by Jeni Bone
A multi-million dollar, multi-media reef protection campaign is being run through Marine Conservation Society and World Wide Fund for Nature in a coalition initiated by the Thomas Foundation.
Thomas Foundation Fight for the Reef
The Thomas Foundation was established by Cellarmasters founder and keen yachtie, David Thomas, who recently held a fundraising event in Brisbane for a select group of wealthy donors who were petitioned to help double an existing $1.5 million war chest which will fund the three-year campaign.
A series of high-impact television advertisements are being filmed for the reef campaign that will run through the federal election. Organisers said the campaign would not favour either side of politics, noting the Coalition's strong record on marine protection in the Great Barrier Reef.
'Fight for the Reef' is the first major marine project to benefit from a significant Thomas Foundation grant. The project is jointly run by the World Wide Fund (WWF) and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) in a coalition initiated by the Foundation.
'As well as bringing the two groups together, this is also the first time the foundation has funded an advocacy program, a significant shift from the science-based grants programs that were the focus of the foundation's terrestrial conservation activities over the previous decade,' its website said.
The Thomas Foundation will contribute $2 for every dollar raised.
The Marine Conservation Society and WWF were considered to be more moderate than other environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, which campaign against the use of fossil fuels. Greenpeace has announced it was deploying its new flagship, Rainbow Warrior II, to the Great Barrier Reef to protest against Australia's continued coal exports.
'We are not against mining; we are just against fast-tracking and the lack of assessments,' an organiser for the Marine Conservation Society campaign said. The group has joined with grassroots campaigners such as Ginny Gerlach of the Keppel and Fitzroy Delta Alliance. Ms Gerlach has put her business, Cruisability, on hold to campaign against the planned development of coal export terminals in Keppel Bay, north of Gladstone.
The Thomas Foundation recently sponsored a tour of Australia by eminent marine biologist, Professor Callum Roberts, highlighting the value of marine parks. Professor Roberts recently published 'Ocean of Life: How our Seas are Changing', which documents research showing that a wave of biodiversity loss is engulfing marine and coastal ecosystems and that many species could be driven to extinction over the next few decades taking with them livelihoods, industries and ways of life.
'Australia’s challenges are no different from what the rest of the world faces,' Professor Roberts says. 'For our seas and the fisheries they sustain to thrive, we must radically change the way they are managed. Put simply, that means fishing less, using less destructive methods, and protecting more.'
He adds: 'We need a new deal for the oceans if marine life, industry and human wellbeing are to prosper through the 21st century.'
In his delivery of the fourth Thomas Conservation Oration at the University of Sydney, 18 March, Professor Roberts identified rising sea temperatures, over fishing, ocean acidification, disease spread and industrial development along the Australian coast as being the country’s ‘perfect storm’ of threats.
The Thomas Foundation campaign follows in the wake of concerns raised by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which is considering putting the Great Barrier Reef on its 'in danger' list.
The federal and Queensland governments have responded to the World Heritage Committee concerns by scaling back coal export expansion plans and launching a strategic review of future developments.
After a tour of Keppel Bay and Gladstone Harbour, Professor Roberts said he believed UNESCO was justified in its concerns 'because of the haphazard and chaotic nature of the development proposals in this region.
'What government has to do is act for the good of its people and at the moment there seems to be a capture of the regulatory process by industry to the extent that now it is action on their behalf rather than thinking of the future of the country as a whole, and that is unhealthy. The politics needs to break the close link with industry.'
On its website, the Thomas Foundation identifies protection of Australia’s marine eco-systems as its new focus for 2012 and beyond.
'While compared to the rest of the world Australia’s oceans are well-managed, our 200 marine protected areas are not always located in the best places,' it states. 'Influenced by fishermen and oil and gas miners, often Governments have located marine parks in deep water or other areas of little interest to these groups, rather than where they can best do their intended job of preserving biodiversity and sustaining ecosystem services.
'As a result The Thomas Foundation will from 2012 turn its major focus from terrestrial conservation to marine conservation.'
In April, Foundation chairman David Thomas joined 24 other prominent Queenslanders in writing to the Prime Minister to urge extension of the proposed Coral Sea marine park to include all of the area's coral reefs.
'Incredibly the plan leaves most of the coral reefs unprotected,' they wrote in their petition to the PM. 'The very identity of the Coral Sea lies in its coral reefs. To exclude them is to exclude the blue heart of the Coral Sea.'
One of the Foundation’s first marine conservation projects will be to support the Centre for Policy Development’s efforts to develop its capacity to more effectively critique Governments’ marine park proposals.
The Centre recently published the report 'Stocking Up' which, for the first time, assessed the true economic value of Australia’s marine environment, generating significant interest from the media and policy makers.
The Foundation will support the Centre over 2012 as it does further work to translate this initial research into local context in various locations. The objective will be to provide stakeholders in marine policy debates with clear and compelling explanations of the economic benefits of conserving marine ecosystems and rebuilding fish stocks.
More at www.thomasfoundation.org.au