Imag­ine if the world as you knew it was fac­ing de­struc­tion but there was a chance to halt it, only time was run­ning out and no one was lis­ten­ing. It sounds like the plot of a B-grade thriller but it’s the quest Lin Sutherland has taken on. Far from be­ing a fa­nat­i­cal doom­sayer, the Queens­land film­maker is a hardy op­ti­mist, be­liev­ing peo­ple will al­ways choose to save the world if they get the mes­sage in time. Her lat­est film is her bid to help that hap­pen. Beauty and the Reef doc­u­ments the chal­lenges fac­ing one of the world’s most spec­tac­u­lar ecosys­tems, the Great Bar­rier Reef, which Lin has seen de­te­ri­o­rate with her own eyes. “I’ve done more than 10,000 dives over the past 20 years,” she says. “At least 5000 of those would be on the reef and I’ve watched the change. I saw the stages hap­pen­ing. I could see a lot of the beauty was dis­ap­pear­ing. “I wanted to make a film to just show peo­ple what’s hap­pen­ing. I didn’t set out to point fin­gers; there’s no pol­i­tics be­hind it. “It’s about ed­u­ca­tion and just try­ing to cre­ate a con­ver­sa­tion based on sci­ence and facts to try to save what we can.” She is dis­tribut­ing the film her­self, at­tend­ing com­mu­nity screen­ings and putting to­gether pan­els at key lo­ca­tions so peo­ple can seek an­swers to the ques­tions it in­evitably raises. The Nine Net­work has bought the film for main­stream broad­cast but Lin be­lieves the grass­roots ap­proach is key to get­ting the mes­sage to stick. “When I’ve shown the film, at the end peo­ple sit there silent then say, ‘What do we do?’,” she says. “I haven’t had one per­son yet who’s tried to ar­gue with it. “I be­lieve peo­ple do want to act to save the reef – of course they do – and I want to show them we can do that.” Lin doesn’t see her­self as a ram­pant gree­nie, although she prob­a­bly has some pedi­gree. She was born in Tas­ma­nia. Her dad was an earth sci­en­tist and ge­ol­o­gist and her mum was a con­ser­va­tion­ist and wildlife carer. Her grand­fa­ther, the late Max Ja­cobs, was a re­spected di­rec­tor-gen­eral of forestry in Australia, an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised ex­pert in his field who stud­ied at Ox­ford and Yale and con­sulted to the UN. The fam­ily moved to Townsville for her fa­ther’s work be­fore set­tling in Sydney. She was drawn to the out­doors and grew up lov­ing the ocean and the bush and was a mem­ber of the Ven­turer Scouts. Af­ter school, she set off for the United States as a sum­mer camp coun­sel­lor af­ter see­ing the jobs ad­ver­tised in a news­pa­per. She worked in Cal­i­for­nia at a camp fre­quented by kids of the Hol­ly­wood elite. “I ended up stay­ing for three years in the States,” she says. “I taught wa­ter ski­ing, did a bit of mod­el­ling. I loved the ocean, surf­ing and swim­ming.” It was in Florida where she had her first scuba dive. She was hooked from the start. “I thought, here’s a whole world that no one re­ally talks about or sees from un­der­neath,” she says. “I loved the ma­rine an­i­mals, the beauty. That was it.” Even as a small child she had been drawn to travel brochures and pic­tures of trop­i­cal is­lands. When she re­turned to Australia, she moved to the Whit­sun­days, where she worked as a scuba div­ing in­struc­tor. “I lived on a boat and I dived four dives a day for six days a week,” she says. “It was a dream job.” The film­mak­ing started when she was asked to help out with a travel doc­u­men­tary that in­volved un­der­wa­ter shoot­ing. “They’d ask me to do things for the cam­era and from there, it went to say­ing things,” she says. It led to Lin be­ing com­mis­sioned to host her own 13-episode wildlife travel se­ries Roar of the Wild in 2006, which was shown on the Travel Chan­nel across