The Authority implements a wide range of education and stewardship programs across the Reef catchment and beyond. These include Reef Guardians, Local Marine Advisory Committees, industry training and the management and operation of the national education centre, Reef HQ Aquarium.
Through these programs, the Authority provides technical expertise and advice to its stakeholders including local government, volunteer groups, schools, tourism operators, fishers, natural resource management bodies and industry.
A three-year overarching strategic communications and engagement strategy aims to ensure the Authority is a trusted, authoritative voice for the Reef that inspires and enables people to take action to ensure a healthy Reef for future generations.
Summary of performance results for Program Area 3
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, its partners and the public improve stewardship of the Reef through their commitment to, and adoption of, sustainable behaviours and best practices relevant to the Reef.
Reef HQ exhibitions, public and community education activities improve awareness, attitudes and aspirations.
Stewardship partnerships, networks and programs deliver outcomes informed by and consistent with Authority positions.
Results against performance criterion
Education: Learning, industry and community education activities
The daily program of educational talks and tours facilitated at Reef HQ Aquarium delivers key messages about the values and threats to the sustainable future of the Marine Park and World Heritage Area, and the actions that people can take to help protect the region. More than 83,000 local, regional, national and international visitors participated in the daily program of educational talks and tours (or 65 per cent of the total visitor number).
The Reef HQ Volunteers Association continues to support the operation of Reef HQ Aquarium, providing volunteers to assist with the delivery of educational talks and tours. In 2018–19, 20 new volunteers were recruited to the program, taking the total number of active volunteers to 109 who contributed more than 11,800 hours of services to the aquarium. Reef HQ Aquarium volunteers have collectively contributed more than 431,300 hours of service since the aquarium first opened in 1987.
Visitor satisfaction surveys indicated that 77 per cent of visitors have an improved understanding of Reef issues because of their visit to Reef HQ Aquarium and 74 per cent indicated they had a better understanding of how they can help protect the Reef.
Formal education programs (foundational to tertiary) were delivered to 5500 students and teachers from more than 150 schools at Reef HQ Aquarium. These programs align with the Australian curriculum and raise student awareness and knowledge of the Reef through an enquiry approach to learning. During 2018–19, 92 per cent of teachers indicated that Reef education programs aligned well with the curriculum and achieved their teaching and learning requirements.
The Authority’s education team hosted around 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students undertaking James Cook University’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in Marine Science (ATSIMS) program. The high school students and 30 program partners undertook a range of program activities with a science, technology, engineering and mathematics focus. This is the fourth consecutive year that Reef HQ Aquarium has supported this program. The learning was two-way, with the Reef education team benefiting from knowledge shared by students about Traditional Owner names for reef animals. The Authority has supported the ATSIMS program since its inception in 2013, and its continued involvement links to actions identified in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Strategy for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The ATSIMS program aims to bolster the interest, experience and hands-on skills that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths need to initiate and succeed in a marine science career.
The Authority’s outreach education (virtual fieldtrip) program, Reef Videoconferencing, was used to deliver Reef education to 48 schools and events around Australia and the world, reaching over 2500 participants. Highlights included:
- delivering 14 Reef education programs into South Korean schools, a continuing legacy resulting from the Authority’s support of Australia’s presence at the Yeosu Expo 2012, where the theme was ‘The Living Ocean and Coast’
- participating in International Year of the Reef 2018 celebrations involving Reef Guardian Councils and Schools in the Southern Great Barrier Reef Region (Yeppoon, Rockhampton, Bundaberg and Gladstone)
- delivering a keynote presentation at the Australian Association of Environmental Education Conference 2019
- delivering a keynote presentation at the Australian Independent Schools Geography Teachers Conference 2019
- involving 200 students from Reef Guardian Schools across Queensland in World Ocean’s Day 2019 celebrations.
The Reef Videoconferencing program received a Pinnacle Award from the United States of America’s Centre of Interactive Learning Collaboration in recognition of the quality of educational content and exceptional skill in program delivery.
