13 October 2023

Marine mentors inspire the next generation of reef leaders

| Chisa Hasegawa
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The group sits on big rocks by the water before diving in for their first snorkelling afventure of the trip.

Cape York Young Reef Leaders program students ready to set out on their first snorkelling adventure.

Ten Cooktown students experienced “the trip of a lifetime” to Lizard Island, inspiring them to become the next generation of leaders in reef protection.

As part of South Cape York Catchments (SCYC), the Cape York Young Reef Leaders program provides students with hands-on learning about marine life and access to mentors in the field.

Each trip, the students had learned from a range of mentors who worked in a variety of marine related jobs.

“This project has provided rare opportunities to take local students out into the field to introduce them to people working to protect the reef in various ways across the region,” SCYC program manager Jessie Price-Decle said.

She explained that the program hoped to inspire kids and provide them with an idea of the different ranges of career paths in the marine industry, both on and off land.

Across the trips, the students spent time with mentors from Cape York Water Partnership, Cook Shire Council, Cape York Natural Resources Management, Queensland National Parks Cooktown, James Cook University (JCU), the Balnggarrawarra Melsonby Rangers and Gamaay Traditional Owners.

“We felt like students in Cooktown don’t get the opportunity to see that and to meet people and make those connections,” she said.

Pictured is a green sea turtle in the ocean with a diving girl swimming towards it from behind.

Photo taken by program participant Harri Smith as she swam with the turtles.

On this trip, students were mentored by jellyfish scientist Dr Teresa Carrette and shark scientist Dr Damien Rigg of JCU.

“I think my favourite part of this experience has been interacting with our mentors and absorbing their knowledge. I learned more about jellyfish in three days than I ever knew before, and I didn’t know that sharks don’t like magnets. It’s certainly been very influential for me as I get ready to apply to uni” grade 12 participant Harri Smith said.

The team spent their week learning about Dr Carrette and Dr Damien’s research, as well as snorkelling, hiking and making nature documentaries.

“It was such a cool experience diving in the Green Zone at Lizard Island, seeing all the fish that are so friendly and the coral looks so healthy. I learned heaps of things about the reef from the experts we’ve met,” grade 11 participant Rocco Thomason said.

A boy is pictured snorkelling from the back with his head just above water.

Program participant Rocco Thomason enjoyed seeing life underwater up close.

The kids were also surprised with the Australian YouTube sensation ‘Back 2 Basics Adventures’, who happened to be filming on Lizard Island.

“I guess in this day and age, YouTubers are having such a big influence on young people so hearing about their adventures and what goes on behind the scenes with the work that they’re doing became a part of the mentoring process,” Ms Price-Decle said.

Ms Price-Decle explained that some participants had never been to the reef while others went out almost every weekend.

“A big part of it was just really giving them the opportunity to see what is right there on our doorstep and get them thinking about what they might want to do for work to protect that,” she said.

The students will have a chance to pass on what they have learned to primary school students on the next Cape York Young Reef Leaders program trip.

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