The Houtman Abrolhos Islands, an A-Class marine reserve 60km off the coast of Geraldton in Western Australia, have been recognised as an ocean Hope Spot by ocean conservation organisation Mission Blue, joining 85 other sites globally and one other in Australia – Moreton Bay in Queensland.
The Mission Blue Hope Spot program, led by legendary oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle, is a global campaign to build public awareness, support and, where necessary, protection for special places that are vital to the health of the ocean.
Often described as the Galapagos Islands of the Indian Ocean, there are few places in Australia wilder and with more biodiversity than the remote Houtman Abrolhos Islands. The islands provide substantial economic, scientific and social benefits to the Western Australian community, including commercial fisheries for rock lobster, scallops and finfish; pearl aquaculture; recreational fishing; marine-based activities; bird watching and a developing tourism industry. However, they are not immune to significant potential threats such as warming waters and ocean acidity.
The nomination of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands was jointly made by Regional Development Australia Mid West and Gascoyne (RDAMWG), whose mandate is to deliver a program of economic development across the region, and the Western Australian Ocean Foundation (WAOF), whose mission is to facilitate the continuous improvement in the health of the oceans of Western Australia.
WAOF Chair and Co-Founder, Mr Grant Oldfield, added “Western Australians are blessed with oceans teeming with biodiversity which, in turn, enrichen our lives and support our livelihoods. WAOF has been formed to facilitate greater community involvement in, and understanding of, the health of our oceans, as there is no doubt that they will become increasingly important to our economy and quality of life”.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled to announce Mission Blue’s second Hope Spot off the coast of Australia,” said Laura Cassiani, Executive Director of Mission Blue. “The Houtman Abrolhos marine reserve is a shining example of conservation and sustainability in some of Australia’s most pristine waters. We look forward working with the communities in the area to shine a light on this special marine ecosystem and promote sustainable ecotourism in the area.”
The announcement of Houtman Abrolhos Islands as a global Hope Spot will be made by Gigi Brisson, Emeritus Director at Mission Blue, at Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island at the end of July 2017, where technology experts are gathering for a global Blockchain summit.
The WAOF, together with technology partner Western Australian company Lateral, will explore the use of technological solutions, like Blockchain, to engage the community and visitors in the Hope Spot, as well as potentially assist other significant public and private organisations to contribute and share information relating to the health of the Abrolhos Islands.
“The use of Blockchain technology on this project will serve as a Proof of Concept (POC), with the intention being that this technology will be utilised by other Hope Spots globally,” said Lateral CEO, Mr Tommy Shin.
“This is an opportunity to show how the shared, tamper proof and permanent data resource nature of Blockchain technology can support engagement in, and management of, the Abrolhos Islands.
“The Blockchain project could have productivity benefits for local organisations and bring opportunities for local technology enthusiasts to engage with international powerhouse firms such as BitFury.” he concluded.
The project concept will be presented by Paula Taylor, WAOF Co-Founder on Necker Island to an audience of prominent international tech experts, entrepreneurs, community leaders and politicians. The concept has potential to be scaled as a tool for use by commercial, research, government entities, as well as in other Western Australian and international locations.
Reflecting on the important role that the Islands have played in the history of the close-knit Geraldton community and how this nomination can give them global exposure Greater Geraldton Mayor, Mr Shane Van Styn, said “The Islands are well managed and this nomination will help to promote the Islands for what they are – a truly unique place in the world”.
“The nomination of Houtman Abrolhos Islands as a Hope Spot is a further example of the continuing commitment shown by leading multinational philanthropists, professionals and investors to showcase the Mid West’s assets and potential,” he added.
Bill Tai – Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist, ocean health advocate and co-founder of the West Tech Fest, which is held in Perth each December, said “I’m simply honored to be part of the group catalysing active steps to preserve one of the most unique remaining spots full of life in our oceans. So much of the ocean is already dead or dying, if we can preserve this spot and others, we also preserve hope to regenerate life for coming generations of people and animals on this planet”.
For Mr Tai, the Abrolhos Islands is a globally significant marine environment that offer some of the best kitesurfing on the planet.
“It is an amazing experience to kite in a place of such raw beauty, 60 kilometers off the WA coastline, alongside dolphins, whales, sea-lions and a host of other marine life,” he said.
“As Adjunct Professor of Innovation at Curtin University, I have been visiting Western Australia for over six years and my appreciation of what it offers continues to grow. With the square kilometer array (SKA) and an entrepreneurial community, the Greater Geraldton region offers a host of opportunities for innovation and I can’t wait to come back this December!” Mr Tai added.
The recognition of Houtman Abrolhos Islands will be further celebrated when West Tech Fest travels to Geraldton in December, for the second year in a row.
Mr Larry Lopez, Director Accelerating Commercialisation, Australia Venture Consultants, and Chair of the West Tech Fest thinks that embracing new, diverse opportunities and collaboration efforts by the Mid West community is critical to the economic development of the region. He added that the timing of this recognition, ahead of a visit by global entrepreneurs in December, will continue to drive interest in the region.
“Building on the success of last year’s Greater Geraldton Investor Showcase, we are excited to return to Geraldton with a West Tech Fest program including an Innovation Summit focused on themes of regional innovation.”
“There has also been significant interest from tech innovators and leaders from the US and Australia to contribute to the program in Geraldton and to join us onboard the Eco Abrolhos for a weekend at the Houtman Abrolhos Islands” he said.
With approximately 280,000 global followers on Facebook, the recognition of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands in this way will raise global awareness of this unique location as a healthy and well-managed eco-tourism destination.