Reef Videoconferencing has delivered Reef education programs to more than 390 international locations spanning 14 countries, and to 415 locations within Australia (Figure 15, 16).
Reef Videoconferencing has reached more than 390 international locations
Reef Videoconferencing has reached more than 415 Australian locations
Reef HQ Aquarium continues to be an integral contributor to Townsville and North Queensland’s strategic positioning as a global destination of excellence for faculty-led study abroad programs (known as EduTourism programs). The Authority’s education team delivered specialised programs to more than 370 students from the United States of America, Japan and Singapore. More than 220 participants received in-water training during the Authority’s Eye on the Reef Rapid Monitoring Program using Reef HQ Aquarium’s coral reef exhibition, building capacity in students to contribute to reef health monitoring through citizen science.
ReefED specialty – teacher professional development
Ten teachers from Reef Guardian Schools attended a two-day professional development workshop at Reef HQ Aquarium to increase their knowledge and awareness of how the Marine Park is managed, and to strengthen their capacity to use and facilitate Eye on the Reef methodology training with their students. Eye on the Reef is a reef monitoring and assessment program that enables anyone who visits the Reef to contribute to its long-term protection by collecting valuable information about reef health, marine animals and incidents.
The outcomes of this professional development were two-fold. Teachers felt more confident in training students to conduct reef health assessments and there was increased monitoring of the Reef by students as part of their formal education program.
The professional development workshop received high commendations from participating teachers as it supports core teaching and learning requirements identified in the Queensland senior marine science syllabus.
Master Reef Guides
The Master Reef Guide Program was developed through a partnership with the Authority, Tourism and Events Queensland and the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators.
The program’s vision is ‘Master Reef Guides will be recognised as the world’s leading reef guides, interpreters and storytellers sharing the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area through engaging, entertaining and educational experiences that exceed visitor expectations’.
This was achieved by equipping marine tourism industry staff with the knowledge and skills to deliver world-class interpretation and guiding via a continuous learning development cycle. This included a comprehensive online training course, intensive and immersive field schools, professional networking and knowledge sharing opportunities and leadership development masterclasses.
In February 2019, 13 industry professionals from Authority-recognised high standard tourism operations graduated as the inaugural Master Reef Guide cohort. A second group of 13 professionals graduated in March 2019.
Reef Discovery Course
The Authority developed a comprehensive online training course, Reef Discovery Course, which summarises the A to Z of Marine Park biology, ecology, geology, heritage, management and interpretation in a condensed format. The 10 modules developed will continue to be updated to remain contemporary.
Stewardship: empowering and inspiring others to change behaviours
The Social and Economic Long-term Monitoring Program (SELTMP) 2019 report on changes within the resident population between 2013 and 2017 showed that the ratings for indicators of aspirations and stewardship were significantly higher in 2017 than they were in 2013. For example, across the sample size, residents gave higher ratings for their sense of responsibility to protect the Reef, their willingness to do more to protect the Reef and their willingness to learn more about the condition of the Reef. It should be noted the SELTMP data shows the self-perceptions of survey respondents and does not provide empirical data on actual activities.
Future Leaders Eco Challenges, Reef Guardian Schools
The Reef Guardian Schools Program facilitates Future Leaders Eco Challenges annually. This series of stewardship workshops held across the Reef catchment is designed to empower students, teachers and communities by providing them with new skills and connecting them to the bigger picture of Reef protection. Teachers also obtain professional development hours via capacity building activities delivered at these events.
Through various Future Leaders Eco Challenge activities, students and teachers learned key principles in becoming Reef stewards:
- Care and respect for the Reef, its catchment and community
- Learn and improve
- Act to minimise environmental impacts and conserve resources
- Share knowledge and collaborate.
The 2018 theme, ‘International Year of the Reef’, aimed to strengthen awareness regarding the value of coral reefs worldwide and the threats these reefs face.
The 2019 theme was ‘Protect your Patch’ focusing on how the small acts of many people make a big difference, as well as how we can all think global while acting local.
