I haven’t blogged in awhile….for many reasons (too busy, tired, avoidance) but the last four days have reinvigorated my passion for what I’m doing (and why I’m doing it).
I just spent an internet-free four days on Lady Elliot Island learning about climate change and environmental sustainability (and a whole lotta play thrown in) with a bunch of high-calibre, fascinating people, as part of the Global Change Scholars Program. While the weather was pretty dismal, the location and the company more than made up for it!
Lady Elliot is a small coral cay that sits on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. It has its own (grass) airstrip and is home to an eco-resort committed to environmental sustainability. Until the late 1800s it was covered with bird poo (guano), the mining of which (yes apparently you can mine bird poo) resulted in extensive damage to the island and a complete loss of vegetation. You wouldn’t even know if you saw it now!
Revegetation, initiated by past lease-owners (the island is leased by the Commonwealth Government), was systematically and extensively advanced when the island management was taken over by the current ‘custodian’, Peter Gash. We were lucky enough to not only have our flight piloted by Peter but we also heard first-hand about the trials and tribulations of bringing the resort to the level of environmental sustainability that has been achieved.
We were given a fascinating tour of the resort by a staff member (who was obviously very passionate about his work). The hybrid power system supplying the entire resort (with up to 150 guests and staff and the main amenities you expect from a low-key resort) is predominantly run on solar energy. There is no naturally-occurring fresh water on the island so all water for the kitchen, showers, hand basins and for drinking is seawater that goes through a desalinisation process. All food has to brought over from the mainland, some waste is processed on location and used on the runway (if I remember correctly) and some of it has to be periodically taken off the island – so waste minimisation is emphasised. The entire set-up was impressive and the innovative solutions to overcoming the unique challenges presented by this setting were inspiring. However, Peter was very honest about the need to balance the achieving sustainability and protecting the reef and the island with the financial reality of the business. His somewhat unconventional business approach centring on trust, relationships and the sharing of knowledge (rather than keeping ‘trade secrets’ close to your chest) was refreshing.
The benefits of the revegetation for the natural world was obvious with the abundant and huge variety of nesting seabirds. (There was a moment though, where two of us, somewhat lost in the winding paths in the middle of the island, surrounded by birds were sure this was a perfect setting for a horror movie – a la Hitchcock). Lady Elliot Island is also located in a highly protected area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the diving and snorkelling was spectacular. I swam with a plethora of turtles (including witnessing a particularly intimate moment between two of them :p), a huge manta ray, some sharks, octopi, cuttlefish, a massive cowtail stingray, a bunch of beautiful fish and coral and I could go on….
But even more fun than the ocean activities (pretty hard to beat…) was developing bonds with the other GCSP participants. Like all good team bonding our relationships were built through loads of laughter, some embarrassing incidents, card games, stories and, of course, wine. While there was a lot of fun, hilarity and ‘non-academic’ conversation I was struck by the level of engaging conversation I had with all the scholars and I learned something new from everyone that I spoke with. These conversations also gave us a chance to talk candidly about our work and I gained some awesome fieldwork ideas to incorporate into my research. Relationships make the world go round….if I’ve learned anything in my career so far it’s that who you know is just as important as what you know.
This experience, on this unique, beautiful island, reinforced for me where my research fits within the wider climate change picture. The magnitude of the issue is clear and the many different facets of climate change were highlighted. It also made clear how easy it is to become ‘siloed’ in our focus and thinking. It’s useful to recognise that we need people working on all these aspects of climate change (eg. Reef and marine conservation, health, water security, food security etc) but it’s also useful to see the big picture, how all these pieces fit together and how we can do a better job of addressing the issue with inter-disciplinary collaboration in order to exploit synergies in our work and minimise or avoid duplication of efforts.
Now please excuse me while I go do some yoga or HIIT to try and make up for 4 days of second breakfasts and multiple dessert helpings – #nobuffetcontrol