Featured News JCU’s TROPWater experts support a global gathering to tackle coral reef problems

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Thu, 23 Nov 2017

JCU’s TROPWater experts support a global gathering to tackle coral reef problems

Australia Award Fellow snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef
Australia Award Fellows snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef

James Cook University (JCU), in collaboration with Australia Awards, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and other agencies, has sponsored Reef Ecologic’s International Coral Reef Management and Leadership program, which runs from 6 November to 26 November 2017.

Current and emerging leaders converged on the Great Barrier Reef to learn and share ideas for tackling the crucial challenge of protecting coral reefs as part of the 2017 International Coral Reef Management and Leadership Program.

Coral reefs are facing unprecedented pressures, threatening globally important biodiversity and compromising opportunities for sustainable economic development.

Fifteen reef managers from seven coral reef nations gathered in Australia to learn from industry experts, many of them JCU scientists. Fellows attended lectures from prominent JCU scientists on topics such as Marine Protected Area (MPA) management, sustainability, reef physiology, emerging threats to coral reefs, and the importance of communications.

TropWATER scientist Dr Ian McLeod provided an engaging presentation on communication strategies, a skill recognised as increasingly important in the world of coral reef management.

“Australia is recognised as a world leader in coral reef management. We have a long history of development assistance from Australia, and this coral reef management program is another example of the wonderful support Australia can provide us in the Maldives,” said Mr Ibrahim Naeem, Director General of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Maldives.

“Coral reefs are in crisis, but they are too precious to lose. What we need is a reef revolution. This program of learning has inspired me to work with my government and our stakeholders to find new ways to help coral reefs, which are so vital to the people and economy of Saint Lucia, in fact to all of the eastern Caribbean,” said Mr Thomas Nelson, Deputy Chief Fisheries Officer in Saint Lucia.

Involving an exciting schedule of expert presentations, immersive learning and the memorable personal experiences of snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, the program provided a unique opportunity for coral reef managers from across the globe to strengthen their leadership skills and form alliances that can underpin national and regional actions that will help coral reefs.

The program included a field trip to JCU’s Orpheus Island Research Station (OIRS), a distinctively academic and adventurous setting, where Fellows snorkelled amongst giant clams and tropical fish and undertook leadership challenges providing crucial skills for when they return home.

“It’s an immersive project that provides unique opportunities for the Fellows to share ideals and exchange knowledge. We go on a journey together to improve the capacity of people throughout the world with the outcome that they are better prepared to manage coral reefs in their own countries,” said Dr Adam Smith, director of Reef Ecologic.

Each is hoping to take lessons learnt in Australia home to their respective countries, implementing effective coral reef management in their own contexts.

“The people of Fiji are coral reef people. They all want to help coral reefs cope with climate change. The things I have learned in Australia will help me empower Fijians to be strong and proud stewards of their coral reefs. That is the future for conservation in my home,” said Tomasi Tikoibua, from Fiji’s Institute of Applied Sciences, the University of the South Pacific.

This is the third year of the International Coral Reef Management and Leadership Program. Australia is privileged among coral reef nations to have such globally-significant expertise and to be able to help other nations who share a strong dependence on these majestic and productive ecosystems.