If you’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef up close, you’ll know it’s impossible to not be moved by its extraordinary beauty. Iridescent fish of every shape, size and colour shimmer as they swim in the water and turtles and manta rays glide majestically through the luminous deep blue. Home to over 9000 species of marine life – it has more biodiversity than the Amazon Rainforest – the Great Barrier Reef is also the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem. But it’s in trouble.
Rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification has led to mass coral bleaching events, risking irreversible damage to the reef. For the thousands of marine species that depend on the Great Barrier Reef – not to mention the global food supply, climate regulation and local tourism it provides (the Great Barrier Reef supports 64,000 jobs and contributes $6.4 billion dollars to the Australian economy) – its protection has never felt more urgent.
Enter The Sapphire Project which was founded in 2020 by a group of Australian thought leaders dedicated to ocean conservation. The Project raises funds through philanthropic efforts, like the Sapphire Dinner that took place in Sydney in June on World Oceans Day. The event raised $1.2 million, with donations administered by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and directed to grassroots organisations working to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
“The five organisations we support work in different areas of reef conservation, from education and advocacy to research and protection,” says Ryan Gollan, chair of the Sapphire Committee. “These organisations have proven track records and have been making a difference for a long time.”
Blue Carbon Lab at Deakin University is conducting critical research into how swathes of seagrass meadows surrounding the Great Barrier Reef can play a crucial role in absorbing carbon, reducing the effects of heating on the reef. Girringun Aboriginal Corporation is a First Nations-led conservation initiative and represents nine Traditional Owner groups. They utilise a deep understanding of Country to aid in the management and protection of 1.26 million hectares of land in the region, including the Great Barrier Reef. Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, Take 3 for the Sea, and the Australian Museum Lizard Island Research Station also receive funding from The Sapphire Project.
Surprisingly, less than two per cent of all charitable giving in Australia goes toward environmental causes, with even less going to ocean conservation. But companies such as LSH Auto Australia are proof that business leaders do want to get involved.
“We’re a gold sponsor of the Sapphire Project because it’s important to us to help look after our oceans, one of our most precious resources,” says John Good, managing director of LSH Auto Australia. “We’re looking to build upon that support in the coming years, recognising that the environment should be at the forefront of everything we do.”
While the issues at play may seem overwhelming, Gollan believes anyone can go from feeling helpless to hopeful – after all, he did.
“You don’t need to be a scientist or a billionaire to take part, that’s what I find so inspiring,” he says. “Give what you can; your money, your time. Raise awareness in any way you can and influence your friends, family and colleagues. Just take action. Conservation without support is simply conversation.”