The Reef: listening, heeding, acting

The Reef: deep listening, heeding the science, acting faithfully

Diverse Faith Groups, Indigenous Leaders and Scientists together to protect the Biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef.

“Is there a sense that our loss of spiritual connection to the land, sea and sky has created what is affecting the Barrier Reef and the whole Earth? How can we help people regain that connection?”

These are two important questions that emerged from a stimulating forum organised by the Faith Ecology Network (FEN), which featured deep traditional connections and scientific understanding.  Participants from Anglican, Uniting Church, Catholic, Buddhist, Bahai’, Brahma Kumaris, Hindu, Indigenous, Islamic and Jewish faith traditions then gathered in mixed groups to respond to what they had heard together.


The Presenters

Gudju Gudju Fourmile came to us via a prerecorded talk, originally given for the Australian Earth Laws Alliance. He is a Gimuy Walibara Yidinji elder.  We shared a video originally presented to the Australian Earth Laws Alliance as part of the Great Barrier Reef Case they brought to the International Rights of Nature Tribunal.  Gudju Gudju is the cofounder of Abriculture- advancing Traditional ecological knowledge and tribal ecology in partnership with Western science.

Myree Sam is a proud fluent speaker of Kalaw Kawaw Ya, the traditional language of Saibai Island in the Torres Strait where she grew up. She is a member of the Sui-Baydham Clan. Myree is the First Nations Education consultant for Catholic Education Services in Cairns, where she works directly with teaching staff in schools, building understanding and cultural awareness to best inform teaching practice. Myree spoke about First Nations Sustainable practices/protocols and connectedness to Land Sea and Sky. Her presentation was only available to be shared live with those present on the night.

Dr Jon C. Day is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow with the ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University.  He was formerly one of the directors with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and was involved in many aspects of planning and managing the Great Barrier Reef.  His responsibilities included biodiversity conservation, park planning, World Heritage, Indigenous Partnerships, Reef rezoning and commencing the first GBR Outlook Report.

The event

The event opened with two First Nations voices from geographically different parts of the Reef.

Gudju Gudju Fourmile, traditional owner from Gimuy (Cairns), spoke by prerecorded video of the thousands of generations of spiritually interconnected knowledge of how the seasonal plants, animals and marine life all work together along the Reef. About 70 different clan groups see it as their cultural responsibility to continue using their traditional knowledge to care for their Country and they want the sovereignty to be able to do that effectively.

Myree Sam is a traditional owner from Saibi Island in Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait). She spoke about the Traditional Owner rangers on every island working side-by side with Western scientists, running data collection programs. At her request, her presentation is not available after the event.

Gudju Gudju and Myree Sam are important voices challenging us to acknowledge the spiritual connection of First Nations people to the natural world, and to open our ears to hear the Spirit of the land. As Myree called to her ancestors and elders to draw on their ancient wisdom for guidance in ways of belonging, being present and connected, so people of all the many faith traditions present were encouraged to seek this wisdom in their own traditions.  

Great Barrier Reef researcher and management expert, Jon C. Day presented the stark reality of the many threats facing the Reef's biodiversity.  This globally well-loved, beautiful Reef is faced with 45 different threats, all but 2 of which are currently unfolding. The largest threats will have catastrophic impacts, the top of the list being Climate Change.

The cumulative effects of Climate Change, changed water quality, increasing coastal development, some unsustainable fishing practices, increasing shipping and pollution incidents, and increasing recreational use led to the outlook for the Reef in the 2019 GBR Report Card declining from POOR to VERY POOR. Jon explained that even with so many resources, money and passion, the Government is not meeting its own targets. “The evidence is clear”, he said, “that without additional local, national and global action, the overall outlook for the GBR’s ecosystems will remain very poor.

[Revisit Jon's powerpoint presentation]


How can faith communities of all persuasions respond to this need for action?

Tejopala Rawls, from the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) invited those present to participate in the Faiths for Climate Justice Global Day of Action on October 17-18.  Since Climate Change is currently the major threat to the Reef’s health, taking action to push for emissions reductions in the lead up to the crucial COP26 Climate Summit is our best immediate term option for saving the Reef.  Many present represented local faith communities who had already committed to take part.

People of faith are encouraged to draw strength from the fact that Earth is not a thing for us to divide up, but rather a community, a family of which we are a part.  As the presenters all reminded us, all members of the family are connected.  If one part suffers, we all suffer.

Perhaps, with the motivation of a greater spiritual connection to this land, we might think of the Great Barrier Reef, that World Heritage Area in danger, as interconnected in some way with all of our land? Then we can all do something positive wherever we are.


Faith Ecology Network’s next event in October showcases Australian faith communities taking action to protect biodiversity in their local area, based on the idea in FEN’s brochure, “Ten Ways Faith Groups can care for Biodiversity.




Additional resources

We encouraged participants to watch some of these videos before the event, and highly recommend them to you as follow-up.

The ABC recently prepared a short story on Climate change and the reef, and the issues around its near-clasification as "In Danger": Climate change redress needed to stop damage to the Great Barrier Reef

If you subscribe to Netflix, or are willing to start a free one month trial, there is a very powerful segment about the Reef on the Netflix/Attenborough documentary, Breaking Boundaries

You can go directly to the segment on the reef via this link  (it's about 47:40 into the documentary)

Find out about the Yirrganydji Land and Sea Rangers at their website or by watching this video (5 mins):

More on Indigenous rangers on the Reef (5 mins):

An overview of The Great Barrier Reef: Coral, Carbon & Climate Change (15 mins):

Threats to the Reef from coastal development (3 mins):

Is it too late to repair the Great Barrier Reef (12 mins)?

Could farming changes help save the Great Barrier Reef (12 mins)?

How Scientists Are Restoring (parts of) The Great Barrier Reef (8 mins):

background image by Shifaz Abdul Hakkim on Unsplash