Community leaders take on ocean conservation mission   

Gold Coast groups have unified over a mighty mission – to protect and enhance the home of all marine species. Gold Coast Bay, as it’s designated, has been declared a Mission Blue Hope Spot in recognition of its significance to the health of our global oceans.

Mission Blue was founded a decade ago by world-renowned and loved oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle. She envisaged Hope Spots as sites of critical ecological, economic and cultural significance that inspire ‘HOPE’ in the local community. Sites are selected based on a set of criteria including clear evidence that an area is rich in marine species, habitats or ecosystems, that it exhibits especially rare or threatened animals, and where ‘spectacles of nature’ like major migrations can be observed.

Gold Coast is all of the above and more. We now join Sydney Coast and Moreton Bay as the third site on the east Australian coast to be awarded Hope Spot status.

Many Gold Coast partners have joined the cause with the same goal in mind.

“The concept of the Hope Spots is as simple as it is good: act local and think global. By bringing together various stakeholders from the marine and coastal environment it allows a better acceptance of marine protection” says Dr Olaf Meynecke, Gold Coast Hope Spot champion.

19 groups, from tourism operators, dive schools and conservation societies to Ngarang-Wal Gold Coast Aboriginal Association and Griffith University, have each taken on a vital role as stewards for future conservation. Together they hope to build a stronger eco-tourism industry, promote marine animal welfare and participate in better management of our unique coastline.

Olaf as a marine scientist and whale researcher has already led considerable community engagement through his citizen science program Humpbacks and Highrises. His volunteers track and record whales during their migration season, May to October.

Olaf can now point to a strong body of data to show that approximately 30,000 humpbacks both migrate along the East Australian coast annually and use the Gold Coast Bay as a nursing area. Olaf’s research proves that mother-calf pairs are plentiful, with birthing occurring not only in the calving area of Great Barrier Reef, but on the whales’ northern migration in the sheltered waters of South East Queensland.[1]

This is an important discovery because the region is not currently protected by any laws that recognise this calving status. The information can inform management of the Bay and ensure measures are put in place like no-anchor zones around inshore reefs and education campaigns for safe navigation around marine life.

“Once we are able to pin-point those areas within the Gold Coast Bay that are preferred by mother-calf pairs we can strongly advocate for ‘go slow zones’ in those areas and ensure less noise and disturbance allowing the whales to rest for longer periods” explains Olaf.

Much like our annual tourists, “if they [whales] have a good experience, they will come back the following year” he says.

Such strategies are evidence-based responses our city would be wise to adopt to mitigate some negative impacts of our fast-growing urban footprint. “The ocean is a part of the city”, says Olaf, hence with increasing recreational and commercial use of our waters we must evolve planning and policy making to prioritise animal safety.

We all enjoy the ocean to some extent, however those who research, dive and work on the ocean will tell us it’s worth protecting at any cost. Much time and investment are needed to guarantee Gold Coast as a safe berth for whales. We now have experienced businesses, scientific leaders and community organisations steering us in the right direction. Will you join the mission?

Find out more about the Gold Coast Mission Blue Hope Spot at mission-blue.org.

[1] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10236244.2019.1671769?journalCode=gmfw20

Citation: L Torre-Williams, E. Martinez, J.O. Meynecke, J. Reinke & K.A. Stockin (2019) Presence of newborn humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) calves in Gold Coast Bay, Australia, Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology, 52:5, 199-216, DOI: 10.1080/10236244.2019.1671769

 

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