Skip to main content

Project Reefresh: Bait Reef rehabilitation is an innovative, multi-stakeholder reef rehabilitation project trialling three tools — MARRS reef stars, Coralclips® and Reef Bags — to build new stable areas of live coral reef habitat.

Bait Reef is a mid-shelf reef located 65 kilometres to the north east of Airlie Beach and beyond the fringing reefs of the Whitsunday Islands. Situated within a ‘no-take’ green zone within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Bait Reef is renowned for snorkelling and diving where tourists can view marine life such as manta rays, Maori Wrasse, reef sharks, turtles and various fish.

Like many reefs, the once vibrant coral population is now showing signs of impact from accumulating environmental stressors. For Bait Reef, key stressors have included coral bleaching, crown-of-thorns starfish and most significantly the impacts from Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017.

Bait Reef High Standard Tourism Operators Whitsundays

Project overview

In October 2021, a multi-stakeholder team came together to deliver Project Reefresh, a reef rehabilitation project designed to improve coral cover in two small sections within Bait Reef. The targeted sections are within areas known as the ‘Stepping Stones’ on the southwestern edge of Bait Reef, which was previously considered one of the best dive sites in the Whitsundays, and the adjacent ‘Gary’s Lagoon’, where past stressors have left large areas of coral rubble and coral rock devoid of live coral.

Around 4000 live coral fragments from a total of more than 30 different species were collected from other less impacted areas of the Bait Reef complex as ‘corals of opportunity’ — coral pieces and colonies that were lying loose on the sea bed and unlikely to survive long-term.


  • Project Reefresh used:
  • 200 reef stars
  • 1000 Coralclips
  • 12 reef bags
  • 4000 live coral fragments, which were found lying loose on the sea-bed likely broken off by rough weather, large fish or other physical impacts


  • The project site:
  • covered an area of approximately 500-square-metres at the two locations, providing an opportunity for project partners to learn more about the capacity of the different techniques
  • will involve regular site management and detailed monitoring, and will run over five years from 2021 to 2026
  • is in five to nine metres of water and accessible for scuba divers and snorkellers to visit. Visitors can access the site by private vessel or local tourism operators, using the nearby public moorings.


Based on previous research and rehabilitation projects, we are confident most of the live coral fragments either attached to the reef stars or secured with Coralclips to hard coral rock will survive and continue to grow. Within six to 12 months, these fragments should have securely ‘cemented’ themselves to their substrate with naturally produced calcium carbonate.

Management and monitoring will continue for five years. This will ensure accurate reporting on the level of project success and help stakeholders managing the Reef to continue to learn more about the possibilities of reef rehabilitation.

  • Project Reefresh: Bait Reef rehabilitation is a joint initiative between:
  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (the Reef Authority)
  • Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service
  • with key funding from the Queensland Government’s ‘Reef Trails’ program


  • The project was also supported by:
  • Mars Sustainable Solutions
  • Coral Nurture Program (including the University of Technology Sydney)
  • BMT Consultants
  • Kiana Sail and Dive Whitsundays

This project will run over five years, from 2021 to 2026, and involve regular site management and detailed monitoring.

Key project funding came through the Queensland Government’s ‘Reef Trails’ program. This sought to create ‘scenic drives by the sea’ through increased public moorings, reef protection markers and other improvements. 

Marine park management agencies are working together in a way that is encouraged through the Great Barrier Reef Blueprint for Resilience, which encourages new ideas and partnerships to improve reef health.
The site is in five to nine metres of water and accessible for scuba divers and snorkellers to visit. Visitors can access the site by private vessel or local tourism operators, using the nearby public moorings.

Like many reefs, Bait Reef is showing signs of impact from accumulating environmental stressors.

The specific project site was chosen due to its poor condition (low coral cover and extensive loose rubble), suitability for rehabilitation, ease of access (multiple public moorings), and recognition as a once high-quality dive site.  

The Bait Reef site was selected after both desktop and field surveys to determine the optimal site for the project. This included bio-physical, socio-economic and logistical factors.

