Whitsunday Conservation Council

Treetops 2023 in Review

2023 in Review                                                                                                                                Whitsunday Conservation Council Inc

The Whitsundays’ natural environment is world-recognised and diverse.  Your WCC is driving conservation and ensuring our region is preserved for future generations to enjoy.  Our members and volunteers are making a difference because We Care.

Our accomplishments in 2023 reflect the hard work and passion of our members and volunteers.  It is this exceptional support that enables us to get out into the community and work to be a strong voice for nature in our region.

Co-operation and consultation with the regional council and parliamentary representatives for the Whitsundays continues to improve.

Our objective is to ensure that public consultation is no longer a tick-the-box procedure by government agencies but a proper and effective process resulting in the best outcomes for safeguarding the natural environment in our region.

On December 19th, we donated a Whitsunday Bottle Tree sapling which was planted by the regional council at the southern roundabout in Main St, Airlie Beach. The unique ambiance of Airlie Beach is still under threat but now has effective support from the community and visitors through our submissions procedure and our public awareness campaigns.

Community Activities

Community awareness and involvement is at the heart of our work in the Whitsunday region. To this end we have ongoing programmes to educate, inform and get community members of all ages actively out and enjoying our beautiful environment.

Volunteer Vanessa Hartle took on the new role of project and activities co-ordinator later in the year and has helped make these activities very popular.

Members guided Nature Walks

In 2023, we introduced the first of our guided walks for members. Led by Dale Mengel, an expert in the field, we ran a winter season bird watcher’s walk. 

This was followed by a school holidays night spotting walk for younger children (accompanied by an adult). Both were hugely popular, with the youngest walkers – 4 years old – excitedly managing almost 5km without a word of complaint!

Members also enjoyed a very popular guided reef walk, led by our president and marine biologist, Jacquie Shiels, on the intertidal reef flats in Hydeaway Bay.

Monthly “Green Drinks” with guest speakers

These informal, social and informative events are designed around diverse local and global issues. To date, speakers have covered issues such as Yellow Crazy Ants – presented by WRC Manager Natural Resource Management and Climate, Scott Hardy, and the Whales of Whitsunday project, presented by Whitsunday Environmental’s Olivia Brodhurst.

Response from the community has been encouraging and we plan to expand these events in 2024 to tackle some big issues confronting the Whitsundays.

Monthly Market Stall

Our monthly stall at the Airlie Beach Lions Community Markets keeps us in touch with our community, visiting tourists and our own members. Under a large cool sturdy marquee, sponsored by Bendigo Community Bank, our “Green Room” welcomes people to take a seat and chat to us about their environmental concerns. We use this opportunity to promote our projects, assist and promote other local environmental groups and to generally raise the environmental awareness of our community and visitors.

School Projects

In 2023, we held an information tent at the Cannonvale State School fete with a children’s painting activity – a huge banner of an underwater reef scene was painted by school children of all ages. Only limited by their imagination, the banner was a fabulous success and carried by our volunteers in the Reef Festival parade.

Reef Festival

Taking part in the annual Reef Festival: Whitsunday Nature Celebration in the parkland on Friday night and the famous Street parade Saturday with our float carrying messages of conservation, climate and the environment. Be sure to join us next year.

Torres Strait Pigeons – Bird Count 2023

A citizen science project, between 17-19 November 2023, we conducted 3 x 3 hour counting sessions between 4pm and dusk to record the numbers of Torres Strait pigeons roosting on Pigeon Island opposite Cannonvale Beach and those heading seaward to roost on more distant islands.

These birds migrate to and breed in the Whitsundays and it is important to ascertain if their numbers are static, increasing or decreasing in the current climatic circumstances. Six volunteers were required for each session. Several locals joined us for the first time to take part in this activity which will be repeated and expanded in 2024.

Much needed New Equipment

In 2023, the Queensland government’s Gambling Community Benefit Fund gave us a grant to buy a trailer for some of our gear and our first drone for marine research work.  Research is a fundamental part of our mission statement and we need more volunteers to assist us.

Great Barrier Reef Protection

The Great Barrier Reef is the jewel in the crown of coral reefs worldwide. The Reef is also the heart of the Whitsundays; environmentally, socially and economically.

The Reef’s importance is reflected in the large amount of work we invest in Reef conservation.

The highlights of our Reef work this year includes three very important Reef conservation policies.

Artificial Reef and Fish Aggregation Devices (FADS)

Through several stakeholder meetings and written submissions, we supported the Reef Authority’s revamped policy on Artificial Reefs and FADS. The new policy basically bans artificial reefs and FADS in the Marine Park (with a few exceptions).

