#SavetheBEYOND Episode 1:
THE OCEANS ARE DYING
MARINE SCIENTISTS FIGHT BACK
NATHAN COOK, Marine Scientist (Australia)
“Coral reefs are amazing eco-systems. They cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, yet upwards of 25% of all marine life spends some time there.”
A PADI Master Instructor with over 3500 dives, Australia-based Nathan Cook is an applied scientist and specialist in coral reef restoration and capacity building with Reef Ecologic. He has been a passionate advocate for sustainability and the stewardship of coral reef ecosystems since he started working in Southeast Asia nearly 20 years ago. Nathan has designed and implemented a range of experiential learning programs, including curricula that integrate marine-management theory with active reef restoration techniques. As manager of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s “Eye on the Reef” monitoring program, Nathan was a lead coordinator of the task force that monitored the 2016-17 coral-bleaching incident.
TELL US ABOUT THE GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park began in 1975. The park has some fantastic management actions in place for protection. One of these is zoning. Originally, no-take areas—areas protected from extractive activities like fishing—covered just 4% of the 350,000-square-kilometer marine park. From 2003 to 2004, the Marine Park Authority went through an enormous amount of consultation with stakeholders and a broad variety of community members—fishermen, tourism operators—to undertake rezoning of the entire marine park. It was really quite challenging, but it resulted in 33% of the entire park becoming no-take “Green Zones,” which is a fantastic outcome for everybody. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is now a model for marine protected areas all over the world.
HOW DO YOU RESTORE DAMAGED REEFS?
Some areas of the Great Barrier Reef have been heavily degraded by bleaching. One of the reef restoration techniques we specialize in is called coral gardening. It’s nothing new; it’s been going on around the world for over 20 years. We rake fragments from donor corals, or we might find them loose around the reef, and we transplant them to areas that have been degraded and attach them to the reef using cement. Once they’ve got that stable base, they can grow in that new location and help regenerate that degraded reef. The coral colonies we plant cover small areas in the overall Great Barrier Reef, but if we all contribute our little bit, it’s that whole economies of scale that’s going to make a difference to our global community and impact these ecosystems.
HOW DO YOU INVOLVE ORDINARY PEOPLE?
The projects that I’m involved with really try to engage with the local community, the non-scientific community, to get involved. When we go out and do reef restoration projects and coral gardening activities—meaning we take corals from healthy reefs and use these to replenish or restore degraded reefs—we get people from the community who have an interest in the marine park or the marine environment. They want to be involved in the solutions, but they don’t necessarily have that knowledge, training or background. We facilitate their involvement and engagement in these activities. It really gives them a sense of achievement, accomplishment and feeling like they’ve been a part of that solution.
HOW DO YOU STAY POSITIVE?
There’s areas of the Great Barrier Reef that have been heavily degraded. It does feel a little hopeless at times. I often wonder what the future holds for the reef. As members of a global community, we live in a symbiotic relationship with nature. If we don’t realize that, then all hope is lost. You can choose despair or hope. I choose to be positive. I need to do whatever I can to make a difference, to try and influence those around me to contribute to supporting the health of those ecosystems. I feel like as long as I’m here on this planet, that’s what I’m here to do. It’s everyone’s responsibility to do the little things they can in their everyday lives to support the health of the Great Barrier Reef and reefs all over the world.
WHAT DOES THE OCEAN MEAN TO YOU?
The ocean is an amazing place. When I’m in the ocean I feel at home, I feel supported, I feel loved. The ocean is the creator of life, and without water, there would be no life on this blue planet. When I’m in the ocean I appreciate the symbiosis that we as humans have with the ocean, and it’s something that I feel a real connection with. Being in the ocean, being in the water, I feel at one not only with the ocean, but with all the animals and creatures that live there from the tiny coral polyps to the largest fish in the sea, the whale shark. It’s this inspiration that I get from nature that drives me to do what I do.
WHY DO REEFS MATTER?
Coral reefs are amazing ecosystems. They cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, yet upwards of 25% of all marine life spends some time there. Humans use them as a primary food source. They provide enormous amounts of coastal protection. In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef supports a $7-billion-dollar tourism industry and 69,000 jobs. It’s extremely important from a socio-economic perspective. To constantly to degrade this eco-system that’s our life-support for the planet is like slow suicide. People call the rainforests “the lungs of the world,” but the phytoplankton that blooms in our temperate seas provides up to two-thirds of the oxygen that we breathe. Reefs are a vital survival tool. Giving people hands-on opportunities to help protect these eco-systems is empowering for them and important for all of us.