Day 7 of the research trip for my new novel. I visited the beautiful town of Hervey Bay, known as the whale-watching capital of the world. It boasts kilometres of pristine sandy beaches and is part of Great Sandy Marine Park. The park covers 6,000 square kilometres and includes rocky shores, fringing reefs and the waters of world heritage-listed Fraser Island. This island protects Hervey Bay, leading to the formation of shallow bays and sheltered channels, which blend into sea-grass meadows, mudflats and mangroves. These habitats are home to species such as humpback whales, sea turtles, dugongs, dolphins and endangered grey nurse sharks.
Reefworld is a small, family-run aquarium located right on the foreshore of Hervey Bay. Using only sand-filtered sea water and natural light, it has been operating for over thirty years, captivating locals and visitors alike with unique displays of marine life. I spent some time picking the brains of the highly knowledgeable staff who are great conservationists and regularly rehabilitate sea turtles.
Afterwards I took a walk to the end of historic Urangan Pier – one of the longest in Australia, stretching for almost one kilometre into the ocean. I was rewarded with spectacular views of Hervey Bay, but was also disturbed by the amount of litter left behind by fishermen. Here’s a selection of the rubbish I collected on my pier walk. Lots of discarded fishing line, cans, cigarette butts, plastic … all deadly to marine life, and just minutes away from being blown into the water. How on earth can people be so ignorant and/or reckless, especially in a place renowned for its beauty and biodiversity? It left a bitter taste in my mouth after what had been a perfect day.
Last night thousands of Australians, including me, took part in Earth Hour, an event that kicked off a year-round campaign against climate change. It is a worldwide movement for the planet organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and it began right here in Australia as a lights off hour in 2007. Earth Hour engages a massive mainstream community on a broad range of environmental issues. Households and businesses turn off their non-essential lights for one hour as a symbol of their commitment to the planet. The event has now been embraced by 7001 cities and 152 nations across the globe. And in 2014, Earth Hour will focus attention on one of the world’s most iconic and threatened places: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
This topic holds particular significance to me, as the new novel I’m writing is set on the Queensland coast at the southern tip of the reef. It is about a zoologist with a passion for marine mammals. As the largest living structure on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef stretches for over two thousand, three hundred kilometres, and is so large it can be seen from space. It contains three thousand individual reefs and nine hundred islands. Incredibly rich and diverse, it extends over fourteen degrees of latitude, from shallow estuarine areas to deep oceanic waters.
Channel ten screened a special television event last night just prior to Earth Hour. It revealed the true story of what’s happening to the reef due to climate change, dredging, pollution and over-fishing. The program was grim viewing. The Great Barrier Reef has shrunk by fifty percent in the last twenty-seven years. Let’s hope 2014 can mark a rally to action, and we can convince politicians to protect this unique wonder of the natural world.
And now to the winners of the prize draw. Congratulations to Karen Stalker, Mary Preston and Jenna O. You have each won a book. I’ll be emailing you all shortly.