Abrolhos status in world spotlight

Adam PoulsenGeraldton Guardian
Co-founder of the Western Australian Ocean Foundation Grant Oldfield, left, and Regional Development Australia chief executive Alan Bradley.
Camera IconCo-founder of the Western Australian Ocean Foundation Grant Oldfield, left, and Regional Development Australia chief executive Alan Bradley. Credit: Adam Poulsen

The recent announcement of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands as a Mission Blue Hope Spot has been described by Regional Development Australia’s chief executive as a significant economic opportunity for Geraldton and the islands.

The Abrolhos were recently recognised as a world-class marine-protected area by conservation coalition Mission Blue, as part of a global campaign to protect the world’s oceans and raise awareness of unique marine habitats.

RDA chief executive Alan Bradley said the announcement would attract tourists and conservation scientists to the area.

“All of a sudden, we’ve got prominent global recognition of our location,” he said.

“We can capitalise on that by promoting tours and visitor attractions to Geraldton and the Abrolhos, and that builds an economic position around Geraldton.

“The advertising that we’d have to pay to get Geraldton and the Abrolhos on the world stage would be beyond any budgets that we have locally, so we’re getting this free marketing, and that’s where I’m coming from as an economic driver.”

But the spotlight on the islands also has conservationists excited about the opportunity to find increased funding for their efforts.

WA Ocean Foundation co-founder and chairman Grant Oldfield said it was fantastic news for the islands.

“Economic development will hopefully support the continued care that is taken around the Abrolhos Islands from a biodiversity and pristine environment perspective, because you actually have the economic capability to properly look after it,” he said.

Mr Bradley said the local community would be involved in any decisions arising as a result of the islands’ successful nomination.

“The first thing we’re going to do is start talking to the local community about what it actually means for them, because we want to bring the community along with us to look after the islands into the future,” he said.

“And when I say community, it also means the commercial side of things.

“There’s a great commercial fishing industry that is already established over there, it has already got the sustainable tick of approval from the Marine Stewardship Council.

“We’ve got to make sure the community understands what it means to have a Hope Spot in its backyard and to make sure they are engaged in an appropriate way.”

Mr Bradley said it was vital that growing tourism interest in the Abrolhos was managed carefully so the islands would not become overrun with tourists with no interest in caring for the special environment.

Mr Oldfield said the nomination would open a channel to a worldwide audience and could attract prominent figures from the scientific research community to the region.

“It’s opening that channel potentially for the sharing of ideas and collaboration, and that’s a really significant opportunity associated with it, and one that’s then available to the wider Geraldton and Mid West community,” he said.

Mr Bradley said the recent recognition of the islands was likely to result in expeditions undertaken by research teams from National Geographic and Mission Blue to document and study the features of the islands and its waters.

“To have people with such depth of scientific understanding of the ocean’s health and wealth looking at the Abrolhos will put Geraldton and the Abrolhos on the world stage,” he said.

“I think the Abrolhos speaks for itself. It’s such a unique location with such a wealth of biodiversity, both on the terrestrial islands and in the marine environment.

“There’s been a whole gamut of research done around the biodiversity over there.”

Mr Oldfield said Mission Blue was very discerning about which locations it approved to become Hope Spots.

The Abrolhos Islands are home to a number of threatened species, including the Australian sea lion.

They are the northernmost breeding grounds of the animal.

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