Site condition was poor and natural recovery proceeding slowly after accumulating stressors, including coral bleaching, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks and most significantly, the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017. The iconic ‘Stepping Stones’ site within Bait Reef had been stripped of most coral cover, and adjacent fields of loose coral rubble were inhibiting coral larval settlement and growth.

The project site at Bait Reef can be accessed by the public to see reef rehabilitation projects in action. The rehabilitation site is immediately southeast of Public Mooring #209, next to a large bommie. Access is by either a private vessel or one of the local Whitsunday tour operators. Multiple public moorings near the rehabilitation site make access safe and easy.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Queensland Department of Environment and Science have developed a new policy on Great Barrier Reef Interventions. We are delivering and assisting in reef and island intervention projects, as recommended by the Great Barrier Reef Blueprint for Resilience.

Three specific rehabilitation tools were used and trialled at the Bait Reef project site.

  1. Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS) reef stars: Reef stars are hexagonal metal frames that can be placed on the sea bed. In areas of loose coral rubble, they provide a stable platform that can be used to attach live coral fragments to. These coral fragments can then continue to grow and eventually completely cover the reef star structure. They were originally developed by Mars Sustainable Solutions for use in Indonesia to rehabilitate reefs impacted by blast-fishing.
  2. Coralclip®: A Coralclip® is a small spring-loaded clip made of stainless steel attached to hard coral rock via masonry nails. A suitable fragment of live coral can then be held in place under the clip where it continues to grow. The Coralclip® was developed by the Coral Nurture Program, a consortium of reef tourism operators and University of Technology Sydney researchers.
  3. Reef bags: These ‘bags’ are made of organic coir netting, used to enclose loose coral rubble. The bags stabilise the loose coral rubble allowing crustose coralline algae, sponges and eventually coral larvae to settle and grow. First used in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 2019 by BMT consultants, this trial at Bait Reef is an extension of that earlier work.

October 2021

The installation phase of this project was completed in two parts.

The first part, completed in early October 2021, involved installing 200 MARRS reef stars, each with 15 loose coral fragments attached and 1000 loose coral fragments attached to coral rock using Coralclips. Live coral fragments were sourced from other areas of the reef that had not been as heavily impacted by Tropical Cyclone Debbie and/or had recovered more quickly from past impacts.

Numerous Marine Park, private industry and tourism industry representatives were involved over the five days on-site.

The second part of the installation was completed in late October 2021. This involved an experimental trial of reef bags where they were randomly installed in a grid pattern alongside similar-sized piles of rubble (with no netting used) and areas of loose rubble. Differences between the reef bags and the other treatments will be monitored through time. Another two large ‘artificial bommies’ of approximately six cubic metres were created using reef bags and piles of rubble to further test the technique.

  • Reef intervention trial projects 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 reef (e.g. popular tourist sites or an area with identified specific high ecological value,) or repair areas of reef damaged by vessel collisions.
  • 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.

This reef rehabilitation project is jointly funded by Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, with contributions from other partners/sources, including volunteering some of their time, staff and equipment.

Additional funding came from Queensland Government’s Reef Trails program, which was designed to improve access to small vessel moorings at specific locations on the Reef and create a ‘reef trail’ for visitors to follow.

A portion of the funding was allocated to improve the quality of reefs at popular dive and snorkelling sites near existing moorings. Bait Reef is one such site.

Bait Reef is situated 65km to the north-east of Airlie Beach and beyond the spectacular Whitsunday Islands. It lies within the Sea Country of the Ngaro Traditional Owners, who have lived on these islands and waters for around 9000 years.

Bait Reef has become popular as a sailing and diving destination in recent decades.

Bait Reef - Whitsundays - Great Barrier Reef - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Bait Reef - Whitsundays - Great Barrier Reef - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Bait Reef - Whitsundays - Great Barrier Reef - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Bait Reef - Whitsundays - Great Barrier Reef - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Bait Reef - Whitsundays - Great Barrier Reef - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Created Fri, 2022-08-12 13:32
Updated 24 Aug 2022
Was this page helpful?
Your rating will help us improve the website.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.