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Situated 15 kilometres east of Yeppoon, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, Keppel Bay is a picturesque expanse of waters and islands. The bay is studded with a variety of islands, ranging from rugged bare rock formations to larger islands like North Keppel Island (Konomie) and Great Keppel Island (Woppa). 

These islands support unique inshore fringing reefs, home to resilient coral species. While the natural beauty of these reefs is apparent, a select few bear the enduring marks of past impacts, notably freshwater bleaching in 2011. These affected sites presented an invaluable opportunity to trial and gain insights into the effectiveness of reef rehabilitation tools and techniques. 

In collaboration with local Traditional Owners, partners and stakeholders, we initiated the Yarul Dhingiga project in 2022 to assess the effectiveness of the Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS) and Reef Stars in rehabilitating these impacted reefs. Notably, for the first time, reefs burdened by heavy macroalgal growth—hindering the settlement and growth of new corals—were included in these trials. 

Embark on this ongoing journey with us as we closely monitor these sites. We regularly publish updates on the project's progress, based on site maintenance and in-water surveys. Join us in witnessing the remarkable rehabilitation of these unique reef sites in the stunning Keppel Bay. 

Project Overview

Following on from the Green Island reef rehabilitation project and Project Reefresh: Bait Reef rehabilitation, a multi-stakeholder team comprising the Reef Authority, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service as part of the Reef Joint Field Management Program, the Woppaburra TUMRA Aboriginal Corporation (WTAC), Mars Incorporated, Keppel Dive and Freedom Fast Cats, have joined to deliver Yarul Dhingiga: Keppel Bay reef rehabilitation project.  


The Reef Authority acknowledges and thanks the Woppaburra People, the Traditional Owners of the Great Keppel Island, for their connection and ongoing project support. Special thanks go to the Woppaburra people for naming the project Yarul Dhingiga - Yarul means connecting, and Dhingiga means laying down. 


This project further trials the Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS) Reef Star techniques on two of the inshore fringing reefs of Great Keppel Island and at a smaller site at Humpy Island Reef (Burye). 

This location provides an excellent opportunity for collaboration among stakeholders and opportunities for education and awareness among visitors.  

  • Yarul Dhingiga used:
  • 150 Reef Stars at Monkey and Shelving Reefs 
  • 50 Reef Stars at Humpy Island Reef
  • 3000+ Corals of opportunity


  • Regular, ongoing site management and detailed monitoring will be completed over five years to: 
  • Establish the level of habitat recovery
  • Learn more about how Reef Stars might be integrated into the work of Marine Park managers.

Project details

  • This project aims to:
  • Promote hard coral coverage in popular snorkelling reefs on Great Keppel Island, where coral rubble and macroalgae hamper recovery. 
  • Provide technical and field training for Marine Parks staff, project partners and Traditional Owners in the use of ‘Reef Stars’ as a reef rehabilitation tool. 
  • Support access to the rehabilitation sites by local tourism operators and their clients and the public to build awareness and understanding about the pressures on the Great Barrier Reef and the evolving efforts to mitigate some of these.  
  • Develop and trial rehabilitation tools for our reef management toolbox should we need them in the future. 

Why the Keppel Bay islands?

  • This location provides an opportunity to learn more about the capacity for Reef Stars to be used in the rehabilitation of in-shore fringing reefs and those with significant macroalgae cover.  
  • This location provides an excellent opportunity for collaboration among stakeholders and opportunities for education and awareness among visitors.  
  • These works were part of the Reef Joint Field Management Program, dedicated to protecting the Reef and delivered in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Department of Environment and Science through the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. 

The Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS) Reef Stars have been used across all project sites on Yarul Dhingiga: Keppel Bay reef rehabilitation project.

Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS) reef stars

Reef stars are hexagonal metal frames coated with limestone sand to aid coral attachment.

Live coral fragments, also known as corals of opportunity, broken through previous impacts, are collected in close proximity to the project site and fixed to the frames.

These frames are then placed on top of the seabed in areas of loose coral rubble and provide a stable platform for live coral fragment attachment.

The live coral fragments should continue to grow and eventually cover the reef star structure. 

MARRS Reef Stars were originally developed by Mars Incorporated for use in Indonesia to rehabilitate reefs impacted by blast fishing but have since been trialled by the Reef Authority at Green Island and at Project Reefresh: Bait Reef.

December 2023

In the round of monitoring completed in December 2023, the Shelving and Monkey reef sites displayed continued healthy coral growth.

However, the Humpy Island site had become completely overgrown with macroalgae.

This overgrowth hindered direct sunlight exposure to the coral and posed potential negative chemical interactions, resulting in noticeable stress among the attached corals.  

To address this issue, a dedicated team of QPWS divers successfully cleared the macroalgae, enhancing conditions for the coral.

