Season 1, Episode 4
Reef Restoration Foundation
Host Benjamin Starr continues driving his own adventure through the beautiful city of Cairns.
Talking to CEO, Stewart Christie of the Reef Restoration Foundation and the amazing work they’re doing at the Great Barrier Reef to help restore the coral population and the challenges that the reef faces.
Read the transcript
Ben: Are you serious? And how big are these stars?
Stewart: So they’re generally about three, four hundred millimetres wide but they can they can be up to a kind of a significant. You know and these things are something that that until ten, fifteen years ago people who just left alone.
Ben: Now they’ve become an enemy.
Stewart: Yeah and then the system’s kinda it it’s that whole thing. Before you sorta said well look you know generally systems, in balance as soon as is it something happens which sets it unbalanced. Because the amount of interference we’re having with the system, it then puts it out of side gear yeah.
Ben: I suppose you were talking about category five cyclones. People in Sydney and Melbourne don’t understand that sort of stuff, but the reef can any take so many hits. I mean it doesn’t actually have roots? It does have a root system so in the sand?
Stewart: So effectively what happens, is that you have these kind of hard substrate and the kind the coral just kind of attaches it to it. So it got these kinda almost kinda glues itself onto the rock and and some of the coral too – particularly the hard corals can be quite brittle. So if you’ve got these mass these massive waves coming through and they just smash the coral off the substrate and the fast growing branches are.
Ben: The first thing will get hit won’t it?
Stewart: It’s the first thing that gets hit, and some of that that’s a way naturally also that breeding. Because some that the fast growing coral just snaps off. But it tumbles along, gets wedged into another piece of coral, and then it grows again. So there’s two ways it grows – either sexual propagation in or or a-sexual. Which just means you just snap it off, stick it in and off it goes and that’s what we do is just mimic that natural process. And we snap it off, we just put it somewhere that there’s more likely to grow.
Ben: For families listening into us, what advice do you have to them? Like going out to the reef are humans going out to the reef also contributing to its demise? Is that part of the the tourism management plan that has to be in place for all the stuff? I mean there’s a lot of boats that go out there.
Stewart: Absolutely so you know just now we are the world’s best practice managed reef on the planet. So the operators, they operate out of in the Great Barrier Reef have got to operate to really significant kind of standards. So if you’re going to visit any reef in the world, Great Barrier Reef is probably the best reef to manage. Like anything, we’ve all go impacts effectively with wherever we kinda go and the reef operators are constantly kind of evolving and changing. But yes, I think that you can be assured that actually you know there’s an opportunity for you guys to kind of come up here and get involved. And and where we want to go with the kind of coral nurseries over time, as they get bigger, there’s gonna be opportunities for tourists to kind of band grow and go off and planting the coral back and
Ben: See that’s the amazing thing – I suppose is there’s course’s that TAFE haven’t even designed yet to do with maybe teach people how to be nursery men and women. But maybe this is the new wave.
Ben: So out of a disaster something good sometimes happens?
Stewart:Yeah absolutely and just now like the tourism operators they have safety, customer service, quality you know and there are and what we see gonna going forward is that each of those operators will then have kind of coral restoration as part of their business model – and that’s the thing that you know people will then be able to involved in. Just now you when you book a flight, you can offset your emissions by planting some trees. I would like to see is now instead of planting trees but planting coral.
Ben: That’s a great idea.
Stewart: Just now we have a volunteer program, our volunteers come out with this effectively they do a dive they help us maintain the trees, they kinda help look after the corals they plant the corals and people are really excited because so in a way.
Ben: So in a way if humans aren’t out there, it’s actually going to die?
Stewart: Yes, absolutely.
Ben: So at the moment, it’s it needs the human interaction – in terms of agriculture what things are they putting in place to stop all this stuff going into the ocean?
