THE GREAT BAR­RIER REEF: be the so­lu­tion, not the prob­lem

Could your pres­ence on OUR REEF hold the key to pre­serv­ing it for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions? It sounds like SCI­ENCE FIC­TION, but it’s ac­tu­ally all about the power of CIT­I­ZEN SCI­ENCE, writes DILVIN YASA.

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QUEENS­LAND’S GREAT Bar­rier Reef is home to 215 species of birds, 30 species of dol­phins and whales and 133 types of sharks and rays and ev­ery last one of them ap­pears to have turned up at Lady Mus­grave Is­land, the coral cay that could well set the scene for what they hope will be the buf­fet of the cen­tury. A light rain be­gins to fall and sud­denly, a sea of tiny green tur­tle hatch­lings – mis­tak­enly be­liev­ing night has fallen since the sand has cooled – emerge from their nests in their hun­dreds and scram­ble down the beach to­wards the water (and wait­ing mouths) to be­gin their 30-year jour­ney around the globe. “No!” screams my nine-year-old daugh­ter, still salty and brown from two days of snorkelling around the is­land’s vi­brant coral gar­dens. “You have to wait un­til night fall; it isn’t safe!” she shouts as we chase af­ter the preda­tors to­gether – many of which al­ready sadly have tiny tur­tles, legs flail­ing in their mouths. That’s it, I think, she’s go­ing to be in ther­apy for life, but when I look at my daugh­ter, I see that she is ju­bi­lant as she takes in the still-safe tiny tur­tles climb­ing over her bare, sandy feet. “We’ve helped save so many, mum,” she says, be­fore adding. “Do you think they’ll re­mem­ber me when they come back to nest one day and see me here with my own daugh­ter?” It takes all of my re­solve not to break down and cry.

OUR NOT-SO-HUM­BLE BACK­YARD

Men­tion the Great Bar­rier Reef to most Aus­tralians and they’ll more than likely tell you that it’s been on their bucket list for as long as they can re­mem­ber. Span­ning 2300 kilo­me­tres along Queens­land’s coast­line, it’s home to some 2900 in­di­vid­ual reefs, 300 coral cays, 600 con­ti­nen­tal is­lands, 1625 species of fish and over 600 types of coral, there’s a lot to love and a lot to lose. The thought of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions not be­ing able to ap­pre­ci­ate the many won­ders of the world’s largest coral reef (AKA our back­yard) is real, but this is ex­actly why you should be vis­it­ing: your pres­ence now can make a dif­fer­ence in the fu­ture. En­joy­ing a cheese plat­ter later from atop a lux­ury cata­ma­ran with Brett Lakey, owner and op­er­a­tor of Lady Mus­grave Ex­pe­ri­ence (la­dy­mus­grave­ex­pe­ri­ence.com.au), we are dis­cussing some of the reef ’s big­gest threats – cli­mate change, coastal de­vel­op­ment, coral-de­stroy­ing pests and more – lead­ing Lakey to in­sist the reef needs tourism now more than ever. “The only way to truly un­der­stand why the reef needs pro­tect­ing is by ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it your­self,” he says of his “of­fice” of 22 years. “And as long as you ex­pe­ri­ence it with an eco-friendly op­er­a­tor who can guide and ed­u­cate you, you can visit with­out im­pact­ing the reef.” And who knows, you just might be able to help by en­gag­ing in some qual­ity cit­i­zen sci­ence.

WHAT IS CIT­I­ZEN SCI­ENCE?

