On front line with Cape York’s Young Reef Leaders

Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Cape York Peninsula, Queensland’s northernmost region, extends north from the Mitchell River catchment to the tip of Australia. The region has outstanding natural heritage values: globally significant savannas and dune systems, stunning wetlands and rivers, extensive tropical rainforests and a rich diversity of fauna and flora. Along Cape York Peninsula’s eastern coast, you’ll find the Northern Great Barrier Reef, which encompasses over 40% of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral reef area. The region’s remoteness, small population (

South Cape York Catchments worked with local young people during the South-East Cape York Community Action Plan workshops. Together, they developed the Cape York Young Reef Leaders project, a new youth leadership program that offers high school students the chance to connect with mentors working in Reef protection.

Denis, Sienna, Harriot and Jessie prepare their water quality testing equipment. Credit: Ben and Di

Denis, Sienna, Harriot and Jessie prepare their water quality testing equipment. Credit: Ben and Di

Jessie and Sienna collect samples for water quality testing. Credit: Ben and Di

Jessie and Sienna collect samples for water quality testing. Credit: Ben and Di

“Cooktown is a really small town at the bottom of Cape York peninsula. A lot of people here are very connected to the Reef. It’s our backyard and our playground, and for some people it’s their livelihood. Cape York peninsula is really diverse with lots of different types of ecosystems and they’re all connected. We need to have young people coming through that understand that connectedness, and that what happens on the land is affecting the Reef,” said Jessie Price-Decle, Program Manager at South Cape York Catchments.

The team recognise that given the size of Cape York and the threats it faces, they are going to need as many people on board to help care for land and sea Country. Through this program, they are hoping to inspire and enable some of the younger generation to get involved with and take the lead on conservation and environmental stewardship projects.

“These young people are the future decision makers of this industry, so we want to be filling them with as much knowledge and passion as possible. The best way to do that is to get them out there. When young people get to experience marine wildlife, there’s a deep connection formed and those sorts of connections and those experiences can certainly shape people’s careers,” said Jessie.

The team out on a beach clean. Credit: Ben and Di

The team out on a beach clean. Credit: Ben and Di

The program has been a resounding success, and the reward has been seeing the impact the Cape York Young Reef Leader program has had on those involved.

“I think if people aren’t taught to protect the Reef and love the Reef then they’ll neglect it and they’re not going to understand what it really means to us. I’ve kind of been told there’s not many jobs and there’s not much career opportunities, but this program just completely changed my perspective on that and has shown me all the different pathways you can get into those kinds of jobs and how us as individuals can help protect the Reef,” said Sienna.

“Now that I’ve learnt all of this, I think it’s really just added fuel to the fire which is my passion of science and of conservation,” said Harriot.

“In classrooms you sit down, you write stuff down and do an exam and that’s the last you talk about it, while out here the Reef, the river, it’s all on our doorstep, so you’re out here every weekend, every morning, every afternoon. It really hits home, looking after the place, watching it grow, what we can do to help it and pass on to younger generations for them to help it as well,” said Lucas.

These guardians of tomorrow are not just learning about the environment, they are leading it, and with the industry mentors guiding them, they are gaining the tools they need to be the changemakers our planet needs. In the face of challenges, there’s always hope as these young minds absorb the knowledge passed down to them, they are shaping a better future for the Reef and a sustainable tomorrow.

Out on the water with the Young Reef Leaders. Credit: Ben and Di

Out on the water with the Young Reef Leaders. Credit: Ben and Di

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