How to save the Great Barrier Reef with Kate O’Callaghan, an interview.

Welcome to the Green Series Part 3. If you’ve missed the previous weeks, fear not! Part 1, and Part 2 are waiting for you. For the past few weeks I’ve been addressing the impact tourism plays on our environment.

This week I’ve roped in Kate O’Callaghan from the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef to talk about the impact tourism has on Australia’s most iconic natural beauty. What Sir David Attenborourgh dub’s as being “among the planet’s richest, most complex and most beautiful ecosystems.”

The majority of the previously identified role players, impact the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) directly and with those in mind, I had questions for Kate.

The GBR is a hub for Australian tourism, it draws big crowds, 3 million per year in fact, what can travelers do to help protect the reef as visitors?

First and foremost, do your research and choose a tourism operator with the right eco credentials! In the past the reef tourism industry has come under fire for not speaking up on climate change and its impact on the reef, but progress is being made.

In May the Association for Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) signed a climate declaration drafted by AMCS, which called on the government to do more to curb emissions. But many operators are really going above and beyond to educate visitors about the threats facing the reef and to make their businesses as sustainable and as low impact as possible.

Lady Elliot Island is a shining example of this – all profits are reinvested into preserving the island’s ecosystem and the resort will be 100% sustainable by 2020. It’s important to support the businesses doing the right thing and to get an authentic experience.

Secondly, spread the word that the Reef is alive and worth fighting for! Unfortunately many people around the world think the Reef is already dead and gone, and the apathy that comes with that is a huge threat to the reef’s future.

Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef
Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef

The back-to-back bleaching events of 2016 & 2017 were unprecedented and a significant amount of coral cover was lost, primarily on the northern and central GBR. But the reef is absolutely massive, the length of the west coast of the USA and made up of thousands of individuals reefs, so the impacts were not uniform.

Get in the water and you will still be blown away by its beauty but you will also see the impacts of these events. It’s not too late and we can turn things around but we need to act now.

Tell your friends that the Reef is alive, but it’s struggling and needs our help – we can’t just sit back and do nothing. Get out there, take individual action like cutting down on single use plastics, and vote for people who have strong climate policy.

And of course, become a Citizen of the Great Barrier Reef and join our global movement!

Carbon emissions have been noted as the GBR biggest threat, what do you think is the hold up for big business’ making change to reduce their footprint?

This is of course a complex issue, but there has been a real lack of leadership on climate in Australia in recent years – it’s become a political football driven by emotion rather than economics.

Most evidence shows that carbon taxes are an effective way of driving down emissions – a price on carbon provided an incentive for businesses to reduce their emissions and removing it removed that incentive.

The good news is that the private sector is driving a surge in renewable energy investment, but this is forecast to collapse if our emissions target is not increased.

Outer Agincourt, Great Barrier Reef
Outer Agincourt, Great Barrier Reef

The amount of single use plastics we use daily is staggering, what impact would it have if we all switched to plastic-free alternatives tomorrow? And how long would it take to see the results?

The impact if we switched away from single use plastics would be huge and almost immediate, as evidenced by countries like Ireland who implemented a plastic bag levy in 2002 (c’mon Australia!).

Apart from the reduction in marine debris – the most obvious and visible issue – there would be a significant reduction in carbon emissions which people don’t often think about. Around 40% of all plastic manufactured is used in packaging – so used only once, then thrown away. Plastic is a product of the fossil fuel industry and its manufacture fuels climate change.

With the unstoppable transition of our global economy to renewable’s, the fossil fuel industry is now pumping massive investment into boosting plastic manufacture. This is something we can not accept and why alternatives are so important.

What do you think are the obstacles for consumers using plastic-free alternatives?

I think the obstacles to consumers are becoming less and less as the variety of alternatives available grows daily. But the reality is that most people must be forced into changing their habits, which is why it’s been so disappointing to see what’s happened in QLD with the recent plastic bag ban.

There was no leadership from the major retailers, who continued to hand out plastic bags when faced with upset customers. We’re also seeing retailers continuing to use plastic bags, just slightly thicker ones which bypass the legislation – so much worse for the environment. We need much stronger leadership on the issue of single use plastics or nothing will change.

Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef

 

What initiatives do you use to reduce your footprint when you travel?

Travel is always tricky, especially in developing countries where the only clean water is in a plastic bottle.

I try to sit in for food as much as possible, and bring my reusable cup and water bottle. I offset my flights when available and try to fly the most direct route, even if it’s more expensive. I also usually stay at apartments rather than hotels, which generate so much waste. I definitely do a lot of research before booking any tours.

Lastly, the stakes are pretty high when it comes to conserving the reef, what steps can people take today to help in our mission to protect the reef?

The Great Barrier Reef is the canary in the coalmine for the state of the planet. For the first time we are witnessing the direct impacts of climate change on one of our most precious natural icons. If we’re prepared to lose the Reef, what aren’t we prepared to lose? No matter where you are in the world you can take action:

  1. Try to live as sustainable as possible – quitting straws might not seem like much, but when 1 million people quit straws we see real change happening.
  2. Vote with your wallet – every time you buy something, you are making a choice for the planet. Buy local, buy ethical and support companies doing the right thing.
  3. Believe in the power of collective action – individually we are one drop but together we are an ocean!
  4. Do not be paralysed by apathy – these issues can often seem overwhelming, but it’s crucial not to give up hope. Every action and conversation matters.

Now is the time to take action if you’re not already. The alternatives are simple, affordable and accessible. Help by sharing this interview on Facebook or Linked In.

As always, I’d love to hear from you so comment below with your thoughts on saving the GBR or follow me @whoislexiconnors and join the conversation.


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