Save the Reefs Campaign
Coral Reefs are integral to marine ecosystems, boasting biodiversity that can rival any terrestrial area. Although reefs only cover 0.2% of the ocean floor, an estimated one million species are found around coral reefs (Weier, 2001) - which equates to around 25% of all marine species (Coral Reef Alliance, 2017). Media campaigns; such as Mission Blue, Chasing Coral, The Last Straw, and others; have been essential to coral reef protection (Lloyd, Newlands, & Petray, 2016). One of the first and greatest coral reef campaigns is “Save the Reef” a fourteen-year Australian media campaign, originating in the 1970s, which demanded the protection of the Great Barrier Reef.
In August 1967, an application for limestone mining on Ellison Reef, a section in the center of the GBR, was submitted to the Australian Government. The applicant Donald Forbes intended to harvest dead corals for building material and fertiliser (Lloyd, Newlands, & Petray, 2016; Lloyd, 2016). Nothing was unusual about Forbes’ application; using dead corals as fertiliser was a common practice in Australia since the 1800s. A group of marine scientists and avid bushwalkers, known as The Queensland Littoral Society (QLS), found a notice for Forbes’ harvest application. QLS sprang into action to save the corals, and launched one of the longest environmental campaigns in Australian history (Lloyd, 2016). Their goal was to inform the Australian public about the essential environmental protection the GBR needed, which resulted in the formal creation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 1975.
Although the QLS fought on a series of “alternative mass media” fronts to protect the GBR—including magazines, newsletters, books, local radio, local television—the most effective means was infiltrating the mainstream media: print, national radio, and national television. QLS disseminated information by staying in contact with journalists and personalities who shaped the media discourse shared with the public. Journalists translated environmental issues to a broad audience. The media continued to engage positively with environmentalists and scientists that allowed a clear, attractive message that “the GBR was too precious to risk” to be conveyed. To craft the story around the environmentalists working to protect the GBR, the mainstream media created a “David v. Goliath” narrative—David being the environmentalists and Goliath being corporate companies and the bureaucracy. This approach increased sympathy for the GBR from the Australian public (Lloyd, Newlands, & Petray, 2016).
A driving catalyst was the 1969 Santa Barbara Blowout which leaked oil across the California coast, despite a set of heavy regulations created to prevent such a disaster (WPSQ, 2007; Lloyd, Newlands, & Petray, 2016). The media’s portrayal of these events framed the disaster in such a way that instilled concern and fear in Australians about a similar event happening on the GBR. The public became increasingly anxious about coral reef protection, especially after an investigative journalist revealed an approved oil drilling permit for the GBR. After securing public support, both Australian and Queensland governments worked to place laws to protect the GBR. Successful, the GBR was officially declared a national undersea park in 1975 and received international recognition in 1981, and protection from direct threats like limestone/coal mining and offshore oil drilling (WPSQ, 2007).
Mainstream media was integral for the success of the GBR campaign. Today, a torrent of social and interactive media rests at the public’s fingertips. Social media provides countless more opportunities for any individual to find a cause and choose to participate in it, becoming an essential tool to environmental movements around the world. Changing our society is a global effort now, not limited to our neighborhoods or nations. I urge you to use the power you possess to help our planet. Raise your voice for an ocean which cannot speak, sign petitions, organise an awareness day or beach clean, use social media to spread the message that we must act now, not later. Above all urge those around you, local and national governments, to take a stand and join us in the fight to save our Blue Planet.
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Coral Reef Alliance. (2017). Coral Reef Biodiversity. Retrieved April, 2018, from https://coral.org/coral-reefs-101/coral-reef-ecology/coral-reef-biodiversity/
Lloyd, R., Newlands, M., & Petray, T. (2016). Coral Battleground? Re-examining the ‘Save the Reef’ campaign in 1960s Australia. Environmental Sociology,3(1), 54-63.
Lloyd, R. J. (2016). Death on the Great Barrier Reef: How dead coral went from economic resource to conservation symbol. Retrieved April, 2018, from http://theconversation.com/death-on-the-great-barrier-reef-how-dead-coral-went-from-economic-resource-to-conservation-symbol-67157
Weier, J. (2001). Mapping the Decline of Coral Reefs : Feature Articles. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Coral/
Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ). (2007). The Great Barrier Reef: 40 years on. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from http://wildlife.org.au/the-great-barrier-reef-40-years-on/