Nine Future Leaders Eco Challenges were facilitated within the Reef catchment involving:
- 63 Reef Guardian Schools
- 505 students
- 74 teachers
- 49 partner organisations.
During the 2019 Future Leaders Eco Challenges, the Reef Guardian Schools team aimed to foster stronger partnerships with Traditional Owners. Traditional Owners provided a Welcome to Country at eight of the nine events and shared with students how they have protected their sea country for thousands of years, and continue to do so.
Reef Guardian Councils Program
The 18 Reef Guardian Councils continued to undertake a variety of environmental initiatives in their local government areas that contribute to building the resilience of the Reef. These actions included:
- water management: waterways rehabilitation, water monitoring, urban stormwater treatment, and wastewater and trade waste treatment
- waste management: waste avoidance, waste reuse and recycling
- land management: vegetation and pest management, resource assessment, erosion control, and land planning and management
- climate change: planning and policy, energy and resource efficiency, and community education
- community: education, capacity building and developing partnerships.
Changeology is a knowledge base about the psychology of behavioural change that draws from the diffusion of innovations, risk perception, social learning theory, self-determination theory and social psychology. The Authority provided five changeology workshops in regional centres across the Reef catchment, which were strategically focused on building skills and capacity to influence community behaviours within stakeholders who impact on the Reef catchment and the Reef.
The workshops saw 80 participants from a diverse range of stakeholder groups commit to caring for the Reef, including local government staff and councillors, Local Marine Advisory Committee members, fishers, teachers and members of the Reef tourism industry.
Reef Guardian community and stewardship grants
The Reef Guardian Community and Stewardship Grants are an investment in ‘empowering people to be part of the solution,’ a key strategy in the Great Barrier Reef blueprint for resilience. They provide an opportunity for Reef Guardians, Local Marine Advisory Committees, Reef Traditional Owner groups, researchers and the wider community to be supported in their efforts to positively influence the current and future values of the Reef.
The 25 projects funded by the first round of the Reef Guardian Community and Stewardship Grants were delivered during the 2018–19 financial year. These small capacity building grants were designed to form partnerships and fund on-ground action in communities. Projects included island clean-ups, reef restoration projects, International Year of the Reef community events, stormwater drain clean-ups and community Reef monitoring.
The Reef Guardian Grant Guidelines were reviewed, and updated in line with the Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines, to ensure consistency between Commonwealth entity grant programs. The revision presented a new opportunity, Reef Guardian Sea Country Grants. This funding aims to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land and sea management organisations to deliver small sea country and heritage management projects — keeping Indigenous heritage values of the Marine Park strong, safe and healthy. The aim is to focus on projects that:
- provide resources and experiences that build Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage knowledge about the Reef, including through identification, mapping, intergenerational sharing and promotion
- recognise and foster leadership in sea country management, including skills and leadership development
- encourage and support action to provide on-ground sea country conservation and protection, and to influence others to do the same
- build networks and facilitate partnerships to build more effective and efficient stewardship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage values.
As at 30 June 2019, the revised Reef Guardian Grant Guidelines are being prepared for Ministerial approval.
High Standard Tourism Operator program
The Authority is committed to ensuring improved conservation outcomes in the Marine Park through the High Standard Tourism Operator program. The program was established in 2004 and recognises tourism operators as being high standard when they achieve independent (and voluntary) eco certification through either Ecotourism Australia or EarthCheck. At 30 June 2019, 65 operators were recognised as high standard. High Standard Tourism Operators voluntarily operate to a higher standard than required by legislation as part of their commitment to the ecologically sustainable use of the Marine Park. These operators are independently certified as meeting best practice standards for the key areas of protection, presentation and partnership.
The Authority held tourism operator workshops in Port Douglas, Cairns and the Whitsundays to provide information and advice on:
- what it means to operate in the Marine Park
- important changes to the way permissions are managed and how this will affect permitted tourism operators
- the new Permits Online portal to help manage applications and save time
- tools to communicate responsible Reef practices.
