Guide's passion for the reef is as deep as the ocean
FOR people like Natalie Lobartolo, their passion for the reef brings a sense of reality to the phrase 'the world is your oyster'.
Having spent most of her life fascinated by the ocean and the reef, Ms Lobartolo is a master reef guide working at Lady Musgrave Experience and is set to present at this year's Oceanfest event.
She said her love for the ocean started when she was just six-years-old, now she's advocating for the conservation of the reef through storytelling and education on board one of the region's leading tourism operators.
Master reef guides have been selected by a panel from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Australian Marine Park and Tourism operators and Tourism and Events Queensland as outstanding reference points to spread positive messages about the reef, inspire change and provide people with opportunities to fall in love with it.
She said there were currently just under 30 master reef guides who've all undergone field training with experts from all areas of the reef - from reef pilots to traditional owners, management authorities and tourism and events Queensland to teach them how to tell stories and provide "high-quality interpretations for people who come out to the reef".
"I am extremely passionate about the reef from a personal standpoint - everything that I love is the reef," she said.
For Ms Lobartolo, inspiring people to can and create positive change for the reef is something she's described as her purpose.
"I think that people don't realise how connected their daily lives are to the health of the reef and also how much the health of the reef impacts our daily lives and our own health as well," she said.
"Climate change is definitely the biggest threat to the reef and I think people don't realise that by doing a really simple act like shutting off one light that means one less piece of coal that needs to be extracted and shipped out and back through the reef... there are so many things whether it's flicking off a light switch, our diet choices, what we eat, how we travel, how often we buy clothes..."
Ms Lobartolo said she hopes to empower people and with about two million visitors to the reef each year.
Working as a dive instructor and getting to swim with whales and dolphins was the moment Ms Lobartolo "realised the magic of interacting with these creatures in their natural environment... that gave me goosebumps".
She said her drive to protect the reef all came from love.
With education and awareness at the forefront of the Oceanfest Reef Room this year, having Ms Lobartolo present seemed like a natural fit.
Her presentation is going to focus on the connection to nature and the benefits for both the environment's health and our own.
Ms Lobartolo said the connection to nature could almost be seen as the cure or the remedy to almost anything when it comes to health and wellness and awareness and eduction.
"If we're connected to nature we really have this deeper understanding of ourselves and of the world around us," she said.
She said it would be applicable to everyone, with a strong fishing community in Bundaberg that the reef also supports.
Ms Lobartolo moved to Bundaberg a year-and-a-half ago and has since fallen in love with the region and is encouraging the community to get involved with the reef through citizen science projects.
She said the projects were about having fun while learning about reef health, threats, pollution, marine life and collecting data.
She may be juggling many roles around the reef, but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I just get so much inspiration when I see that my actions can inspire others as well," she said.
"Sometimes when I get little kids and they're super excited about going and snorkelling and seeing the coral for the first time and they come out beaming, and so excited, and they say 'I want to be a marine biologist' that just melts my heart and gives me goosebumps.
"This is why I do this."
If you would like to learn more about Ms Lobartolo's citizen science projects visit the Dive For Change Australia Facebook page or contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oceanfest is on August 24 at the Bundaberg Port Marina from 10am-5pm.