Insider guide: Eyre Peninsula marine parks

Insider guide: Eyre Peninsula marine parks

Go behind the scenes to dis­cov­er the unique jobs and pas­sion­ate peo­ple that care for South Australia’s environment.

Shel­ley Har­ri­son –Marine Parks Region­al Coor­di­na­tor, South­ern and East­ern Eyre Peninsula

How would you describe your job to some­one at a BBQ?

Diverse, chal­leng­ing and reward­ing. I would describe my job as one which ensures the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of our beau­ti­ful oceans for the future.

I have two young chil­dren, and I want to ensure that we still have this amaz­ing and diverse marine envi­ron­ment for their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. My job allows me to do that. I am mak­ing a dif­fer­ence to our amaz­ing planet.

There are three main aspects to my job man­ag­ing six marine parks. These include com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment, work­ing with schools and com­mu­ni­ty groups to high­light the impor­tance of marine parks, marine parks com­pli­ance, which is all about mak­ing sure threats are removed from sanc­tu­ary zones and ensur­ing peo­ple are abid­ing by the rules, and mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion of the parks, which is more of a hands-on, sci­ence and mon­i­tor­ing task.

How did you get into this line of work?

My fam­i­ly had a shack at the Coorong when I was young and I grew up near Mid­dle Beach, an area of shel­tered tidal creeks and man­grove forests. The con­trast between the shel­tered waters and surf beach­es of the Coorong, and the man­grove forests of Mid­dle Beach amazed me. I was always infat­u­at­ed with the diver­si­ty and won­der of the ocean. I have want­ed to be a marine biol­o­gist since I was about two!

In addi­tion to this, my fam­i­ly owned a wildlife park with a mobile unit that trav­elled to schools, teach­ing respect and respon­si­bil­i­ty for all our won­der­ful ani­mals and the envi­ron­ment. My par­ents instilled con­ser­va­tion into my every­day life. I grew up with joeys hang­ing in bags on my bed­room door, and a house full of hand reared ani­mals. My spare time was spent either car­ing for all of our ani­mals or play­ing sport.

So, I went to uni­ver­si­ty and end­ed up in Port Lin­coln under­tak­ing my Hon­ours and PhD at The Lin­coln Marine Sci­ence Cen­tre. A com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment job with marine parks came up in the last year of my PhD, so I applied and got the job. I didn’t know much about marine parks but I knew I loved marine life and that marine con­ser­va­tion was of the utmost impor­tance. I’ve moved between com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment, design of the parks, mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion to now man­ag­ing marine parks. I’ve been in this role for eight years.

What do you encounter in a nor­mal’ day on the job?

No two days are the same. A large part of my role is com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment, talk­ing to peo­ple who want to know about marine parks, work­ing with school groups and doing com­pli­ance activ­i­ties. I spend some days out on the boat or in the car patrolling sanc­tu­ary zones, I spend oth­er days in class­rooms or out in sanc­tu­ary zones with school groups and Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties, help­ing them to con­nect to Coun­try. This job is very reac­tive, so some planned activ­i­ties have to wait as oth­er things pop up! Oth­er days are spent in the office – but I def­i­nite­ly pre­fer being out in the parks.

What’s the most amaz­ing thing you’ve seen in a marine park?

What I find most amaz­ing about the envi­ron­ment I see is the amount of diver­si­ty and endemism that we have in our coastal and marine envi­ron­ment here in South Aus­tralia. We have greater diver­si­ty in our oceans here in SA than there is on the Great Bar­ri­er Reef – we have 7500 plants and ani­mals in our waters and about 85 per cent of them are found nowhere else in the world. That means if we don’t look after them here and now, they will be lost.

Our waters are tru­ly unique and amaz­ing, I learn some­thing new about them every day. There’s so much more to know, to explore and to under­stand. For exam­ple, we have the world’s small­est, live-bear­ing sea star, Lit­tle Pat­ty, which is only found in six colonies on the West Coast of SA. It’s found nowhere else in the world.

South Australia’s marine species and envi­ron­ments deserve our respect and pro­tec­tion so future gen­er­a­tions can also be amazed by them. I see it as my respon­si­bil­i­ty to empow­er the next gen­er­a­tions with this knowl­edge. You can’t pro­tect what you don’t understand.

What are your insid­er tips about marine parks?

I sug­gest every­body takes the time to get out to a marine park and learn about what lives there. There’s many ways you can do this includ­ing snorkelling, div­ing or fish­ing. You can also learn about the marine envi­ron­ment with­out get­ting your feet wet (maybe a lit­tle sandy) by going beach­comb­ing. The beach is a win­dow to the sea – have a look and find some trea­sures. The shells, crabs and cut­tle­fish bones give you a good idea of what’s out there. It’s impor­tant for us to have that con­nec­tion with the envi­ron­ment, so we can learn to pro­tect it.

Jan­u­ary is the per­fect time to explore South Australia’s marine parks with more than 40 fam­i­ly friend­ly activ­i­ties on offer over the school hol­i­days. Snorkel, join a ranger for a guid­ed walk or check out Nature Play SA’s 20 things to dis­cov­er in January’s park of the month, Encounter Marine Park.

Do you love spend­ing time at the beach in sum­mer? Share your tips for vis­it­ing South Australia’s marine parks in the com­ments below.

*Pho­to cour­tesy of Jason Tyn­dall, Nature Play SA.

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living