This long and crazy year has taught us a thing or two about responding to crises. Let’s use the same energy we saw in the pandemic to save our beloved reef, and the communities who depend on it.
When it comes to our Great Barrier Reef “simply crossing our fingers and hoping for the best is not an option,” says Deborah Dickson-Smith.
She's been working for years in Queensland’s dive industry. Like many, she’s living through a stark reality check about the possible future of the reef and the communities that rely on tourism and nature to survive.
2020 will be remembered in her mind as the year when a pandemic combined with a major bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef. Then, September was recorded as the hottest month ever globally, and our reef endured some more.
Photo: Itchy Feet Digital
“Everyone who works on the reef is passionate about the reef, and not just because our livelihoods depend on it,” says Deborah. She wants more people in the tourism industry to “speak out about climate change — the biggest threat to the reef’s future.”
Those who work in dive tourism can be among our most powerful ocean advocates. But they need to be part of a bigger, united plan to recover from COVID-19 in a way that is good for people, nature and climate.
In a crisis, governments make big decisions about protecting things that matter. Since COVID-19 impacted our lives, we’ve seen injections of funds into businesses, industry and welfare support, and policy changes to help make sure Australians can keep making ends meet.
"We need to see climate change, like the pandemic, as a major crisis that is endangering the reef but also our economy and people."
But a good government would also have a strong plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef — one of the most diverse and biologically complex marine ecosystems on earth. It sustains a vibrant tourism industry, supporting tens of thousands of Queenslanders.
With help, the tourism industry can recover after COVID-19, but only if there is a healthy Great Barrier Reef to visit once this crisis is over.
Photo: Michael Smith/Shutterstock
“In recovery, if we want the tourism industry to stand as tall as it did, we need a healthy reef to back that up because without a healthy reef, obviously, you're not going to have a healthy tourism industry,” says Tony Fontes, a diver from Airlie Beach.
“The impacts of climate change will be far more reaching and far more serious than COVID-19.”
Tony can see the opportunities, as we come out of the pandemic, to use some of the lessons learned about responding in a crisis.
Photo: Tony Fontes
“We need to see climate change, like the pandemic, as a major crisis that is endangering the reef but also our economy and people. We saw the government move mountains to ensure our survival.”
So why can’t it be the same for our climate and the reef — our natural world? Tony thinks part of the problem is people are disconnected from this underwater world, especially if they’ve never experienced the reef first-hand.
"Bushfires and coral bleaching. It's exactly the same thing except one's under water and nobody sees it."
“Lots of people read about coral bleaching and I find it doesn't touch them. It's like me reading about a bushfire ... it's not the same as being in a bushfire.
"But when you talk to a diver, who is in the water all the time, about coral bleaching … we're diving and we see it, and we can touch it and even smell it."
Photo: Tony Fontes
“I wouldn't wish that on anybody. It's like walking through a forest that has just recently been burned. Bushfires and coral bleaching. It's exactly the same thing except one's under water and nobody sees it.”
Our reef and the communities who care for it need bold leadership and swift action to make people and our planet healthier and more resilient.
It’s time to restore and protect nature, so nature can protect us. We are at a critical juncture where we can get the future right.
Whether you live in Queensland, or anywhere else in Australia, you can write to your MP and ask them to recover, rebuild and renew in a way that is great for people, nature and climate.
Banner photo: Edward Haylan/Shutterstock