A REEFlection - Near, far, wherever the blue things are: Meet Bec

A REEFlection - Near, far, wherever the blue things are: Meet Bec

6 March 2024

In light of our REEFlection task, read Rebecca Carey's story about being a Reef Education officer and how she was first connected to the ocean....

They say two’s a crowd, but three (hundred) is a party, and Reef Authority Education Officer Rebecca Carey can attest to that.

She spent her childhood in the small town of Port Victoria on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula where most of the 300-strong population would fill their weekends with diving, visiting the winery, making sandcastles, or calling into the historic maritime museum… Rebecca included!

“We’d always loved the marine life,” Rebecca said.

Situated a cool 200km away from the big smoke in Adelaide, it was on the west coast of the Yorke Peninsula where a life dedicated to the protection of those residing in the deep blue was born.

Rebecca is out in the water whenever she can be. Source: Supplied.

The youngest of three siblings, Rebecca, or Bec, as she’s known, grew up in the water.

“When my brothers and I went spear fishing, they’d always give me the catch bag, I wasn’t that good at my aim,” she said.

“My family used to do a lot of fishing, snorkelling, and freediving,” she said.

So, it’s no surprise that Bec followed her nose when it came to selecting subjects in senior school.

“Boarding school was where I first got introduced to ecotourism. It was actually in year 12, when I was doing tourism. I had a legend of a teacher. He came out of retirement to teach traveling with a sustainable mindset. I ended up doing really well in that subject,” she said.

In its inaugural year at the University of Adelaide, Bec was accepted into a Bachelor of Science, with a major in nature-based ecotourism and minor in Indigenous Studies.

Bec discovered her passion through her studies. Source: Supplied.

It was her electives that gave her a chance to explore her interest in Traditional Owner stewardship.

“Growing up on the Yorke Peninsula with the Narungga People, I would always do projects with a Traditional Owner element to them,” she said.

“I have always been fascinated by their connection to Country, how nature is part of them, a part of who they are – not a separate entity,” Bec said.

Early in her career, Bec dabbled in a in a few different areas of marine conservation and management.

“Growing up in the marine environment, I’ve always really loved science. I saw a large gap between the amazing science research we do and trying to communicate that to the general public.

“When I did my honours on oyster reef restoration and the social perceptions of projects, I found that 54% of the community didn’t even know there was an oyster reef restoration project larger than the Adelaide Oval (which seats 53,500 people) on their doorstep, and that blew my mind.

“I almost feel the way science is communicated is arguably just as important as the science itself. We can do all this amazing research, but if that’s not communicated to the public in a way they understand and can act on it, it’s hard to see change.

Bec gets to share her love of marine science with students across the globe. Source: Supplied.

“My role at the Reef Authority is creating resources that schools and the community can utilise within their teachings and learnings.

“A large part of my job is connecting with people who may not live anywhere near the Reef, connecting people to the Reef through education.

“Education and engagement are key in helping to protect the world heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef.

“Once people are out on the Reef or engaged with the Reef – you really see people helping to start protect it.”

From school, to university, to schools again, Bec said she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m active in the Reef Guardian School space, with over 300 schools; and they’re each doing actions to help protect the reef and build its resilience.

“We partner with schools all around the world to connect them to the Reef.

“We do amazing things and we’re seeing Reef Guardian Schools from all over the world taking positive actions to help combat climate change,” Bec said.

In a full circle moment, Bec was able to connect with the school who first fostered her love of marine science.

“I did a connection to my old school back in Maitland– and from that I had so many students emailing me personally asking me how I got into the field I studied,” Bec said.

“I love that I can see what I’m actually doing is making a difference.

Bec marries her love for science and education as a Reef Education officer at the Reef Authority. Source: Supplied.

It’s her small-but-mighty work team that keeps the wheels in motion, connecting and inspiring stakeholders all over the world.

“I look around in our team and there’s not many of us – but to see the programs we’re managing and running – it’s incredible.

“I’m learning from people who have been at the organisation before I was even born – like Fred Nucifora and Fiona Merida, - who are just a wealth of knowledge. It’s so cool,” Bec said.

Far from home but close to her passion, Rebecca Carey is living the life she dreamed of.

“I went on a trip to the Great Barrier Reef when I was 12, I was snorkelling with my mum and we were swimming with a turtle for half an hour.

“And that’s when I was like ‘yep’, I’m really connected to the ocean.

“Not just the Great Barrier Reef but the whole marine environment which I want to protect,” Bec said.

Still only 23, Rebecca Carey is bright eyed and eager to inspire.

“Marine biology doesn’t have to be focused on research. You can branch out to marine education and engagement, and you still have those opportunities to do that research.”

“Being able to close that link and see the impact on the Reef is incredible,” Bec said.

And for her peers still hand under book, Bec has a word of advice:

“Don’t be close minded, be open minded to all the amazing opportunities out there. Anyone can do it,” she said.