Europe. More TV se­ries were to fol­low, both as a pro­ducer and pre­sen­ter, in­clud­ing Travel Wild, which screened on the Dis­cov­ery Net­work and CBS in the US and, most re­cently, episodes for the En­dan­gered se­ries for the Nine Net­work in Australia. Beauty and the Reef is her own pas­sion pro­ject, born of a need to show peo­ple what is hap­pen­ing to the un­der­wa­ter world she knows and loves. “I did it for the Great Bar­rier Reef,” she says. “I’ve been doc­u­ment­ing the reef for about 20 years but I think it reached crunch stage in the last five or six years. “The first thing I no­ticed was there weren’t as many fish as there used to be. I couldn’t work it out. We’d be div­ing in re­mote ar­eas. There wasn’t any­one out there fish­ing but there just wasn’t the big schools like there used to be.” Lin has dived around the world and has seen first-hand the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of poor reef man­age­ment, par­tic­u­larly blast fish­ing, us­ing ex­plo­sive de­vices to stun fish or lit­er­ally blow them out of the wa­ter. “I’ve been in the wa­ter when the bombs have gone off and they sound as though they’re right next to you,” she says. “It’s dev­as­tat­ing for reefs; it com­pletely de­stroys them.” An­other prac­tice she’s seen in other wa­ters is the use of cyanide to se­date fish in their nat­u­ral habi­tats so they can be more eas­ily caught for the live fish trade, mainly for aquar­i­ums. “I’ve come across these things in many lo­ca­tions else­where,” she says. “I’d al­ways come home and say thank good­ness our reef is pro­tected but it all con­nects. What’s hap­pen­ing in the oceans af­fects ev­ery­where else.” She set about re­search­ing the more in­sid­i­ous rea­sons the Great Bar­rier Reef is fac­ing its own prob­lems, seek­ing the opin­ions of sci­en­tists and factual in­for­ma­tion in a bid to give peo­ple a clearer pic­ture. “It’s not one fac­tor,” she says. “The degra­da­tion of the reef is just a symp­tom of a lot of things. The doc­u­men­tary looks at de­for­esta­tion, ris­ing wa­ter tem­per­a­tures, chem­i­cals, pres­sure on ma­rine park green zones. “It looks at the big­ger pic­ture. It doesn’t try to blame; it tries to ed­u­cate and it tries to give the les­son with­out be­ing too dis­turb­ing or de­press­ing be­cause I don’t want peo­ple to think there’s noth­ing they can do. “We know the causes; sci­ence knows the causes. It’s re­ally about ac­knowl­edg­ing them and com­ing up with big so­lu­tions.” The film pre­miered last month in Bris­bane, launched by Queens­land En­vi­ron­ment


Min­is­ter Leeanne Enoch, and has been shown in cin­ema and com­mu­nity screen­ing events around South­east Queens­land. Lin also re­cently took it to a break­fast meet­ing of North Queens­land tourism lead­ers in Cairns. “For half an hour, no one touched their break­fast and at the end they all just wanted to know what they could do,” she says. “It’s an im­pact doc­u­men­tary but I be­lieve there’s an­swers. I think the so­lu­tions have been there for ages but it’s just a mat­ter of the col­lec­tive will to do some­thing about it.” Lin says govern­ments are not nec­es­sar­ily who should be tasked with lead­ing the charge. She’s hop­ing it will be an up­ris­ing of the peo­ple that will bring about change. “The good news is there are peo­ple who’ve seen ahead of the game who we can look to for an­swers,” she says. “Un­for­tu­nately they’re not the ones in key po­si­tions or the ones who’re get­ting the fund­ing. Oth­ers are more ag­gres­sive in get­ting their mes­sage out there. “I’m just try­ing to em­power peo­ple with a lit­tle bit of knowl­edge. “I think we’re on bor­rowed time but we have to be­lieve we can change things.”

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