PHOTOS: Reef Keepers the start to building future pathways
EXUDING her love for the reef throughout her role as master reef guide, marine biologist and dive instructor aboard Lady Musgrave Experience's Reef Empress, Natalie Lobartolo has created a new team to help collect vital data and advocate for the reef made up of like-minded community members - the Reef Keepers.
On Saturday the Reef Keepers, a hand-selected team of about 14 people who are all passionate about the Reef, boarded the Reef Empress for the last time this year as a unit, for a third weekend of collaborating, networking and collecting data on the coral, species and overall reef health at Lady Musgrave.
Ms Lobartolo loves the reef and hopes to give everyone an opportunity, in one way or another, to see it.
She said it was all about connections; connecting like-minded people within the community through the group, connecting with the reef and local residents.
After much hard work, she said it was incredibly cool to see the group come to fruition with multiple reef trips and information gathered.
On Saturday's trip, one of the Reef Keepers, Kepnock State High School biology teacher Kate Nunn, said within 10 minutes they found 62 grazier species, 37 sea cucumbers, 12 butterfly fish, three coral trout and six clams.
Ms Nunn said the number of grazing species was a good health indicator for the reef.
It's these details, along with coral colour and type, identification of potential threats like the Crown of Thorns starfish, that the keepers collate and enter into citizen science online databases like Coral Watch and Eyes on the Reef.
"I'm not doing it for myself, everything I do is for the reef and people, and their connection to it," Ms Lobartolo said.
Working with Ms Lobartolo and Ms Nunn, within the group of Reef Keepers are representatives from Gidarjil's land and sea rangers, Mon Repo Turtle Centre, local aquaculture businesses, retirees and reef enthusiasts.
She said part of the program aimed to have keepers to pass on their experience, knowledge and passion for the reef to the rest of the region throughout their own platform.
Ms Lobartolo said she would like to also establish a junior program to work in conjunction with the current crew.
Building practical pathways for future Reef Keepers
From school group projects to community citizen science activities, Master Reef Guide Natalie Lobartolo is eager to establish a strong network of practical pathways for the next generation of reef advocates.
And she's not alone.
By bringing together local science teachers, aquaculture businesses, experienced divers, rangers from Mon Repos and Gidarjil and a young reef guardian with the Reef Keepers initiative, Ms Lobartolo is hoping to create a junior buddy program in light of the success of the current project.
With a life long love for exploring the reef herself, Kepnock State High School biology teacher Kate Nunn said it was a great opportunity and would like to see young people involved as it encouraged them to think about the environment and the impact they have on it.
She said further integration with organisations like the Gidarjil land and sea rangers, student's could get a practical understanding of how their study could be applied in the world and highlight potential career pathways.
Ms Nunn said from rangers, to eco-tourism and analytical jobs, the world was their oyster.
The data and connections made throughout the Reef Keepers experience was one that Ms Nunn is looking to take back to the classroom for her students and others in subjects like aquatic practices.
Jess Poland from Inter-fish said she fell into her role in the aquaculture industry, having started out cleaning fish tanks and feeding the coral they had, now she's running export logistics and has been accepted as a Coral Watch ambassador.
Where her role typically keeps her feet on land, through the Reef Keeper program she has been able to dip her toes in the water and gain a new perspective for the industry she's been a part of for the past two years.
She said the divers who collect coral swim over thousands and thousands of to find what they are looking for, and since participating in the Reef Keeper program she has "a lot more respect for the people I work with and what do now".
She said Ms Lobartolo was very inspirational and the definition of one person changing the way people think.
Commending the work Ms Lobartolo has done, Ms Poland is eager to implement her new-found passion in her workplace.
Spectacular experience on the reef
WAKING up before the crack of dawn to get ready for a day trip to Lady Musgrave with Lady Musgrave Experience is a spectacular way to kick start your weekend.
Despite being a Bundy girl, this was my first trip out to the island, and chance to delve into the world below the surface that we are lucky enough to have in our own backyard.
The people aboard the Reef Empress had a smile from ear to ear and were more than happy to help out throughout the day with any concerns.
And with an office that floats upon some of the most magnificent seascapes, it's easy to see why they are happy to be at work.
The island is flush with beautiful scenery of trees and birdlife, and provides the perfect platform to take in the enormity of the crystal clear water that surrounds it.
A chance to snorkel and explore the world beneath the surface is one not to miss - it was spectacular.
From the varied coral shapes, species and coloured fish, sea cucumbers and turtles, you could stay still and not be bored as you watch the marine life. A big thank you to all involved; while this was my first trip out to the island, it won't be the last.