Over the past few months, the Reef has played classroom to a range of university students and professions from across the globe. The Reef Authority have once again hosted, and staff have shared their knowledge and expertise across a range of disciplines as the world leaders in reef management. Edu-tourism has been a key part of providing experiences that inspire and connect others around the world with Reef, leaving them richer in their knowledge of the Reef. The international study abroad programs delivered in the Townsville and North Queensland region are designed to provide the perfect combination of exceptional teaching and learning opportunities in stunning environmental settings. The education programs are tailor-made to meet the teaching and learning needs of each group.
We caught up with Julie, Reef Education manager and long-term contributor to this program, to hear about what global Edu-tourism means to her.
Can you explain what edu-tourism means to you?
That's a great question. I like to think of Edu-tourism as educational tourism. These groups are coming over here for study abroad components of their tertiary or school programs. The student groups undertake tourism experiences on the Great Barrier Reef that are enriched with an educational component. They are actively learning through immersion, through experiences on the Great Barrier Reef and surrounds, and through activities and presentations as well.
A lot of the students that come here have an interest in environmental science, but the groups may be made up of students studying mixed disciplines. They may be studying engineering or law, biology, arts, vet sciences or other subjects. It’s not just marine biology students, it really is interdisciplinary, and we are able to show that managing the Reef draws upon knowledge and expertise from a range of fields.
How did you become involved in edu-tourism?
I first became involved in Edu-tourism back when I worked at Reef HQ Aquarium within the education team. Groups would come to the aquarium and hire out our conference room for presentations and also undertake activities whilst at the aquarium. We would provide presentations by our own staff on a range of subjects, take the groups on tours of the aquarium, and for some groups, we also gave them an overview of the Eye on the Reef rapid monitoring methods whilst snorkeling in the Coral Reef exhibit.
Why is it important to you, to work with groups like these?
Reefs worldwide need our protection, and it doesn't matter where you live, you can take actions that will help the Great Barrier Reef. The more that this message gets out, it helps to raise that awareness globally.
When students come here, and we showcase the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef and talk about the pressures that it is under, we help them discover what they can do to help. I think that having the ability to learn from people who work in the field as marine experts and have their questions answered by them is really valuable. I love seeing people be mesmerized by the Reef and learn about it. It’s also really great to showcase how we are all connected through our oceans. Helping people to discover that it doesn't matter where they live or what they do, they can make that difference and take positive actions that help the environment and the Reef.
What’s really special is hearing from participants after they return home. To hear that the presentations and experiences that we have given them have influenced them to make changes in their own lives.
I had one instance, a long time ago, that made me warm and fuzzy. I was taking a tour when a lady came up to me to say hello. When she was a high school student from the USA, I had run a short course that she participated in. As part of the course, she learnt about marine life, and we went out and visited the Reef. The lady told me that this experience had stayed with her so much that she had went back home and pursued a career in marine science. Now she is back in Australia to complete post graduate studies at James Cook University here in Townsville. So, you never know the ripple effects that you can have on the lives of those around you by simply helping people to discover the Reef for themselves.
I think that the fantastic thing about these Edu-tourism programs is that the experiences form lifelong memories that people take home with them. We hope that these students then share those positive stories and actions to help the reef with others throughout their own lives and hopefully will become life-long advocates for the Reef as well.