Australian Government Implements New Great Barrier Reef Safety Rules


An amendment to the Safety In Recreational Waters Act, originally passed in 2011, puts in place new Great Barrier Reef safety rules forcing people to wear life vests if they’re deemed “at-risk” swimmers.

These new regulations were put into effect due to the death of 10 people, including four foreign tourists, on the reef in 2016. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most beautiful tourist destinations worldwide and generates a significant amount of revenue for the country, but as with any area in the ocean, those who aren’t comfortable swimming are opening themselves up to danger. The addition of new Great Barrier Reef safety rules should help address some of the problems surrounding the issue, trading swimmer agency for safety.

The new Queensland code requires tourism operators to identify at-risk swimmers that may be vulnerable before they enter the water, including elderly, inexperienced, or unfit swimmers, according to authorities. As one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions, made up of thousands of individual reefs and hundreds of small islands off the Queensland coast, the Reef attracts snorkelers and divers from around the world with varying levels of ability. While putting the onus on tourism operators to identify those who may have difficulty swimming puts a lot more responsibility on these employees, these Great Barrier Reef safety rules could potentially save lives in a reef that has caused the death of a number of inexperienced tourists over the past few years.

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Recreational snorkeling usually takes place off of boats that transport tourists to the reef and island spots, and in 2016, two French tourists, a British scuba diver, and a Japanese snorkeler all passed away while on the Reef.

In addition to recognizing at-risk swimmers, operators will now pair some swimmers with a partner as well as carrying a defibrillator on their vessels.

“This finalised code will ensure visitors who are diving and snorkeling in our state feel it is being done in the safest manner possible,” said Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace in Cairns on Wednesday.

The Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators CEO Col McKenzie also voiced his support for the new Great Barrier Reef safety rules, telling The Australian, “Local tourism operators support the new code and I look forward to working with industry to ensure it works as intended.”

Authorities have stated that more people have died while snorkeling than while diving, which may be due to lower experience levels with that population. The common risk factors for death while swimming on the Reef include poor fitness and inexperience with swimming.

The government has also said that the risk of fatality also increased with age and pre-existing medical conditions, and the Great Barrier Reef safety rules may serve to address the problems with this population of at-risk swimmers.

As one of the most spectacular destinations underwater worldwide, many people want to experience the wonder of the Reef for themselves. By implementing these Great Barrier Reef safety rules, the government may be able to ensure divers and snorkelers stay safe while still allowing as many people as possible to enjoy the attraction.