On the Lady Mus­grave Ex­pe­ri­ence, divers and snorkellers have the op­por­tu­nity to save coral from crown-of-thorns starfish by in­ject­ing them with vine­gar, or by help­ing crew sur­vey des­ig­nated ar­eas and re­port back to the Great Bar­rier Reef Ma­rine Park Author­ity; just one way ev­ery­day trav­ellers can be­come sci­en­tists un­der the guid­ance of trained reef staff. “Whether you’re in­ter­ested in tag­ging tur­tles or pho­tograph­ing coral, there’s a project out there for ev­ery­one – you only need to put your hand up,” says Lakey. Need help de­cid­ing? Here are five sug­ges­tions to get you started:

Snorkellers, divers and yep, even walk­ers, can help re­searchers col­lect valu­able in­for­ma­tion about reef health, ma­rine an­i­mals and in­ci­dents by tak­ing part in a reef mon­i­tor­ing and as­sess­ment pro­gram such as Eye on the Reef (gbrmpa.gov.au) or Reef Check Aus­tralia (reefcheck­aus­tralia.org). Vol­un­teer­ing op­tions vary, but a great way to get in­volved is to down­load the Eye on the Reef app, for in­stance, which al­lows you to sub­mit GPS­tagged pho­tos of wildlife, pests, ma­rine pol­lu­tion and coral bleach­ing to the afore­men­tioned author­ity.

Okay, no one dreams of head­ing to the Great Bar­rier Reef to clean up rub­bish… un­til you con­sider the fol­low­ing facts: com­ing into con­tact with plas­tic makes corals more than 20 times more sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­ease, and it’s es­ti­mated there are now more than 11 bil­lion pieces of plas­tic de­bris on coral reefs across the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. To help clean up those wa­ters, you can sign up as an eco war­rior with Eco Barge Clean Seas (eco­barge­cleanseas.org.au), a ser­vice that re­quires vol­un­teers for ev­ery­thing from ma­rine de­bris re­moval trips to land-based lit­ter clean-ups. You can also par­tic­i­pate in a beach clean-up through Tan­garoa Blue (tan­garoablue.org).

For ev­ery­one who’s ever wanted to name their own manta comes Project Manta, a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary study of the ecol­ogy and bi­ol­ogy of these ma­jes­tic crea­tures. Re­searchers re­quire plenty of pho­tographs and videos in or­der to iden­tify these crea­tures and to add to their un­der­stand­ing of the an­i­mals’ move­ments, distri­bu­tion, sex ra­tio and growth rates. You can share pho­tos with Project Manta through their Face­book page and if a new manta is iden­ti­fied from your shots, you even score nam­ing rights. Pre­fer to study dwarf minke whales, sharks and/or green tur­tles? Eye to Eye Ma­rine En­coun­ters of­fers sev­eral ex­pe­di­tions where pro­found wildlife en­coun­ters go hand-in-hand with par­tic­i­pa­tion in re­search along­side ma­rine sci­en­tists.

(mari­neen­coun­ters.com.au)

ex­pert in tur­tle re­search and con­ser­va­tion

Dr Colin Lim­pus is in the Queens­land Govern­ment’s De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Sci­ence. He has been study­ing ma­rine tur­tles at Bund­aberg’s Mon Re­pos since the 1960s and is a lead­ing global ex­pert.

Q: You have a long his­tory with Lady Mus­grave Is­land.Why should vis­i­tors to the reef con­sider vis­it­ing? A: I was go­ing out to Lady Mus­grave long be­fore any­one would dream of camp­ing there [note: up to 40 peo­ple can camp on the is­land now] but it’s al­ways been a beau­ti­ful place.The rea­son we have a mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram there is be­cause it has a sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion of tur­tles. Add to that, its prox­im­ity to the main­land – there are is­lands that have just as many tur­tles be­tween Mackay and Rock­hamp­ton but they are three times fur­ther out to sea. Q: How im­por­tant is cit­i­zen sci­ence when it comes to the work you do with tur­tles at Mon Re­pos? A: Oh, we couldn’t have achieved what we have with­out the con­tri­bu­tion from mem­bers of the public who vol­un­teer their time to col­lect and re­port in­for­ma­tion about the ma­rine tur­tles.These peo­ple are of­ten the ones in­volved with tur­tle care-re­lated or­gan­i­sa­tions and ad­vo­cate for im­prove­ments to tur­tle con­ser­va­tion. They play a big role in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process for these changes. Q: Do you get ap­proached of­ten by peo­ple want­ing to vol­un­teer? A: We get quite a few and if we’ve got room, we’ll try to ac­com­mo­date them, ab­so­lutely. We’ve got a limited num­ber of spa­ces to take for train­ing and the idea is to train peo­ple up to even­tu­ally work in their own com­mu­ni­ties. So from a tur­tle per­spec­tive, we’re par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in train­ing peo­ple who live along our coast­line such as on the Sun­shine Coast or peo­ple who live on North Strad­broke Is­land. Q: Can vis­i­tors to the state and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors also get in­volved? A: They can ap­ply but we have to fo­cus first and fore­most on train­ing those who are will­ing to step up and get in­volved in look­ing af­ter the beaches and tur tles here in Queens­land in par­tic­u­lar.That said, we do take small num­bers of vis­i­tors both domestic and in­ter­na­tional but many of our places are taken by coastal com­mu­nity res­i­dents and univer­sity stu­dents.

