Australian adventure and leisure tourism company Experience Co. has been awarded a $3 million grant to build the first pontoon on the Great Barrier Reef in over a decade.
With a current working title of ‘Dreamtime Island’, the platform is due to launch at the beginning of 2022.
According to Experience Co, it will be an extension of the company’s current ‘Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel’ tour, a one-day, all-inclusive experience led by indigenous sea rangers who provide a local interpretation of the sea country.
The $3 million support from the Queensland government will be further supplemented by $3.7 million of funding from Experience Co, used to build a two-storey structure for reef-based exploration and onboard scientific learning through a purpose-built laboratory.
The company considers this the first of its kind for the Great Barrier Reef. It will also feature a floor-to-ceiling underwater observatory.
Experience Co. CEO John O’Sullivan said there would be multiple benefits associated with the project.
“It is not only a shot in the arm for tourism in the region, but also a win for the marine science community, who will have access to our purpose-built onboard laboratory; and the local Cairns community who will gain economic benefit from the local construction,” he said.
“The new ‘Dreamtime Island’ platform, in addition to our existing Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel tour, will also provide enhanced employment and career opportunities for local indigenous communities across all areas of our operation.
“This year has undoubtedly been the hardest for tourism operators throughout Australia, and we are excited to be able share some good news.”
Innovative in its design, the build and day-to-day operations of the platform will focus on reducing the impact on the environment with wind, solar and, where possible, electricity generation to power the pontoon and smaller support vessels – another first for the region.
The activity pontoon will be based at Moore Reef, a large horseshoe-shaped reef system nearly 45 kilometres offshore from Cairns.
The new floating platform will provide capacity for up to 700 passengers a day, split into two departures with a maximum of up to 350 passengers on the pontoon at any one time.
Existing partners – Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and The Reef & Rainforest Centre – have all reportedly shown an interest in working with Experience Co. to have an office on the reef.
Onboard accommodation will be available for marine scientists to use the facility for major reef events such as coral spawning and other research projects.
Experience Co. said it intends to build and design the pontoon structure in Cairns using local shipyards and labour, with the construction of the vessel estimated to create around 40 jobs in Cairns over an 18-month period while the pontoon is built.
Once operational, Experience Co. estimates 59 full-time jobs will be created over a five-year period, through the appointment of Indigenous sea rangers as well as through employment opportunities in other areas of the business.
The local construction will have a large economic impact on the city of Cairns, in addition to the economic impact of the existing Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel product, the company said.