August 2 – GBRMPA, Biodiesel and Reef Teach

Today we flew from Sydney to Cairns and  arrived around 12:45. We met our first guest speaker Doon McColl from Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority or GBRMPA to talk about their efforts in preserving the reef. Over 200 experts work for the national government branch GBRMPA all united in conservation of the reef. Doon is responsible for creating relationships between partners and the community and uniting them for one cause; to protect and present this World Heritage Site. She then told us about a number of different programs that are being used to protect /monitor the reef. One called the outlook report (2009) monitors the greatest threats to the reef including climate change, water quality, coastal development and unsustainable fishing practices. Another program called Eye on the Reef deals with monitoring the actual reef and looking at gradual trends over time. Doon also mentioned that tourism makes a large impact on the economy of the cairns region. But tourism can impact the reefs health so  they created a program the controls the activities and amount of tourist in order to protect the reef and prevent any more damage.

Human activities are not the only thing that impacts the reefs, recently natural disasters have had a large impact. Cyclone Yasi recently hit patches of the reef causing damage. However Yasi hit only some patches, leaving others perfectly healthy. This gives hope to a fast recovery since the healthy corals can bud new polyps, creating new reefs to replace the damaged ones. Currently there is also an outbreak of the “Crown of Thorns Starfish” which used the corals as a food source. Management practices are underway to prevent further destruction. Yasi also impacted the surrounding grass beds that make up the main diet of turtles and dugongs. GBRMPA is now getting involved by educating people of this issue.They hope to prevent injury of the animals as they search for food in different areas.

GBRMPA is responsible for a number of educational programs around the area, in fact education about the reef is part of the school curriculum all through primary school. To prevent illegal fishing GBRMPA has posted flyers of local fish species in order to educate visitors of species and to prevent under size fish removal. They also offer rewards and incentives toward local tourist operators that go above and beyond. These reward include longer permits and  promotion of the business by word and by website.

After lunch we were able to visit a biodiesel plant. Here they take used cooking oil from restaurants and turn it into a fuel or biodiesel. Tallow ( animal fat) can also be used but more work is required to get the final product. What was really interesting to me was that the plant is waste free. The glycerol by-product is sold or used for heating purposes. The plant is run on solar power which actually produces more than it uses!

Steve showing us how he processes his glycerol byproduct into a useful product. The tube in the air contains oil used to heat the tanks during the processes.

The processes starts by “Degumming” which used water and sometimes an acid to clean the oil. The mixture is then aggregated and heating to sort out the impurities. The mixture is then centrifuged to physically separated out the impurities. then the mixture is put into one of three silver tanks called the cation exchange resin which acts as a filter causing chemical separation by charge. Positive charges such as water or potassium remain in the filter while the neutral flow through producing pure biodiesel.

Steve Welsh, the owner has another plant in New Guinea that uses copra (coconut flesh) to provide the diodiesel. This uses the same process but it is much cleaner. The byproduct of this can actually be sold as soap! 60% of the island uses the renewable resource while only 2% of the biodiesel make up the Cairns fuel market.

These tanks act as filters chemically removing all positvly charged impurities.

Our final stop of the day was to Reef Teach. Here we learned a lot about the reef and the species that exist there. As it turns out the Great Barrier Reef is made of 2,900 reefs and is 2,300 kilometres long! Glen, our speaker, told us about the different types of corals including patch reefs and ribbon reefs. There are two types of corals that make up the reefs, hard coral with 360 species and soft corals with 50 species. The corals are characterized by their shape such as boulder, branching, plate, cabbage, and mushroom. We also discussed current threats to the reef such as coral bleaching and ocean acidification. Coral Bleaching is caused by increased water temperature making the corals release their algae inside with is also their food source. Ocean Acidification causes insufficient carbonate to produce their protective calcium carbonate skeleton making the corals weaker.

Coral forms / shapes

After enjoying a cuppa we then saw the species we would likely be encountering on the reef including ones we should avoid. Lucky it is winter here so Box Jelly and Irukandja are not in season. however there are plenty of species to see including 1500 fish species!

This is the guide of the fish that we would see on the reef so we were able to classify them.

-Kelly Anson


5 responses to “August 2 – GBRMPA, Biodiesel and Reef Teach

  1. Kelly mentioned that the Biodiesel plant had zero waste, This is a very key fact in dealing with any chemical process and specifically biodiesel. By using used oils or animal fat Steve is able to make the most of his reaction, which is very important sustainably from an economic standpoint. In selling or using all of his by-products he is able to save money removing them and he even told us that one of his by-products glycerol is worth even more then his intended product in market. One of the most amazing things about Steve’s plant is how he takes advantage of opportunities, he saw that used oil was going to waste and formed an entire buisness around it. He also told us than when local plants have oil that they can no longer use for heating he takes it off their hands to run his own heater. His buisness was really inspiring example of sustainable buisness and hopefully this is how most diesel will be produced in the future.

  2. Its also notable to point out that while he only supplies around 5% of the fuel to Cairns’ local market, but that in New Guinea he currently supplies around 50-60% of the local fuel while, as mentioned before, producing next to no waste. The more impressive fact is that with Copra he can get almost a 100% percent return on product in and product out, and he has the possibility to supply 100% of the island as production ramps up. This for sure seems to be the way of the future.

  3. There are a few more interesting facts about the biodiesel plant. The plant is actually able to produce 100% biodiesel, but only licensed to sell 5%-20% and 30% with an exemption. The problem is cars aren’t able to use full 100% and companies won’t buy more than 30% max. The plant is also able to produce 5,000 litres of fuel per day max and the plant runs on recycled diesel fuel

  4. In regards to reef teach I believe that it should be mandatory for everyone that is visiting the reef. There are currently problems with people touching coral which is very damaging to the reef and if they visit reef teach then this problem should decrease.This in turn would make tourism at the reef more environmentally sustainable.

  5. I agree that reef teach should be mandatory. I think everyone, especially the tourists should be aware of the state the reef is in at the moment and how important it is not to touch the reef itself. I feel like the trips should take people out to see the damaged sunbleached reefs as well to see how serious of an issue climate change and water pollution is in the area and how it’s affecting such a beautiful place. I feel like this would make tourism of the reef more sustainable, by including more education of the environment.

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