“We couldn’t have achieved what we have with­out the con­tri­bu­tion from mem­bers of the public who vol­un­teer their time to col­lect and re­port in­for­ma­tion about the ma­rine tur­tles. These peo­ple are of­ten the ones in­volved with tur­tle care-re­lated or­gan­i­sa­tions.”

Home to six of the world’s seven species of ma­rine tur­tle, there’s no bet­ter place to get in­volved with the re­search and mon­i­tor­ing of these gor­geous crea­tures than by putting your hand up to be­come a vol­un­teer at Bund­aberg’s Mon Re­pos Tur­tle Cen­tre (npsr.qld.gov.au). Other op­tions in­clude join­ing the TurtleCare Vol­un­teer Pro­gram where sum­mers will be spent pro­tect­ing ma­rine tur­tles nest­ing from Caloun­dra to Point Cartwright, or by help­ing look af­ter in­jured and un­well ma­rine tur­tles at the Cairns Tur­tle Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­tre on Fitzroy Is­land (cairn­sturtlere­hab.org.au).

THE GREAT BAR­RIER REEF MA­RINE PARK IS HOME TO A NET­WORK OF IN­TER­NA­TION­ALLY AC­CLAIMED RE­SEARCH STA­TIONS, FROM THAT FOUND AT LIZARD IS­LAND (WHICH FEA­TURES IN GREAT BAR­RIER REEF WITH SIR DAVID AT­TEN­BOR­OUGH), HERON IS­LAND (PIC­TURED), TO ORPHEUS IS­LAND RE­SEARCH STA­TION – MANY OF WHICH RE­QUIRE VOL­UN­TEERS TO AS­SIST WITH STA­TION DU­TIES AND GEN­ERAL MAIN­TE­NANCE. HIGHLY QUAL­I­FIED DIVERS CAN ALSO REG­IS­TER AT LIZARD IS­LAND RE­SEARCH STA­TION AS A RE­SEARCH VOL­UN­TEER.

Don’t just ad­mire the reef; while you’re float­ing over its colour­ful denizens, like at Upolo Cay off Cairns, you could be do­ing some­thing to en­sure its sur­vival too.

With over 600 species of hard and soft corals the Great Bar­rier Reef is a sight to be­hold, as this drop-off at Ti­jou Reef near Port Dou­glas con­firms.

CLOCKWISE FROM THIS IM­AGE: Snorkel at Lady Mus­grave Is­land; Clean up the seas with Eco Barge Clean Seas; En­counter green tur­tles at Lady Elliot Is­land; Dive over colour­ful Agin­court Reef.

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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Ma­jes­tic manta rays fre­quent Lady Elliot Is­land; Swim with dwarf minke whales at Rib­bon Reefs; Mon Re­pos beach is a crit­i­cal habi­tat for tur­tles.

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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Study­ing coral at Heron Is­land; Look but don’t touch at Moore Reef; Vol­un­teer at Heron Is­land Re­search Sta­tion. OP­PO­SITE (from top): Watch as green tur­tles go about their busi­ness on the reef; A log­ger­head emerges

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