The Authority produces a comprehensive publication available to tourism operators, Responsible Reef practices for tourism operators in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which recommends the best environmental practices for more than 30 activities commonly undertaken in the Marine Park. A set of 15 visual icons — based on responsible Reef practices — were also developed in collaboration with industry to enhance education and awareness among non-English speaking visitors to the Marine Park.
Eye on the Reef
Eye on the Reef is a reef monitoring and assessment program run by the Authority.The program enables anyone who visits the Reef to contribute to its long-term protection by collecting valuable information about Reef health, marine animals and incidents, including sightings of crown-of-thorns starfish and charismatic mega-fauna such as whale sharks.
Eye on the Reef brings together the following assessment and monitoring programs:
- Sightings Network: an Eye on the Reef smartphone app enables any Marine Park user to access Marine Park zoning in real-time while out on the water, and to contribute to management by reporting interesting or unusual sightings. These observations and images feed straight into the Eye on the Reef data management system, which helps the Authority to build knowledge about species diversity, abundance, habitat and range.
- Rapid Monitoring: enables Reef users and tourists to be more engaged in Reef reporting and protection. Core Reef health indicators are reported by people from locations that may not be regularly visited. A number of High Standard Tourism Operators now offer the Rapid Monitoring program to their guests.
- Tourism Weekly Monitoring: tourism operators carry out weekly observations of specific sites, providing invaluable data. This program provides a platform for tourism operators to understand their sites and actively contribute to the stewardship and protection of their sites.
- Reef Health and Impact Surveys: a robust and rapid method for providing a snapshot of Reef health at any time on any reef. Used by managers, researchers and the crown-of-thorns starfish program, it is used to assess impacts of cyclones, bleaching, disease and predation.
The Eye on the Reef program and its associated data management and reporting system currently stores 43,583 surveys of reef health and 19,869 records of protected species and significant event sightings. Over 600 people have been trained in Eye on the Reef methods. In 2018–19, more than 5211 surveys of Reef health and almost 2590 sightings of protected species and significant events were received. Eighteen tourism operators are contributing data to the program.
Eye on the Reef workshops were held in late 2018, with 41 participants in the Far Northern region, 38 in the Central region and 20 in the Southern region. The Authority also conducted three in-water training days for tourism staff with more than 50 participants trained.
The Reef supports a range of fishing activities targeting a variety of species including fishes, sharks, crabs and prawns. Fishing is the largest extractive use of the Great Barrier Reef Region (the Region) and recreational fishing is one of the most popular activities on the Reef.
The Authority aims to ensure understanding of and compliance with the management regimes in the Region through public information and education programs, and the adoption of satellite-based vessel monitoring systems.
The Reef Guardian Fishers Program involves 26 fishing operations from Bundaberg to Cooktown and encompasses most commercial fishing activity occurring within the Marine Park. Four new operations were successfully assessed during the reporting period and two left the program (both for personal reasons). Eleven Reef Guardian Fishers are represented in the fisheries working groups established by Queensland to develop harvest strategies critical to the implementation of the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy: 2017–2027. Their input has helped the Authority successfully influence the implementation of the strategy, enabling ecologically sustainable fishing and the need to reduce risk within the Marine Park to be openly recognised and discussed among stakeholders.
The Authority continued to work collaboratively with key recreational fishing groups and Reef Guardian Councils in Rockhampton, Mackay and Cairns to develop and implement stewardship-based codes of practice for recreational fishing supported by citizen science-based monitoring. The Rockhampton recreational fishing voluntary code-of-practice has been strengthened by a sign-on pledge, first used in the Reef Guardian Fisher Program, to honour the code. At 30 June 2019, more than 500 fishers had committed to the pledge. The codes are also working to increase sustainable regional tourism opportunities.
Fishery working groups convened multiple times for the coral reef fin fish, trawl, crab, east coast inshore fin fish, rocky reef, tropical rock lobster, sea cucumber and marine aquarium fish and coral fisheries. The Authority’s input and influence were well reflected in communiques and the development of draft harvest strategies consistent with the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy.
