"Look mummy, there's a shark!"
A young child squeaks in delight as a shark, turtle, crab, assorted fish and a man in a wet-suit complete with spear gun, walk past the Fred Smith Reserve playground in Hastings Vic, with the express purpose of delivering a petition, recently signed by 243,236 people (and still coming in!), to the Environment Minister's office.
Small groups of people formed, chatted for a while, then reformed as they either met up with acquaintances or used the opportunity to expand their network of friendly, local, like minded people.
The atmosphere was warm and welcoming. I'd been unsure what to expect as I hadn't attended a GetUp function before, but the email I received had been positive and explained what to expect when I arrived. What they hadn't mentioned was to expect dozens and dozens of cheerful, local people, many decked out in orange, all with the purpose of standing up for what is important. Some people clearly knew each other but there was a welcoming air and above the general hubbub of chatter you could hear words like 'dugongs', 'turtles', 'mangroves' and 'our children's future'. It was great!
I chatted with someone who had taken time off work to attend. She'd told her boss that she had an important appointment that she couldn't miss and which couldn't be changed. She also hadn't been to a Get Up event before but felt this was too important not to support. It was local, and she wanted to be there in person to show solidarity for our natural heritage.
Young mums had picked their children up from kinder and come down, a couple of tradies seemed to have downed tools for a while to make time to come along. All age ranges were represented from children in prams to the elderly with walking sticks and everyone in between.
After a short briefing we set off like a long undulating, orange reef-worm past the playground and shops towards Mr Hunt's office. Enthusiastically waving drivers were tooting and cheering - that was unexpected and fun!
I remember hearing once that each person who shows up at something like this represents hundreds of people who are unable to attend. I wonder how many people are represented by tooting?!
There was no guarantee that Mr Hunt would be there in person to receive the masses of signatures and see the large group of people from the electorate who had made the effort to show support. But Sam, a GetUp organiser checked; it seems that Mr Hunt was expecting us! Sam escorted Mr Hunt out to meet the enthusiastic throng.
Sam spoke to Mr Hunt, the media and the crowd about why we were all there - in short to protect the Reef. He was professional, respectful, assured ... and very tall!Fiona Maxwell, another Get Up organiser also spoke and gave Mr Hunt the placard stating that "243,236 Australians say SAVE OUR REEF". She was thoroughly professional and spoke courteously, yet strongly about how the reef needs to be protected for future generations.
People who speak disparagingly about Gen Y, about the cult of the self, of selfishness and self-centredness, could get out and spend time with the young activists who will be impacted dramatically by climate change. Many of them are not only aware of the damage climate events will have on their lives, but are committed to doing whatever they can to avert the worst of the impacts. They are truly wonderful and worthy of our respect and commendation.
Mr Hunt appeared to listen and was gracious in his reply. He acknowledged the organisers and crowd and accepted the petitions with respect. I was quite relieved as a friend had been involved in presenting a petition to a state minister who had received them with a smirk, then with her watching, had put them straight in the bin. Hardly the response worthy of an elected representative. Mr Hunt, in contrast, appeared to acknowledge the concerns and gave the impression that he'd listen. He then invited a small group into his office to discuss the matter. If/when I hear the outcome of that meeting, I'll add a link.
I've written a bit about the Great Barrier Reef in the past, the first post was in 2011. It's incredibly disheartening to realise that it still has no real security and even though Mr Hunt spoke soothingly, and appeared to acknowledge and understand the concerns expressed, I don't feel entirely reassured that he fully realises the enormous implications from continuing and increasing the use of fossil fuels. However, that's a much bigger issue that what was being specifically addressed today.
The Great Barrier Reef has been described as one of the 7 wonders of the natural world, as a treasure, as a gift. Surely we should be responsible stewards for this magnificent area and not continue to treat it as a temporary and irrelevant inconvenience. How about we stop treating the fossil fuel industry with kid gloves and kow-towing to their every whim?
How about we factor in the cost of health care, pollution and environmental damage for those people and areas impacted by fossil fuel mining? My grumpy post about that is at: The vital topic that's not being discussed this election.
Whether the Great Barrier Reef will be adequately and appropriately protected - who knows. However, for myself, and for many others, we can say "we did our best". I know there are many, many other groups both in Australia and around the world trying to get assurance that the reef shouldn't be lined with ports to transport fossil fuels and that dredging shouldn't be allowed. Let's hope that once and for all, sound action is taken to preserve what's left of this incredible wonder!
A year later, in 2012, not much had changed, the threats to the reef continued and I wondered if it was to become an open sewer.
Why the Great Barrier Reef is worth preserving from GetUp!
- The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world and is recognised as a global treasure, due to the amazing biodiversity which it sustains and it's unparalleled beauty.
- The Great Barrier Reef is one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World.
- The reef brings in billions of dollars of economic activity every year and supports tens of thousands of jobs in tourism and the fishing industry.
- The largest dredging project ever undertaken in Australia was approved to occur within the Great Barrier Reef WHA, at Gladstone Harbour, and is slated to remove a total of around 50 million cubic metres of soil.
- The ecosystem of the GBR is already very fragile and is facing total collapse with the added pressure of the dredging, which releases toxic chemicals into the sea.
- In the past 6 months (the first stage of dredging) there has been a steep increase in deaths of endangered marine wildlife - 6 dolphins, 10 dugongs and 231 turtles have washed up dead near Gladstone on the Great Barrier Reef.
- Fishermen and their families have been getting sick and have noticed that many of the fish have washed up with a strange flesh disease.
- The Australian government failed to inform UNESCO of the approval of the gas facilities in the Great Barrier Reef WHA.
And if you would like to email Mr Hunt and ask him to say no to all mega-ports and shipping superhighways along the Great Barrier Reef coastline: