The Great Southern Reef (GSR) fringes over 8000 km of Australia’s temperate southern coast, from Kalbarri, WA to Moreton Bay, QLD. Despite approximately 70% of Australians living nearby this interconnected reef system, few know what it’s diverse environments look like and how important they are. The audience will journey the length of this spectacular coastline and reef, delving deeply into the stories and science that make this ecosystem so vital from an environmental, socio-economic, and cultural perspective.
The fragility of humans’ dependent relationship with natural environments is central to the storyline. As a core concept, we will explore Australian First Nations’ culture, environmental identities within The Dreaming, and the concept of ‘country’ as one interconnected system. This will be linked to biological, social, and contemporary cultural connections to the Great Southern Reef. To emphasise the importance of maintaining these connections, personal accounts from Tasmania, WA, and NSW will show the disruptive impact that the collapse of natural systems has had on communities in recent decades. This tension will be resolved by exploring cutting-edge research and community stewardship programs that are attempting to navigate the persistent and substantial threats to environment and community.
Un-narrated, the film will draw from interviews with traditional owner and community groups, scientific researchers, commercial and recreational anglers, tourism operators, and passionate local personalities. The dramatic beauty and unique biodiversity of the Great Southern Reef will be revealed throughout - with particular emphasis given to threatened and in-peril species, many of which live nowhere else on Earth.
How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?
This project explicitly aims to illuminate public knowledge of an oft-overlooked environment, embed the identity of the Great Southern Reef in modern Australian culture, and promote stewardship in individuals and communities. The project already has momentum driven from a grant from National Geographic and in-kind support from a range of high-profile organisations from media to education, tourism, and conservation. The complex issues highlighted in the film have a strong factual/analytical basis, and the scientists who first raised the issue are actively involved in the project. The narrative will promote unity and allegiance among sometimes disparate social, political and cultural groups. Finally, the impact plan is open to expansion and could evolve into a longer-term movement providing a network for stakeholders across multiple states.
The issue - a lack of public and political awareness in the face of growing threats - was highlighted and the name ‘Great Southern Reef’ proposed in a scientific paper by Dr. Scott Bennett and other experts in 2016. This initial publication garnered short-term interest from media and has had widespread support among scientists in the field, but is only now beginning to receive a ‘second wave’ of coverage from local and international media, conservation organisations and special interest groups. In part this fresh momentum has been due to ongoing dramatic changes to the Great Southern Reef environments in WA, NSW, and Tasmania, largely attributed to climate change. However, the Australian media, public and political groups still lack the awareness and appreciation of what is at stake - a gap this film is aiming to fill. Largely, media has been focussing on the scientific importance, but overlooking the deep social and cultural connections that will be central to the narrative of this film.
Already involved with the project with in-kind support are: Greenpeace Asia-Pacific, The University of New South Wales, Sydney Institute of Marine Sciences, The University of Western Australia, University of Tasmania/Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, Reef Life Survey, Australian National Surfing Museum, Diving Adelaide, Dive Victoria, Scubabo, Eaglehawk Neck Dive Center, Balu Blue, OpenROV, Nat Geo Open Explorer, and others.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
The three overarching goals of this project are to:
1. Convey to school children, the wider public, and decision makers the social-ecological importance of temperate reef ecosystems (the Great Southern Reef).
2. Create stronger community ownership, public engagement and scientific awareness towards biodiversity, indigenous significance and threats of Australia’s temperate reef ecosystems.
3. Encourage public involvement at an individual and community level to address negative human impacts.
The two specific objectives of this project are to:
1. Pioneer new technologies and assess their effectiveness to better teach high school students about local ecosystems, climate change and the changing temperate reefs of Australia:
a) Use technology to bring science and climate change to life in the classroom
b) Improve students skills in using technology to make scientific observations, pose questions, work collaboratively and solve problems.
c) Develop a five week unit of work for year 8 and 9 high school students in line with the Australian National Curriculum and National Geographic Standards.
2. Use technology, media and captivating storytelling techniques to generate video content communicating locally relevant issues and demonstrating the value of the GSR environment at a local, regional and national scale.
Produce a full length documentary about the GSR suitable for screening on free-to-air television and in local media outlets engaged during the expedition.
Release a series of fifteen short (3-7 minute) episodes that focus on key regions, habitats, species and stories, made freely available online, with differentiated content for schools and younger audiences.
What is your education and outreach strategy?
We are embarking on a 6,000km journey documenting stories and science behind what makes the Great Southern Reef so special and important. From this content, we will produce the feature documentary, series of short films, underwater live streams to social media, and articles focusing on local stories, science communication, biodiversity and sustainability, and Indigenous values and perspectives. To ensure the film reaches the target audience we have an expanding network of interested schools, community and special-interest groups, and hope to connect with local and national distribution partners.
We are developing educational materials to accompany the film content and are applying for funding to visit schools to conduct teaching masterclasses and kick start the delivery of the unit of work. The materials will be free to access and have a broad reach, but target Australian high school students in years 8 and 9. Surveys, quizzes, direct and online engagement in scientific and community based programs will be used to assess the effectiveness of educational materials and productions.
In addition to the teaching materials, we are offering ongoing involvement with schools and have developed innovative technology to broadcast live directly to high school classrooms from under and above water, which can be deployed at unique locations throughout the GSR. With this equipment we can have field scientists talk about local marine life, research, threats and answer questions from classrooms. A remotely operated underwater vehicle can also be used to ignite students and the public’s curiosity for their local underwater environments. Driving the underwater drone can give opportunities for individuals to become explorers without entering the water.