Stories in philanthropy

Preserving the riches of a unique part of the Queensland coast

To Moreton Bay’s north is the glamourous tourism destination of the Sunshine Coast. To its south is the glittering Gold Coast, and to the east is the sprawl of Brisbane city. The bay is a distinctive coastal curve that is rich in biodiversity, Indigenous history and unique species.

Moreton Bay’s virtues – that it has more visitors than the Great Barrier Reef; more coral variation than the Caribbean; that it is a unique destination for migratory birds from Siberia; and that the biodiversity is unique – mean to the Goodman family it’s place worth looking after. And they have now established a foundation to do just that.

A coincidence of factors, including the constant tread of tourists and the steady urbanisation of the area, are posing environmental challenges to the bay. The coastline and catchment of the bay can roughly be marked as South-East Queensland and is one the nation’s fastest growing urban areas. Forecasters predict the population of the area will grow to 4.4 million people by 2031.

The pressures on the bay are widespread and come from a range of sources. The massive floods in Queensland in 2011 was just one issue that has impacted on the bay’s water quality. The bay is shallow and doesn’t flush very well, particularly at the southern end, which causes a sediment problem. This has been compounded by the continuous arrival of topsoil, mostly from the farms in the Lockyer Valley, which finds its way into Moreton Bay. 

And as the area grows, so do the challenges to what is a unique and diverse marine environment around the bay. The new foundation, to be launched on 30 August, intends to help address some of the issues confronting Moreton Bay and provide some protection against the potential impact of the area’s growing popularity. And it will build on the Goodman family’s pre-established commitment to raise awareness of the bay’s unique characteristics.

The Goodman Foundation has been funding research, education and advocacy for Moreton Bay for a decade now. When thinking about how they started down this path Foundation Director Meta Goodman reflected on process they went through ten years ago. “We don’t live on the bay, but there has always been a personal connection through time spent out on the water - back when we had our children at home, and now still ourselves and with our grandchildren.

“When we set up the Foundation, we started with a blank piece of paper,” Meta says. “We asked ourselves ‘What is the world’s biggest issue, and how can we make a (tiny) contribution toward it?’

“In the end we settled on ‘the environment’, and from our personal interest and connection we went from there. Once we’d scratched the surface on what was happening in Moreton Bay, we just become more and more interested.”

The Goodmans had supported research at the University of Queensland into the bay for several years. There were twice-yearly roadshows were marine science students helped reveal some of the bay’s distinct features to locals and tourists. But Meta explains that there was ‘very little information’ about Moreton Bay getting into public hands. It was discovered that there had been a forum 20 years ago to discuss potential problems affecting the bay’s future. That, in turn, triggered a recent conference on the same issue. “We found out that the problems of 20 years ago were still happening,” Meta says.

After the conference, the attending scientists drafted a communique pointing out the key issues facing Moreton Bay, and how to get started on addressing them. But for a range of reasons, scientists couldn’t sign the communique, and it was decided at that point the bay needed a voice of its own.

Meta Goodman says the Foundation’s response to these issues is not to become an ‘activist’ or agitate. “It’s a role of showing people who use the bay, the importance of having good plans in place, so that when the population increases and floods come, we have a means of dealing with the consequences,” she says.

James Goodman, Meta’s son and fellow-Foundation director, says there is no shortage of science and knowledge about the state of the bay, so the Foundation is aiming to bring the range of organisations together to have a stake in the bay’s on-going health.

“The bay is still in reasonably good shape on the eastern side,” James says. “When viewed against the huge population that sits around the bay, the glass-half-full view is that we’re fortunate the bay still has a great breadth of ecological and cultural assets remaining. Those who visit Moreton Island, for instance, invariably comment on its natural environment and beauty. The challenge for The Moreton Bay Foundation will to be custodians to these assets while trying to reverse the ravages occurred elsewhere.”

Central to that change is shift in the perception of Moreton Bay itself. Meta says the traditional view is that the typical Queensland seaside experience is south, to the beaches on the Gold Coast or north to the Sunshine Coast. “People don’t think about the beaches on the bay,” Meta says. Nonetheless, there has been more awareness of the bay’s important place in the environmental scheme of things during the past five years. The challenge is to mitigate the threats now, rather than be overrun by the threats. And that’s where the Foundation comes in.

James expects The Moreton Bay Foundation will work with a broad range of organisations, including the three tiers of government, universities, the local Indigenous land organisations, citizen scientist groups and the general population to ensure everyone has a stake in shaping a better outcome.

Philanthropists too will play a part. James says; “My take is that we’ll leave funding areas like dolphin protecting to the general public. Where we as philanthropists can add the most value is in funding those areas which aren’t so appealing on the surface.

“If we focus our resources on building consensus across a wide range of organisations from science to industry to community, we’ll have done our job,” James says.  “Like many other philanthropists, we’re aiming our efforts towards places of need where others find it difficult to venture for one reason or another.”

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