While some attached coral fragments may have experienced mortality, the majority are anticipated to recover. Subsequent visits in the upcoming months are planned to prevent a recurrence of macroalgal dominance. 

An encouraging observation during this period was the increased use of the sites by reef fish, notably the lemon damsel (Pomacentrus moluccensis), seen associating with the rapidly growing coral on the Reef Stars. 

Project partners Freedom Fast Cats and Keppel Dive continue to access the sites, educating visitors about the ongoing project and the vital role of reef rehabilitation. 

on damsel (Pomacentrus moluccensis) finding a new home among the Reef Stars at Monkey Reef. Collette Bagnato © Queensland Government

January 2023 

Monitoring surveys conducted across the three rehabilitation sites in January 2023 revealed robust coral growth, with corals demonstrating rapid attachment (naturally cementing) to the Reef Stars.

Notably, the Humpy Island site, where Reef Stars were deployed over thick macroalgae, exhibited the most accelerated coral growth among the three rehabilitation sites. 

Healthy and rapidly growing coral on Reef Stars at Humpy Island. Collette Bagnato © Queensland Government


Healthy and rapidly growing coral on Reef Stars at Humpy Island. Collette Bagnato © Queensland Government

November 2022

Fragments of opportunity at both sites on Great Keppel Island have attached well to the MARRS Reef Stars with less than 2 per cent mortality.

The site at Humpy Reef, with increased levels of macroalgae, the cover also appears successful.

October 2022

Work commenced on location on the afternoon of Tuesday, 11 October. Initially, the team surveyed the area and then began collecting ‘corals of opportunity’.

These are coral fragments and colonies which have been broken off by some previous impact and are unlikely to survive long-term in their current setting.  

During collection and prior to implementation, the collected corals were kept in the ocean to ensure survival and maintain vibrancy.

On Thursday, 13 October, multiple stakeholders met on Shelving beach to attach the corals to the Reef Stars and place them in their long-term position.

The project team then continued through the weekend to complete the Reef Star installation at the three sites. A total of 200 Reef Stars were installed, 75 at both Monkey and Shelving Reefs and 50 at Humpy Island reef. 

The Traditional Owners, the Woppaburra people, officially named the project in a naming ceremony. Meaghan Cummins, the Woppaburra Chair, noted that the program is about restoring country and restoring her people.

This was embodied in the project when the local corals, initially removed, were returned to the same location, now attached to Reef Stars.

© Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority) - Partners working together on location at Humpy Island Reef


September 2022

Preparation continues for the upcoming installation of Mars Reef Stars at Great Keppel and Humpy Islands with initial pre-installation surveys and marking out of project sites using small star pickets. 

After consultation with the Woppaburra TUMRA, the project is named Yarul Dhingiga, meaning Yarul - connecting rope and Dhingiga - setting down

On Thursday, 13 October, live coral fragments will be attached to the reef stars from a temporary work base at Shelving Beach.

This will be an ideal opportunity for the local community to engage with the project and possibly help with tying coral fragments


© Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority) - MARS, Reef Authority and QPWS representatives on location during installation  © Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority) - Woppaburra TUMRA Aboriginal Corporation Chair, Meaghan Cummins ties live coral fragments to a MARS Reef Star © Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority) - Partners working together on location at Humpy Island Reef

  • Reef intervention trials like this one are:
  • Not a replacement for major global action to address greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change on coral reefs globally.
  • Not a replacement for continued efforts to address other impacts on the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Designed to assist natural recovery processes in small areas of reef that have been impacted by environmental stressors.
  • Potentially very useful to improve the condition of ‘high-value’ areas of the reef (for example popular tourist sites or an area with identified specific high ecological value).
  • Examples of partnership actions that may become more broadly used across the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Designed to include technical and field-based training for stakeholders and ongoing monitoring and reporting to help improve scientific understanding and measure levels of success.

Traditional Owners

The Woppaburra people are the Traditional Custodians of what is today known as the Keppel Islands.

Archaeological evidence linking the Woppaburra people to the islands includes midden sites, burial sites, a bora ring, huts, stone artefacts and campsites, indicating that the Woppaburra people were sea-faring saltwater people and island specialists living off the island environment and surrounding inshore reefs and ocean. 

The Woppaburra are from a wider Whale Dreaming Indigenous Community around coastal Australia, and as such, the spiritual saltwater totem for the Woppaburra and their islands is the humpback whale. 

Keppel Bay reef rehabilitation project - © Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Keppel Bay reef rehabilitation project - © Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Keppel Bay reef rehabilitation project - © Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Keppel Bay reef rehabilitation project - © Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Keppel Bay reef rehabilitation project - © Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Updated 4 Feb 2024
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