A highly-successful workshop was held at Orpheus Island Research Station last month to look at ways to improve collaboration between scientists, traditional land and sea owners, tourism business operators and local communities on the Great Barrier Reef in the quest to preserve, restore and maintain coral health.

Working with indigenous traditional owners was a highlight of the third annual Reef Restoration and Leadership Workshop, with seven TOs whose home lies along the Great Barrier Reef attending the four-day gathering.

Coordinated by Reef Ecologic in partnership with TROPWater, James Cook University and the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, the workshop shared contemporary scientific knowledge and practical experience on reef restoration, and discussed emerging reef restoration issues. It also focussed on developing leadership skills and emphasising the role everyone must play in preserving precious and unique natural ecosystems.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – and, more broadly, corals worldwide – are facing unprecedented pressure from a combination of global climate change, mass coral bleaching events and localised threats to coral health, including soil erosion and fertiliser runoff from adjacent coastal regions.

Participants at the workshop discussed how apathy can play a large role in the lack of action by communities and individuals to engage in activities that support reef health, and ways to catalyse greater involvement, consciousness and action.

The workshop provided a unique opportunity for all participants to boost and enhance their knowledge of reef restoration projects and early encouraging results, which include coral seeding studies, coral genetic research and the use of underwater structures, called Reef Stars to promote coral growth after cyclone damage.

Other major benefits of the Workshop were networking opportunities, the chance to collaborate with a diverse group of people from a variety of backgrounds, and the shared experience of devising solutions to supporting the health of our natural reef environments.

“The highlights for me from this year’s event has been the collaboration, deep conversations and that the event is climate-neutral,” said Reef Ecologic Director Associate Professor Adam Smith.

“We all come from different backgrounds but we all share the same passion for the environment and reef health. It has been fantastic to see those connections and I am really looking forward to the opportunity for future collaborations where we can work together and supercharge to make a difference for our communities and the Reef.” The workshop hosted seven Indigenous attendees, five traditional owners supported by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program Tropical Water Quality Hub, and two young aspiring indigenous leaders hosted by the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA).

Vicki Saylor and Richard Parsgaard are both Manbarra TOs who attended the mid- November workshop, with Orpheus Island part of Manbarra Country. “Being in the water, connecting with the sea [was a highlight]; I got lost in the colours and the beauty of the Reef, especially the big clams,” said Richard Parsgaard, who was taught to snorkel during the Workshop by experienced coral divers. “There’s a lot I’m still reflecting on, but I want to bring youth to places like this and share the knowledge and experience that I have had to show them a different future.”

Woppaburra Traditional Owner Joseph Geas, enthused about how much he had learnt at the Workshop that he now wanted to share with his people.“I don’t have a lot of experience in marine science and coral restoration but I now hope to spend more time in the water in future, to learn more about conservation, about what we can do to protect our natural environment,” Joseph Geas said. “I found the presentations on reef restoration simple and easy to understand; I was particularly interested in the workshop hosted by Di Lanyon from Ecosure discussing ideas about holistic ridge-to-reef conservation and am already thinking how I might be able to introduce those concepts to the Woppaburra people.”

The two aspiring indigenous leaders at the Orpheus Island gathering, Genome Geia Jnr and Jess Courtney, attended the workshop as the culmination of a 10-week training opportunity to develop their skills and improve employment opportunities. “Meeting wonderful people working in different areas and walks of life was extremely beneficial,” said Jess Courtney. “There are many organisations and people working towards preserving and protecting life on the Great Barrier Reef; my hope is through this weekend and my project officer training I can play an ever increasing role in protecting my home, the Great Barrier Reef.”  Duncan Smith, Ecosure Restoration Operations Manager, summed the Reef Restoration and Leadership Workshop up perfectly. “The feeling of inspiration and hope, and the connections made between people and their environment… that’s been the best part.”

Media contacts:
Assoc Prof Adam Smith               adam.smith@reefecologic.org                        0418 726 584
Nathan Cook                               nathan.cook@reefecologic.org                       0437 318 802
Sue Neales                                  sneales@ozemail.com.au                               0427 132 474

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Selected Comments from other Reef Restoration and Leadership Workshop participants

  • Dave Paton, Blue Planet Marine Manager

“The opportunity to meet and network with a diverse range of people from different walks of life was a real highlight. I’m so enthused there are other people out there that are keen and eager, wanting to make a difference and do something constructive to protect the Reef.”

  • Usop Drahm, Manubarra Land and Sea Inc Steering Committee Member

“The Workshop was a great opportunity to see Orpheus Island, someone else’s country, and to bond with other lands [TOs] and to share ideas and empathise better with their hopes and dreams. We are concerned about damage to King Reef from over-exploitation; lessons learned here can help us with strategies to work with government and tourism operators to improve management of sea country.

 “ I also gained more knowledge of reef gardens and how we can contribute to the health of the Reef. I can take some of these lessons back to my people and share these ideas, and hopefully get them inspired to be involved in reef restoration projects in the future. I also hope to encourage other Manubarra Land and Sea people to come back and take part in future workshops to improve our leadership capacity and inspire more people.”

 Hulton King, Programs Manager, Reef and Rainforest Research Centre

“I felt a real mindshift [during the Workshop] to knowing that the capacity to make change is here; what it requires is the right collaboration, momentum and leadership. After this weekend, that net of capable people has expanded and so therefore have opportunities.”

  • Andrew Simmonds, Reef Ecologic Associate

“The focus on how personal conduct and leadership can lead to improved collaboration, better teamwork, more innovative thinking and ultimately improved stewardship and better outcomes was a real achievement and highlight of the Workshop.”  

  • Jen Ford, Principal Restoration, Ecologist Ecosure Australia

“This workshop was a wonderful reminder to be open, to keep growing and thinking about how we can do things better to heal nature and people; it helped me to connect more of the dots between land and sea restoration, and gave me extra tools to accelerate that.”

  • Olivia Brodhurst, Coordinator Whitsunday reg Council Climate Hub

“Being creative and innovative in the approach by conservation communities to funding is going to be crucial to accessing meaningful support for reef restoration and conservation work; more diverse sources of [alternate] funding should be targeted.”

  • Ryan Donnelly, CEO Reef Restoration Foundation

“My approach to reef restoration is to always keep an open mind, learn from others and be willing to adapt.”

  • Maria Fontes, Marine Conservation Trainer, Envirotech Education

“Don’t be afraid to make changes because the world needs bold, brave courageous people to really make a difference.”