How To Get Eyes On The Reef

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“We are going to lose about 90% of reefs globally, that’s just the science.”

There’s no place like the ocean; to me it is home. The reprieve of stepping onto the sand and disconnecting from the nightmares of land-locked cities will never lose it’s touch. In fact, being without it makes me nervous. It’s a place that lends perspective – like looking up the stars. Compared to the vastness of the sea and the sky, our problems don’t really matter.

But the truth is, we are now at war whether we like it, or not. We are battling the clock, the climate change deniers and the glacial realisation that we really messed up. Sacrifices are going to have to be made, while we fight tooth and nail for the coral reefs that count. Cue the 50 Reefs initiative.

The 50 Reefs chief scientist and the director of UQ’s Global Institute, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg will over the course of the year determine which coral reefs have the greatest chance of surviving climate change.

“These reefs will play a key role in re-seeding the reefs of tomorrow as ocean conditions stabilise,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.

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To execute the initiative there will be three branches – scientific research, conservation and communication. As someone with a grade 10 knowledge of science, there’s little I can do for the first two, but everyone can spread the word. However there is a real stigma that surrounds environment protection. Those who defend it are met with skepticism, and are forced to claw their way into rooms that others can just walk into. They’re not hippies chanting a hypothetical catastrophe. The evidence is there, and their fight has always been getting the facts heard.

One aim of the 50 Reef plan is to make it onto the 6 o’clock news. So how does this small pack of scientists plan to replace Trump on the front page? While facts such as “we could lose all reefs by 2050” are compelling, they wear thin over time. When we first hear it our reaction is often one of panic, but by the fifth we’ve come to terms with it.

A key element of their communication campaign should be what I call the Pangolin approach. Instead of focussing on the ominous, overarching facts, environment protectors should readjust their macro lens. It’s time to zoom in on the animals and make it personal, because that’s what people notice.

If you don’t believe me, watch below.

As film maker Jack Harries, cofounder of JacksGap highlighted “Pangolins are the most traded mammal on earth, but you may not have even heard of them”.

The reality is, whilst we know the reefs are at risk it’s difficult to comprehend the magnitude of its extinction. It goes beyond the white coral skeleton that will decompose with time, it’s also about the ecosystems that will be buried along with it. Fish, turtles, and species we have not even know of yet, will vanish. Not only that, but it also risks a significant food source and livelihood for over half a billion people.

“To see the relationship between animal and carer in a single frame was very relevant for people to actually care”.

The relationship between the reef and the human populations it supports is crucial and seemingly unrealised. Therefore, by adopting case studies that focus on the specific animal species and the people who survive off the reef, the public will soon realise what I said at the beginning – the ocean is vast and vital.

I understand that whilst conservation efforts are made for individual species every day, such as the Australian Koala Foundation, the reef case studies would work as puzzle pieces to develop a well-rounded picture of what we have to lose.

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