The Authority took part in working groups on sustainability issues related to shark and saucer scallop harvest and undertook a workshop to provide advice on difficult bycatch issues relevant to species of conservation concern, including marine mammals, in the large mesh gillnet component of the east coast inshore fin fish fishery. Involvement in these working groups, plus Fisheries Research and Development Corporation activities, influenced the establishment of appropriate monitoring and research programs, and the ongoing development of fishery-specific ecological risk assessments.
Work conducted with Fisheries Queensland monitoring and research staff addressed recognised gaps in RIMReP and helped bring research streams together, promoting information sharing and complementing work with citizen science, such as Info-fish.
The Authority contributed to legislative development and Fisheries Act 1994 amendments necessary to enable effective implementation of the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy including strengthened enforcement provisions.
Local Marine Advisory Committees
For more than 20 years, the Authority has received advice from voluntary, community-based Local Marine Advisory Committees. These committees provide a forum for Reef catchment communities between Cape York and Bundaberg to discuss local issues, provide advice to managers and encourage their communities to take action to improve Reef health.
A new three-year term began in July 2018. A proactive membership drive resulted in 176 people nominating for membership across 12 committees. Since then, an additional 23 people were endorsed as members.
The Authority hosted a two-day meeting involving the committee chairs in October 2018, providing an opportunity for senior staff to meet with the community representatives and discuss issues. Updates were provided on Authority priorities and the many local Reef protection activities being undertaken by the committees. It also clarified the roles and responsibilities of the committees and provided training and skills to the attendees.
In February 2019, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation worked with the committees to provide Local Action Community Reef Protection Grants. Each committee workshopped local threats to the Reef, potential projects and partners to address the threats, and was allowed to endorse a project in their local area up to the value of $15,000. Eleven grants were allocated and the Local Marine Advisory Committees will be working with partners to deliver these projects.
One million residents live in the Reef catchment, an area of more than 400,000 square kilometres stretching from northern Cape York to Bundaberg. Regional engagement officers based in Cairns, Mackay and Rockhampton service these communities with a range of programs including the Reef Guardian stewardship program and Local Marine Advisory Committees. The officers are a local point of contact for Reef stakeholders and the general public. During 2018–19 they directly engaged with more than 11,800 stakeholders across 92 events.
Reflecting corporate priorities, the main themes for the year were encouraging stewardship activities that benefit the Reef and promoting compliance with Marine Park zoning.
Regional staff organised Reef Guardian events and attended community shows and festivals to promote 2018 International Year of the Reef as well as stewardship activities that help to protect the Reef. Information about Reef health, management actions and partnerships were also prominent in the messaging delivered at these events.
In support of the ‘Protect your Patch’ campaign promoting zoning compliance, regional officers attended fishing expos, competitions and trade shows to educate recreational fishers about the proven benefits of zoning, the risks of non-compliance and the importance of reporting suspicious incidents.
Regional officers engaged with stakeholders at meetings to increase the Authority’s outreach in catchment communities and explore opportunities for collaboration.
From January to June 2019, regional engagement officers participated in 107 meetings with Reef stakeholders including government partners, non-government organisations and industry groups.
The regional officers also serviced a network of more than 200 businesses, government agencies and visitor information centres that stock information products provided by the Authority. These community access points (CAPs) are an important mechanism to connect with local communities, especially Reef users.
During 2018–19, engagement with CAPs followed a new approach, which prioritised the effectiveness of each CAP in terms of its accessibility, primary reef stakeholders and communication capacity.
This strategy allowed officers to prioritise highly accessible and influential CAPs for more frequent engagement, and to deliver tailored education and messages based on the stakeholders of each CAP.
During 2018–19, regional officers engaged with CAPs on 549 occasions through face-to-face engagement, telephone and digital communications. Messaging and education supporting zoning compliance and the ‘Protect your Patch’ campaign were the main focus of engagement.
