Protecting our coral reefs with Callum Roberts

Green Lifestyle online

You don't have to have seen the beauty of our Great Barrier Reef itself to know that it's at risk from human interactions. International marine expert Callum Roberts explains what we can do to help.


Aerial view of part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.


Coral Sea anemeone fish on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

Credit: Lucy Trippett, Plankton Productions

Callum Roberts

Marine biologist Callum Roberts.

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Callum Roberts is a marine biologist who is touring Australia talking about protecting marine parks and sustainable fishing practices; his arrival is quite timely as the NSW Government has just allowed fishing in marine parks. We talk to him about the state of our fisheries in Australia, and what we can do to help.

Your work around the world makes it obvious that you have a passion for coral reefs. What do you think is so special about our Great Barrier Reef, and what threats to it are you most concerned about?

“The expression ‘awe inspiring’ doesn’t seem strong enough for a place like the Great Barrier Reef. It amazes me how something of such transcending beauty can be built by creatures as tiny as coral polyps. Then there is the captivating blaze of life that swirls around these submarine cliffs and canyons. Fishing is well under control, but I am very concerned about climate change – which means warmer and more acidic seas. To save the reef we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but that will take time. In the meantime we must build the resilience of the reef by reducing nutrients running off farmland and protecting sensitive coasts from large-scale development.”

You talk to a lot of fishermen to encourage them to fish sustainably – do you find that they’re open to talking about environmental issues, and making changes to the way they fish?

“Some are, some aren’t. In my experience it comes down to age and the size of your boat. Old fishermen with small boats are well aware of adverse changes in the sea and want to do something about it, while the young have less appreciation of how the seas are changing. The big industrial fishing folks are least willing to talk about ocean protection and, to my dismay, their government lobbyists often deny there is anything to be concerned about at all. Such lobbyists think they are acting in the interests of fishing, but in reality they are eroding the industry’s prosperity.”

What can the everyday person do to help protect our oceans?

“If you are a seafood lover and love the sea, then choose your fish carefully. It’s not easy to eat seafood with a clear conscience because so many fisheries have problems. My top tips are to avoid trawled or dredged fish, especially prawns and scallops, and if you like tuna, eat pole and line caught fish. But right now, the Great Barrier Reef needs your help, again! Protest the encroaching industrial developments and support efforts to curb climate change, both at home and abroad.”

Check out our feature, Great Barrier Grief, for more info about the threats to our precious reef, and the various organisations protecting the reef that you can support.