A VOLUNTEER group has spent 24 years sinking objects to the ocean floor to create the stunning Cochrane Artificial Reef, off Bundaberg - but in the end it is red tape that has sunk them.
The news came as a shock yesterday to Alan Cochrane, the driving force behind the group when it started and the man after whom the reef was named.
Roger Cowell, spokesman for the Bundaberg and District Artificial Reef Association, said the end of the group was a tragedy.
"Getting through the red tape in Canberra was just ridiculous," he said.
Mr Cowell said he was extremely disappointed the group had to wind up.
"When we started, we were able to put stuff on the bottom without any charge," he said.
"But then they brought in a $5000 fee for any deployment."
Mr Cowell said when it was decided to stop operating, the group had a $20,000 grant from Fosters they had to give back and a vessel they wanted to sink.
He said the group was run entirely on volunteer labour, and he estimated the reef brought in about $1 million worth of tourism a year to the Bundaberg region.
Among the objects the group sank to the sea floor to help form the reef was a 50m long, 350-tonne gravel dredge, and two Mohawk aircraft.
Mr Cochrane said he was "deeply saddened" by the news.
"To be quite honest, I'm shattered," he said.
"The reef is vital for Bundaberg and the ecology."
Mr Cochrane said he understood how frustration with government departments had led to the group shutting down.
He said when he was involved with the association, they had spent a lot of time battling bureaucracy.
Bundaberg Aqua-Scuba owner and diving instructor Julian Negri said he was disappointed the group had wound up, adding the reef was popular with tourists to the Bundaberg area as well as locals.
Tackle World owner Don Robinson, a long-time supporter of the group, said its closure was "a terrible thing".
He said while the reef would survive as coral grew over it, it would no longer be added to or monitored.
"They had a really hard-working committee," he said.
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