The Great Barrier Reef is one of our seven natural wonders, the only living thing on Earth that’s visible from space.
Not surprisingly, people the world over feel connected to it, and that means its well-being and future are routinely the subject of public discussion and debate.
The Reef is bigger than some nations, a network of complex, vulnerable ecosystems that sustain an abundance of marine life. It starts offshore of Bundaberg and parallels the Queensland coast for 2300 kilometres, up past the tip of Cape York. There are three thousand individual reefs and a thousand islands inside its 345,000 square kilometre marine park.
Science tells us a great deal about the state of the Great Barrier Reef. But scientist Iain McCalman says that’s an incomplete story. Iain knows the Reef better than most. It’s as much a product, he says, of human imagination as natural processes. If we consider human perceptions of, and interactions with the Reef, we can gain a more complete understanding of it, and of how to care for it.
In his recently published The Reef – A Passionate History, Iain tells of the people drawn to the Reef, often in life-changing ways, among them sea captains James Cook and Matthew Flinders, the castaway Ted Banfield, Reef champions Judith Wright and John Busst. Our connection with the Reef, Iain says, is deep in our emotions.
LISTEN to my interview with Iain McCalman
Iain McCalman is a Research Professor in history at the University of Sydney and co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute.