Empowering Traditional Owners Key Outcome of Reef Restoration Leadership Workshop

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.

Vicki Saylor, Manbarra Traditional Owner and Dr Johanna Johnson, C2O Consulting making coral restoration discs.Image: Reef Ecologic

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.

Great Barrier Reef Traditional Owners with Gemma Molinaro, Reef Ecologic at the Orpheus Island Reef Leadership and Restoration Workshop. Image: Reef Ecologic

“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, RRRC, sneales@ozemail.com.au, 0427 132 474


Video & header image: Hulton King