Stewart: So there’s a series of things are happening in legislation. Effectively is tightening to kind of increase higher standards, and there’s different things – like that there’s an organisation we know which are they’re developing a thing called a reef credit system. So they’re incentivising farmers effectively throughout financial mechanism, where they can actually reduce the amount of fertilisers they’re using in their agricultural. And then being rewarded, incentivised to kind of be you know to to be better environmental stewards of the land. Generally farmers, like reef operators, they rely on those assets. They want to do the right thing and it’s just about actually how do we put the incentivise and the mechanisms in place to help them be better stewards – and to reward them for doing it.
Ben: Sure sure sure. Can people donate to your cause at the moment?
Stewart: Oh they can, yes.
Ben: So how do they do that?
Stewart: You can adopt a coral, you can adopt a branch, or adopt a tree. Sponsor a nursery. So you know, log on to our website reefrestorationfoundation.org. We’re on Instagram, we’re on Facebook too so you know get involved in.
What sort of cost is it to to do something like that?
So from fifty bucks to adopt a coral, and then basically upwards from there depending on your kind of bank balance.
What do you appreciate about the reef? And when you’re out there what is the sound that comes into your head that represents the reef? If we were to talk about a sound effect.
You can actually hear the fish and effectively the corals. Basically kind of there’s a there’s almost in a small kind of music kinda happen in the background, so when if you go out and swim over a reef – there’s a dead reef it’s quiet. If you were swimming over a live reef, it’s amazing the kind of the noise and that’s one and what.
How would you describe the noise, is it is it something we can replicate?
It’s it’s almost like a small kind of symphony orchestra actually. Really just like a modern symphony orchestra different kind of style and this chirping and different noises – and kind of it it’s and that’s one of the things you can indicate on how healthy a reef system is is by the noise it kind of comes from it, you know?
And the fish life out there, has that been impacted because of the reefs as well as at having another problem as well?
Yeah because something like, twenty five percent of the world’s marine fish stocks kinda start or at some point spend time in Great Barrier Reef.
It’s probably like a hospital – for people to recover the fish to recover and birthing ground.
Absolutely it’s their structure and they’re still, it’s where they feel safe, where they can kind of feed. If there’s no reef, there’s no fish and that’s one of the things that we’ve seen. In the last I was out a couple months ago, and even where our nursery is there was schools of fish swimming through it with batfish basically nibbling the algae on it.
I love it.
And and it almost kind of creates its own kind of ecosystem too, but it’s so important that the reef is really just if you can imagine going through a city, effectively your buildings effectively being knocked over, lights going out, and people leaving then you’re left with a derelict place with no life.
What we want is like the movie “Under The Sea”. Where it’s alive and everyone’s tap dancing, having a great time and singing along and everybody’s in equilibrium.
Yeah absolutely. You know and and people have contributed to the problem, but we also people can now contribute to the solution.
Ben: And it’s it’s getting the kids involved now isn’t it? And it’s really getting the kids excited about saving something and feeling that they can do something?
And and this is what I’ve been really excited about. Is that generally all our volunteers are below twenty five, they kind of getting involved. We’re now getting schools involved, they’re gonna get coral nurseries like on shore coral nurseries. We’ve got school programs which go out and spend time on the reef. They’re doing citizen science, they’re understanding what they can do here – but also what they can do when they go home. Because if you can actually go home and actually do stuff where you’re reducing your carbon emissions, you know, then it’s all kind of making a difference in the long run. You know again we are the best practice in our best managery system in the world and if you want to see a great reef this is the place to kind of come in.
Ben: Well thank you very much Stuart for your insights, and what you doing you’ve obviously being called to do this. You don’t do it for money, it’s a passion project but it’s got a long term effect for everybody and you’re doing a great job and of course what’s the website again for people can log on to the help?
Yeah reefrestorationfoundation.org and you can also find us on Facebook and Instagram too.
Ben: Fantastic so we’re driving our own adventure, talking with CEO and co-founding director Stuart Christie there from the wonderful Reef Restoration Foundation, thanks for joining us.
Stewart: Great stuff, thank you very much for having me.
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