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22 January, 2021

New year, new career for reef tourism workers

As we look back on 2020, a year dominated by COVID-19 grief and climate chaos, three Great Barrier Reef tourism workers explain why they are diversifying their horizons into new career pathways so they can continue to give back to the Reef - the iconic treasure that has shaped and supported their lives.


Jemma Craig

Dave Springett owns a business which supplies equipment to dive tourism operators on the Reef. He is retraining as an electrician to be able to fit rooftop solar panels and hopefully work on one of the Renewable Energy Corridors earmarked for North Queensland.

“The first hit came with the bushfires scaring away international tourists by a country on fire. One catastrophe followed the next, with yet another mass bleaching event in February and then of course... COVID. We have rolled with the punches as much as we could. But the reality is, as a small business owner, directly dependent on reef tourism, 2020 has forced us to face how vulnerable we are to the huge international challenges of climate change and COVID-19.

“It left me with the very confronting realisation that we here in Cairns are on the frontline of these fights. The future of our Reef is at stake and with it, the future of my business, my family’s livelihood and local economy here in FNQ.

“The Reef is the reason I met my wife, my best mates and built a family here. It’s a huge part of who I am. I’m not giving up on it, or my business. But the fact is, COVID has sent our industry into hibernation, and while we wait out the pandemic’s storm, I’m looking for ways I can support my family while also supporting the future of our Reef.

“I want to see governments get serious in tackling climate change and investing in Renewable Energy Zones for our region. I’d love a job working in renewable energy, it's obvious we need to transition away from fossil fuels to give our Reef a fighting chance.

“I’ve always been interested in electrical engineering, so completing my electrical apprenticeship felt like an exciting and practical way I could help be part of the solution. Renewable Energy Zones would be a much-needed lifeline for our region and I’d be proud to tell the kids I was part of the energy revolution that helped protect our Reef. That’s a career change and legacy I can get really excited about.”

Dave Springett

Tanya Murphy had been working on the reef as a dive instructor for nine years when COVID hit. She is returning to her original career as a journalist at Cairns Local News to shine a light on Reef issues. 

“I originally chose a career in journalism back in my native Western Australia because I always dreamed of being able to shed light on important environmental and social issues, to make a positive difference in society. I enjoyed it very much, but after a holiday where I learnt to dive at the Great Barrier Reef I was instantly hooked. 

“Unfortunately, three bleaching events in the last five years, followed by COVID-19, inflicted severe blows on the dive industry.

“Returning to journalism at a new independent newspaper recently opened in Cairns has provided a great opportunity for me to shine a fresh new light on issues threatening the Great Barrier Reef, particularly climate change and water quality, while still promoting it as one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world.

“I still work at the Reef one day a week thanks to Job Keeper and whatever happens I will always maintain a close connection with the Reef and the diving industry.

“The Great Barrier Reef eco-tourism industry is paramount for the survival of the Reef. It participates in so many projects to help, research and restore the Reef and also, in non-COVID times, employs more than 64,000 people and brings in more than $6.4 billion to our economy every year.

“In the future, I hope to see it make a gradual recovery and COVID-19 is brought under control, so we can continue our work to promote and preserve this natural wonder.”

Tanya Murphy

Jemma Craig is a dive instructor who grew up on her parents’ crocodile and marine life tourism park on Green Island. This year she is moving to Sydney to study filmmaking at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School with a view to making films which share her wonder for the Reef and inspire others to protect it. 

“I have a deep set yearning to give back to the oceans for all the incredible experiences I’ve had,” she said.

“I want to develop my filmmaking skills in Sydney and to build a network with other like-minded individuals who can help me achieve my goals of connecting people with their environment. If the community feels connected to the reef and to the planet, they will be more inspired and more prepared to contribute towards a sustainable future.

“I have seen the effects of climate change on the Reef with my own eyes, but I have never felt empowered enough to do anything about it on a scale that mattered.

“The decline of the tourism industry in my hometown due to the pandemic has drastically changed my career path and given me a perspective I never had before. I have been forced to find other avenues to invest in the Reef, and it ultimately has been for the best because now I can use my experiences to share a message about this place to the world.

“Many of us are aware of the horrible climate realities facing us, but it’s often so overwhelming to comprehend from an individual’s perspective. It’s not enough to scare people about this potential future, we also need to engage people in the wonders of this planet and show them the things worth protecting.

“Nothing is a better educator, storyteller and source of inspiration than Mother Nature herself, so I would like to use my filmmaking as a tool to tell stories of the Reef and other natural environments so people will want to connect with nature and make sustainable changes. These stories of wonder and beauty will drive meaningful climate action the planet desperately needs.”

Jemma Craig

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