Reef Restoration and Leadership Workshop – Gooldboodhi (Orpheus) Island 2021

There is something mystical, almost magical when we connect with nature. When we take time to immerse ourselves in the natural environment, we hear the sound of the wind through the trees, the cacophony of chirping, tweets and whistles from the birds. Underwater, on a coral reef, we hear the crunching and scraping of the herbivores as they clear away algae and excavate tiny amounts of rock creating space for new corals and other organisms to recruit. When we are still, floating on the surface with just our head ever so slightly underwater, the snapping and popping of the reef dwellers using a variety of techniques to feed and defend themselves becomes apparent. Invertebrates walk or crawl across the sand or through the myriad of interstitial spaces (gaps in the reef) that make this environment so complex, driving its enormous biodiversity. 

This is why we, Reef Ecologic, run these multi-day overnight workshops – encouraging people to take time to step out of their daily lives, from the constant pull of life and see that when you strip away the traffic, the social media, the crowds then life can be pretty simple. Creating lasting positive experiences and relationships. 

During a week at Goolboodi (Orpheus Island), part of Queensland’s Palm Island Group, we were fortunate to share the time with over 40 people from across Queensland. We were there hosting our annual Reef Restoration and Leadership Workshop, an event aimed at sharing information about the burgeoning practice of coral reef restoration and inspire leadership from this diverse group of people. But equally important is encouraging people to step out of their daily lives and connect with nature. 

Students from marine science programs around the Gold Coast joined to learn more about the discipline of reef restoration and how they may be able to get involved in future project opportunities. The challenge for these budding, excitable potential participants is that beyond the professional sphere, in Australia at least, participatory opportunities are limited due to onerous permitting requirements, legislation and access – most of the Great Barrier Reef is a long way offshore.

We were joined by representatives of organisations aiming to grow and harvest seaweed to feed to cows to reduce their (the cows) methane production. Others were looking to augment seaweed production using the growth of the marine plant in ocean systems to consume dissolved nitrogen flowing from terrestrial sources. They could (potentially) then use that seaweed to also create livestock feed. Importantly, presentations from these participants sparked ideas, little lights bulbs going off in people’s heads as they considered the potential of these innovative ideas to help our ailing planet. 

Speaking of innovation, the Museum of Underwater Art Foundation (MOUA) sponsored eight Traditional Custodians from the Manbarra and Bwgcolman people of Palm Island. Bwgcolman (pronounced “Bwookamun”) means “many tribes – one people”, representative of the heritage of some 46 different Aboriginal tribal groups from which the people of Palm Island originate. Not there by choice, past policies forcibly relocated many Indigenous Australians to this small continental island on the Great Barrier Reef, one of 300. The workshop was a culmination of a 10-week training program to develop their skills and improve employment opportunities. MOUA, in partnership with Reef Ecologic and Savannah Guides, supported 8 trainees through training in a variety of skills including marine and reef ecology, scuba diving, boat licence training, leadership, public speaking, interpretative guiding, report writing and a raft of skills required to participate in todays demanding and competitive work environments. Many of them want to be ‘on-country’ protecting and preserving their homelands, but the reality of the world requires them to be multi-skilled to enhance workplace opportunities. Two graduates from 2020 have been successfully employed as a result of the training and we are hopeful of similar outcomes from our eight trainees from Palm Island.  

Other Indigenous attendees included reef rangers and Traditional Custodians from different tribal groups across the region. Sponsored by the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre we had five members from the Gunggandji Mandingalbay Yidinji rangers near Gordonvale, Cairns, two participants from the nearby Girringun rangers and one fella from the Yuku-Baja-Muliku rangers in Cooktown. All of them have different backgrounds, levels of experience and stories to tell. A common thread was their desire to learn more strategies, methods and techniques with which they may be able to ‘care for country’. They realise that while their connection to their land ran deep, there were much they could learn from us, as much as we could learn from them. Some of them had rarely snorkelled and getting them into the water, seeing and experiencing coral reefs for the first time was a truly special experience for all of us. 

Those who attend don’t necessarily walk away with comprehensive knowledge on how to conduct or implement reef restoration. That outcome takes weeks, months and years of theoretical and practical training. What they do gain are ideas and inspiration to think about how restoration activities might be used, where it might be relevant in their world or simply to inspire people to think about starting up their own project to protect natural environments in their own backyard. More importantly they gain friends, connections to different industries, knowledge and opportunities that may be beneficial in the future. Some of the project ideas may resonate with different participants who find ways to collaborate in future to bring ideas to reality. 

In 2020 participants brainstormed and workshopped a concept idea for a Ridge to Reef Demonstration Project lead by Traditional Owners somewhere in the Great Barrier Reef. 12 months later, following numerous meetings and draft project plans, a concept idea has received seed funding for implementation. This outcome would not have been possible if not for the hard work of a collaborative, cooperative group of people dedicated to making a difference for the Reef and associated ecosystems. 

I look forward to the 2022 iteration of Reef Ecologic’s Reef Restoration and Leadership workshop and encourage anyone who needs a moment to breathe and experience a beautiful natural environment and wonderful people to join us next November.


20/11/2021 Channel 7 News 

Tourists visiting Townsville’s Museum of Underwater Art could soon be guided by members of the Indigenous community. Eight graduates from a new program are now certified to take visitors on dives and explain the cultural importance of the ocean.