Objectives of the Future Leaders Eco Challenges

The action-based annual Future Leaders Eco Challenges (FLECs) foster stewardship and promote a community culture of custodianship for reef protection through hands-on workshops and activities in the catchment. The objectives are regionally varied and focus on local, environmental on-ground project outcomes that are valued by the community which will improve the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

The FLECs are designed to empower students by giving them a sense of involvement in the bigger picture and also help them to gain new skills and knowledge to help protect the Reef.

Teachers participating in the FLECs utilise this time towards increasing their professional development hours (as described by the Department of Education, Training and Employment), recognising they are learning new skills and knowledge to support teaching activities.

Partners along the Queensland coast use the opportunity to promote schools involvement in current projects or resources available to help support schools in education about the Reef. It is also a great opportunity for participants in other Reef Guardian programs (councils, fishers, farmers and graziers) and Local Marine Advisory Committee representatives to participate in reef-protection activities with students and teachers.

FLEC community support

In 2014, eighteen FLEC events were held in diverse locations from Cape York to Brisbane between 26 June and 18 September 2014. The events were held in Cooktown, Burdekin, Yeppoon, Tannum Sands, Palm Island, Proserpine, Bundaberg, Townsville, Cardwell, Mission Beach, Mackay, Port Douglas, Cairns, Brisbane, Bowen, Hervey Bay, Barambah and Nebo.

Over 1,110 students and 170 teachers participated in the FLECs from 115 schools.

The support of local partners demonstrating a practical, locally-based approach to reef-protection activities was crucial to the success of the events.

Over 140 people from 76 partner organisations supported the FLECs either through conducting activities, providing resources, or providing expert skills and knowledge. Partners included representatives from industry, businesses, NRM agencies, local, state and federal government, conservation groups, Local Marine Advisory Committees, Traditional Owner groups and local science experts.  The FLECs have become a key event on many partner and school calendars.

Partners noted a range of benefits from participating in the FLECs including:

  • Spreading the word about the issue of marine debris to students and adults
  • Removing marine debris from the coastline and gaining valuable data for the Australian Marine Debris Initiative
  • Building relationships with local communities to address local and global environmental issues
  • Fostering partnerships with other organisations to assist with sustainability education goals
  • Raising awareness of local facilities available to help educate about the Reef
  • Introducing teachers to new local projects
  • Sharing NRM conservation values with children, parents and teachers
  • Networking opportunities.

Teachers also found the FLECs beneficial to help raise students’ and their own awareness and understanding about the Great Barrier Reef. The benefits and learning opportunities highlighted in feedback from teachers who participated included:

  • The FLECs help to reinforce and revitalise the Reef Guardian School message with students
  • Activities were relevant as they were held in the local environment
  • Learning how farmers have changed their fertilizers to reduce nitrogen and how marine debris can impact on the marine environment
  • Learning about the growth of corals and the type of resources available at Reef HQ Aquarium, Townsville
  • Students got to learn about the turtle hospital at Reef HQ.

FLEC activities

Activities at the events varied across Queensland with diverse partnerships and reef-based topics that were relevant to specific communities. Activities were aimed at promoting the local values and services the Great Barrier Reef provides and regional drivers that directly or indirectly cause changes in the Reef environment.

Students and teachers participated in activities including tree planting, marine debris clean-ups, exploring turtle habitats of the Keppels, beach revegetation, sustainable farming techniques, touring local wetlands, identifying pest fish and fish adaptations, mangrove identification, fish passageway assessments, water quality monitoring, fish tagging, identifying and removing waterway weeds, crown-of-thorns starfish workshop, soil testing, composting and understanding climate change.

Media coverage

FLECs attract a wide range of media support across Queensland. They provide an opportunity to highlight to communities through regional media the Reef Guardian Schools program, activities being undertaken to help educate students and teachers about the Reef, and partner support. Some of the highlights of media coverage from the 2014 FLEC events included:    

  • More than 70 media items generated by GBRMPA (social media, GBRMPA external website, media alerts and releases, press items – TV, radio and press).
  • Audience reach of more than 266,249
  • Free advertising equivalent of almost $23,431
  • Facebook album and posts seen by more than 26,812 people.

Many schools and partners also promoted the FLEC events through their networks such as on websites and in newsletters.

A videographer attended the Townsville FLEC and two short YouTube clips were created and are now available on the GBRMPA YouTube channel to further promote Reef Guardian Schools and the FLEC events.