Artificial reefs and FADs have proven to be very effective at concentrating fish populations, making them easy targets for both commercial and recreational fishing. Although the management effectiveness of fishing is generally assessed as stable, the outcomes achieved are poor. Fishing and illegal fishing are already identified as high and very high risks and indicative of the need for improved management.

By prohibiting artificial reefs and FADs, the Reef Authority took an important step that will help fish populations recover from overfishing and illegal fishing.

Spanish Mackerel

Throughout much of 2022 and well into 2023, the well-known and much sought Spanish Mackerel has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

First, the latest research tells us that the Spanish Mackerel population is down to a mere 17 % of its original, un-fished population. Not a healthy situation.

Second, this has occurred in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, a place where you expect fish populations to be stable and healthy. Not a good look.

This fish has been in trouble for a long time. As far back as 2012, scientists suggested that the Queensland East coast Spanish mackerel stock could be approaching an ‘overfished’ state. This dubious target has been achieved.

We attended workshops and made a submission with recommendations.

This year, the Queensland government put in place Great Barrier Reef spawning closures for Spanish mackerel fishing for six weeks of the season. Although this is a step in the right direction, it is only a small reprieve for the Spanish Mackerel and is not enough for the Spanish mackerel to recover to resilient and healthy levels. There is still much more work to be done.


After years of campaigning to remove gillnets from Reef waters, the Queensland and Australian governments have committed to removing all gillnets from the Great Barrier Reef by 2027. This is a huge win for the Reef and iconic threatened species such as dugongs, turtles, sharks and sawfish.

Gillnets are large fishing nets, sometimes over one-kilometre long, used to catch fish such as barramundi and mackerel, but they are indiscriminate in what they catch. Threatened animals including dugongs, sawfish and green turtles are easily entangled in gillnets which can cause injury and death.

Climate Change

As the impacts of climate change accelerate, Australia needs to move more quickly to reduce our carbon emissions. This means no new coal or gas projects and quickly phasing out all fossil fuels.

The State and Federal governments have a near perfect track record when it comes to new mine approvals. They never say no.

But times, they are a-changing. In 2022-23, three Queensland mines failed to secure approval. This small win is largely due to community push back and we collaborated with several conservation groups to get our message through.

Whitsunday Heart of the Reef Discovery Centre (WHRDC)

We continued to promote the establishment of a state-of-the art facility with digital and real exhibits aimed at excellence in interpretation. There has been clear support for a Reef Discovery Centre for many years from the Whitsunday community, Whitsunday Regional Council, Tourism Whitsundays and Tourism Events Queensland.

This is a long-term project and progress continues through a Whitsunday Regional Council working group comprising industry experts and our representatives.

Go Slow for those Below

Dugongs and sea turtles are two of the most iconic animals on the Reef and are frequent visitors to Pioneer Bay. These animals are air breathers and spend much of their time at the surface, making them very vulnerable to boat strike.

In response to concerns voiced by community members, tourism operators and a wider campaign for turtle and dugong protection in heavy marine traffic areas, Go Slow for those Below in Pioneer Bay’s seagrass areas is a project instigated by us.

Working together with Whitsunday Regional Council, GBRMPA, QPWS and MSQ, we finally secured a big win for the turtles and dugongs, with MSQ’s installation of 1.2m highly visible Go Slow for those Below marine marker buoys, strategically located near the seagrass meadows on the eastern side of Pigeon Island, where dugongs and turtles feed.

Our Membership and Supporter Base

We continued to grow our strong membership/supporter base, which currently stands around 1,500. We provide a platform to promote the important projects of several local, not for profit, environmental organisations (listed on our We Care webpage).  Renewing your membership shows that you care too.

2024 – What to Expect from us

  • More interaction with our members/supporters and the local community.  This will include an expanded profile in the social media linked to our website so that we cover the widest spectrum of communication.
  • You can certainly expect more Guided Nature Walks, Green Drinks and Market Stalls.
  • More submissions from us to government agencies that are responsible for protecting our environment.
  • A better platform for the Whitsunday community to voice their environmental concerns through our hosted conferences.
  • Training programmes for our dedicated volunteers.
  • Assisting with the supply of nesting boxes to overcome the problems caused by tree felling, land clearing and invasive species, such as the West Indian Myna birds.
  • Of course, the Reef will remain an important focus, as we as we build on our climate change mitigation projects.
  • The increasing number of visits by cruise ships and the thousands of passengers they bring, are of concern to many locals and some tour operators.  We must protect our fragile marine and shore environments, if visitors are to enjoy their time with us.

We feel that a process of thorough public consultation is necessary to ensure the best outcomes for locals, tourists and our unique Whitsundays’ environment.


From all of us at the Whitsunday Conservation Council, thank you for your valuable support in 2023.  We hope you enjoy the festive season and join us again next year as a member and volunteer for one of our many exciting projects.