, designed to bring tourists to the area and honour the reef’s scientific and cultural heritage. But local environmental groups are protesting the decision.
The Museum of Underwater Art has announced new plans to build an underwater museum on Magnetic Island, part of the organisation’s reef conservation projects designed to boost tourism and promote new coral growth on the Great Barrier Reef.
But proposals to create the new installation in Geoffery Bay, one of the island’s oldest reefs and protected Green Zones, have environmental groups concerned, sparking protest from the island’s locals.
Chair of MOUA, Paul Victory, says that the new underwater ‘Reef Scientist Trail,’ proposed for Magnetic Island, is one of the new ways the not for profit organisation plans to engage the public with reef conservation efforts, by inviting them to join the underwater museum experience.
“We were looking for a project that would bring together the region’s significant coral reef science story with traditional custodianship through an educational tourism experience,” said Mr Victory.
“The trail is forecast to recognise eight leading scientist stories who have made a difference to the Great Barrier Reef, starting with the traditional owner’s story.
The Magnetic Island museum, currently undergoing the permit approval process required by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, expands on the organisation’s existing projects, like the Coral Greenhouse on the John Brewer Reef.
Victory says that sculptures for the island are already underway, with lead artist and designer Jason De Caires Taylor already working on pieces that will honour the contribution of leading reef scientists and activists.
Among scientists rendered in sculptural form is Professor Peter Harrison, a globally recognised coral researcher and ecologist, whose forty-year career studying coral spawning, and marine restoration has been influential to conservation efforts.
Molly Steer, who at 11 years old was recognised as 2018’s Young Woman of the Year, for her Straw No More Project, which works to educate the public on the impact of plastic straws on our oceans has also been immortalised in sculpture.
Victory added that in addition to being a touristic and economic draw for Townsville and Magnetic Island, and a new cultural experience for North Queensland, the underwater museums serve an active part in coral rehabilitation processes.
“Experience in other locations around the world is that the sites actually assist restoration, become aggregators of fish species and coral reproduction,” said Mr Victory.
“The artworks are specifically designed to provide habitat opportunity. We have been monitoring this at John Brewer and can see that already occurring,” he said.
The museum will be accessible to visiting snorkelers, with the latest Public Information Package released by MOUA revealing interest in Geoffery Bay and Picnic Bay as well as Horseshoe and Nelly Bay as potential site locations.
But representatives from the Magnetic Island Nature Care Association say that the new museum and specifically the proposed site of Geoffery Bay, a protected marine Green Zone, would put undue pressure on the ecosystem and marine life.
The organisation launched an online awareness campaign and petition, urging people to contact the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in protest of the new museum as part of the latest public consultation and approval process.
“We don’t think the Museum of Underwater Art does anything for reef conservation which is our major interest,” said Gethin Morgan, the president of the Magnetic Island Nature Care Association.
“To put in sculptures as tourist attractions in their own right, we think is completely against the conservation values of the Green Zone.”
He says that the new man made structures would be in violation of Geoffery Bay’s marine protections, and that the bay is a beautiful tourist attraction in its own right, known amongst island locals for its diverse and thriving marine life.
“Attracting more people there will upset the use of the areas, particularly the larger species that frequent the area.
“The big rays, sharks, turtles don’t like a lot of people and will tend to duck for cover.
“The museum will interfere with the use of the area for the species it’s meant to be there for.”
A location for the new museum is yet to be determined, with discussions and permit applications still under analysis by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
“We are cognizant of the concerns about Geoffrey Bay and are working with stakeholders on this as part of the approval process,” said Mr Victory.