Decoding The Reef: A Conversation With The Scientist, The Advocate, And The Guide

21 October, 2019

The Great Barrier Reef, in many ways, defies description. It's the biggest structure ever built by living things and the only one visible from outer space. It's home to one of the world's most complex and uniquely diverse ecosystems; and, a destination, as Sir David Attenborough attests, that is “better than travelling to the moon.”

Put more simply, it's a very big deal. At 70 million football fields, it's around the same size as Japan and bigger than two thirds of the countries on the planet. It is the largest coral reef system in the world and, in 1981, it was the first to be inscribed by UNESCO on its World Heritage List.

The Great Barrier Reef is also incredibly important for Australia. It's part of Australia's identify, it's a global environmental icon, a world heritage site, and it is an economic powerhouse. It creates $5.7 billion year in direct economic activity and supports tens of thousands of jobs.”

It's also a tourism attraction for over 2 million people per year, who come to see this world-heritage listed area. And every single one of them contributes $6.50 EMC.

But it is under pressure as a result of weather patterns and changes to the climate affecting the globe as a whole. Today, we are bringing together three representatives of the reef; a scientist, a tourism advocate and a marine biologist to talk about what is happening on the reef today.

Below are the biographies of our panellists as well as the questions we will ask:

  1. Master Reef Guide … what exactly is this?
  2. “That report”. Last month GBRMPA downgraded the long term outlook for the Great Barrier Reef from “poor” to “very poor” generating more headlines heralding the reef's death. Is it time to pack up our snorkels and fins and declare it over?
  3. Okay, so it's five years since the last health report. Can you tell us what exactly has happened in that time to shift the outlook? And, what are the top threats facing the reef?
  4. If Climate change is now the No. 1 threat, why is it that only Australia's Great Barrier Reef seems to be making headlines? And, what makes our reef the poster child for a very depressing outlook?
  5. Okay as the temperatures heat up, we are also coming into Coral Spawning. This year, marine scientists are thinking November 17 will be the night that millions of spawn and eggs will explode on the Great Barrier Reef. Why is this event so important?
  6. The Great Barrier Reef welcomes more than 2 million visitors to the GBR reef annually. And every single visitor contributes $6.50 EMC which goes toward managing the reef. How important is tourism to the survival of the reef?
  7.  

(Note: A recording of a similar event organised by the TEQ publicity team can be found here: https://youtu.be/LqhY5P-dd74. Meanwhile, fact sheets on the reef can be found https://cdn2-teq.queensland.com/~/media/D45AE07A39BE47F9BF95591E7BB1EC55.ashx?vs=1&d=20190522T102919

 

Panellist: Meet the Scientist, Dr David Wachenfeld  | Chief scientist, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Armed with a PhD from the University of York, Dr David Wachenfeld travelled 30 years and 15,400 kilometres to his current role as Chief Scientist for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and arguably Australia's greatest natural icon.

GBRMPA is the ultimate authority responsible for the broad and intricate management of the Great Barrier Reef marine park and it has the single aim to ensure the reef stays healthy for future generations.  Funded by the Commonwealth Government, it oversees the comings and goings in the marine park, its commercial use, fishing, shipping, zoning and recreation use.

Referencing the recent bleaching events, Dr Wachenfeld told an audience at the 2018 Coral Reef Futures Symposium that the reef is still an amazing place, but it is under pressure.

“The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is bigger than two thirds of the countries on the planet. It is heterogenous and diverse place. There are bright spots even in the middle of the worst areas. And the southern parts have not suffered.

“The reef is still an amazing, beautiful vibrant eco system. But the reef does need us to do everything we can both globally and also, locally, by protecting biodiversity in our marine park, water quality and controlling Crown of Thorns Starfish.”

Dr Wachenfeld believes the Great Barrier Reef is an incredibly valuable place and a great place to visit.

“It's part of Australia's identify, part of the spirituality of first nation's people, it's a global environmental icon and a world heritage site, and it is an economic powerhouse. It creates $6 billion year in direct economic activity and supports tens of thousands of jobs. Just ask any eight year old – it is also the inspiration for Finding Nemo.” 