During 2018–19, the Authority distributed more than 66,800 zoning maps and almost 15,000 associated materials to help marine parks users comply with zoning rules and permitted activities. These were supplied to recreational users and CAPs.
Analysis of performance against purpose
Reef HQ Aquarium visitation and revenue continued to trend downward while maintenance costs increased due to the facility’s age. After 32 years of operation in a harsh tropical climate, Reef HQ Aquarium is in need of refurbishment and increasing maintenance costs are drawing resources away from refreshing exhibits and enhancing visitor experiences.
While the education program participation was tracking as predicted during the second half of 2018, the extreme weather that saw much of Townsville and North Queensland flooded in February 2019 impacted many schools and their associated communities. This resulted in an overall reduction in visits and school participation in Reef HQ Aquarium’s education programs.
The Authority completed a review of the Reef Guardian Schools Program to identify active and inactive schools. To optimise program delivery, the scope of the Reef Guardian Schools Program now focuses on schools within the Reef catchment between Bundaberg and Cooktown. Schools from outside the catchment (north of Cooktown and south of Bundaberg) were encouraged to continue their efforts in environmental sustainability.
Eight new schools joined the Reef Guardian Schools Program during 2018–19, bringing the total number of Reef Guardian Schools to 280 involving 117,214 students and 7912 teachers.
The Reef Guardian Councils Program will transition to a decentralised, regionally-focused coordination model in 2019–20. This approach will enable more regular engagement with the 18 existing Reef Guardian Councils and strengthen partnership opportunities in line with priority initiatives identified in the Great Barrier Reef blueprint for resilience. For example, delivering on-ground actions to enhance resilience, empowering people to be part of the solution and fostering change.
The marine tourism industry is a key partner in protecting and managing the Reef. Tourism operators help enhance visitor experiences of the Reef and play an important role in protecting the renowned biodiversity that supports their industry.
The expert knowledge and advice provided through the Authority’s involvement in Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy working groups resulted in positive outcomes for the management of ecologically sustainable fishing within the Marine Park. In particular, the inclusion in the strategy of sustainable catch limits of 60 per cent unfished biomass by 2027 to build resilience and the development of harvest strategies for all Queensland fisheries, starting with the trawl, east coast inshore, crab and coral reef line fisheries.
The important engagement work entered into as part of the sustainable fishing work program has ensured that fishing-related risks within the Marine Park and the Authority’s position on these risks are considered in the implementation and ongoing review of Queensland’s Sustainable Fisheries Strategy: 2017–2027.
Case study: International Year of the Reef 2018
International Year of the Reef 2018 provided a global platform to raise awareness of the value of coral reefs, and in particular for the Authority, the significance of the Great Barrier Reef.
To celebrate, motivate and educate people about coral reefs and the threats they face the Authority hosted or participated in more than 80 community events across the Reef catchment and developed a range of branded supporting materials and resources.
Key messages were themed around how we can all contribute to helping keep the Reef great, how local, regional and global actions can help the Reef, and celebrating the fantastic work already underway to ensure a resilient Reef.
Communities were encouraged to get involved by taking environmental actions at home, work and school to help reduce the effect of climate change on the Reef. This sparked conversations about how people everywhere can contribute to environmental sustainability by pledging their commitment to #LoveTheReef through simple changes in behaviour.
A showcase event, and first for the region, saw Reef HQ Aquarium, the national education centre for the Reef, link to communities in the southern Reef catchment via a live video stream on 10 July. A crowd of more than 200 students and community members across Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Yeppoon and Gladstone embraced the opportunity to learn about coral reefs and chat directly with a diver from inside the aquarium.
Another key activity in the spirit of International Year of the Reef was a Pecha Kucha evening hosted by the Authority in Townsville. More than 150 audience members heard from eight speakers on topics including Reef science, research, art and conservation. The variety of presentations highlighted the Reef’s broad reach and influence across the community.
These and more activities celebrating International Year of the Reef helped to create unity and focus, and highlight the importance of working together to secure the future of our Reef and other coral reefs around the world.