Certain tourists will be made to wear life jackets and swim in pairs while snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, under a new industry code of practice.
The move has come in a bid to tighten safety requirements after a shocking 2016 for tourism operators in which 10 people died on the Great Barrier Reef.
In the most prominent case, a French man, 76, and woman, 74, died of heart attacks while snorkelling together off Cairns.
Speaking in Cairns today, Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said the new code of practice followed several round-table meetings with dive and snorkelling organisations.
Ms Grace said the code now required all reef-bound tourist boats to carry an automatic external defibrillator, and for snorkellers identified as high risk to swim with another person, similar to the buddy system used in scuba diving.
“Operators now have the ability to get medical declarations from those snorkelling on the reef,” Ms Grace said.
“If they identify someone who they believe may require a floatation device or to be colour-coded or to buddy up, they will now be able to use the code to enforce that.”
Ms Grace said there would also be changes to the reporting of deaths on the reef, which occur from various causes, including heart attacks and jellyfish stings.
As soon as the coroner knows the cause of the death, the dead person’s family will be notified within 24 hours, government departments within 36 hours and the public within 48 hours.
‘People are still going to die’
Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators spokesman Col McKenzie welcomed the changes and said many reef operators were already putting the recommendations into practice.
“Being able to enforce that people give us a medical declaration, that is going to change the culture on these boats and it is going to increase safety,” he said.
But he said people would still die on the reef.
“The simple reality is the biggest market is the baby boomers, and the baby boomers are old and lack physical fitness. They are going to have medical emergencies — how we respond to that is critical.”
He said the most positive result coming from the recommendations would be the arrival of a second rescue helicopter in Cairns.
There is currently only one helicopter that services an area the size of Tasmania.
“We’ll be able to get people off the reef when they have had a problem, that’s going to be an even bigger step forward than tweaking the code of practice,” Mr McKenzie said.