“Just like a tourist anywhere, if you were to turn up with no guide and no guidebook you could have an average time. You need local knowledge. You need a local guide to take you to the best places.

“You would not go to the Serangetti Park, jump in a car and go anywhere and expect to see all areas filled with animals.”  Nor should you do that on the reef.

David can be contacted via the media team at GBRMPA:  media@gbrmpa.gov.au

 

Panellist: Meet the Advocate,  Wendy Morris Chair of Tropical Tourism North Queensland

Wendy Morris is passionate about the extraordinary natural environment that connects the reef with the rainforest and the outback around her home in Tropical North Queensland. To her, the human race could learn a lot from the reef's survival tactics including its efficient use of resources and the symbiotic way that the ecosystem has worked over millennia.

Wendy first developed a passion for the Reef in 1974 after arriving in Port Douglas and sailing the Far Northern Reefs.

After graduating from James Cook University with a BSc in Marine Biology/Zoology and an Honours degree at Murdoch University, Wendy started Reef Biosearch in 1988, the first marine biologist guided snorkelling tour, in conjunction with Quicksilver boats from Port Douglas.

The company grew to employ more than a dozen graduates, each driven by their shared love of the Reef as well as the ethos that knowledge is the first step in making the natural world something worth protecting. Her concept now extends across the length of the Reef through an outstanding new programme, the Master Reef Guides programme. 

To this day Wendy continues to be a frequent explorer and photographer of the Great Barrier Reef. Her favourite highlights are the seasonal encounters with the Dwarf Minke Whales and diving into the ultramarine blue of the deep Coral Sea with pelagic sharks, Manta Rays and breeding Green Turtles. But her true fascination lies in the thousands of smaller, everyday reef creatures that make up the vast and complex coral society. Each species within this biodiversity has a role in the web of reef life that visitors to the reef can witness daily.

On land, Wendy has been involved in multiple tourism businesses including reef charter vessels, hotels, resorts and attractions. Through her family's company, she was recently involved in the successful establishment of the Mt Emerald Windfarm on the Atherton Tablelands, supplying power to 75,000 homes daily on the Great Barrier Reef coast. 

Wendy has been an advocate for the Reef on various tourism boards as well as a past director of Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef and a current Board Member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.  In 2016 she founded The Reef Society (www.reefsociety.com.au), an enterprise that tells the stories of life on the Great Barrier Reef through art, photography and clothing.

In 2017 Wendy was awarded the Marie Watson Blake Award for Outstanding Contribution by an Individual by the Queensland Tourism Industry Council.

Wendy can be contacted via: wendy.morris@ttnq.org.au

 

Panelist: Meet the Master Reef Guide, Dr Glen Burns |  Quicksilver Cruises

After receiving his Ph.D. in Zoology in 1984, Glen took up a position as a Research Fellow for the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service. Based in Cairns, his research focused on the population ecology and reproductive biology of sea snakes. Glen commenced a long association with Quicksilver as one of their Marine Biologists in 1989. An association which he enjoys to this day.

Over the past 30 years Glen has travelled extensively throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific Region, Africa, South East Asia, Central and South America and the Caribbean in an effort to gain a perspective on human impact on tropical marine ecosystems around the world.

He has lectured at the University of Long Island in New York and is the author of several scientific articles. For 12 years Glen taught the tropical Marine Science Program for Long Island University bringing the American university students to Australia on summer programs to study a variety of aspects of the Great Barrier Reef. Living with his family in Florida for five years, Glen taught Marine Biology and Environmental Science at University level before returning to Australia where he once again joined the Quicksilver crew in 2012.

Glen's work aims to help conserve coral reeks on a global scale by examining sustainable uses for coral reef systems and them promoting the adoption of these alternatives through education. He is passionate about coral reefs and rainforests and chooses to live in Far North Queensland with his wife and two children because “you can dive on a World Heritage coral reef in the morning, splash about under a waterfall in a World Heritage jungle in the afternoon and still be home in time for dinner and a movie!”

 Glen can be contacted via: Megan Bell megan@quicksilvergroup.com.au  

 

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For more information about this panel session, please contact shelley.winkel@queensland.com