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Experience ‘underwater galaxies’ being born with Southern Cross marine graduate


Sharlene King, media office at Southern Cross University
4 December 2020
Reef Live reporters Dean Miller, Madison Stewart and Lucas Handley
Reef Live reporters Dean Miller, Madison Stewart, and Lucas Handley

Scientifically it’s known as mass coral spawning. Yet to witness it ‘is like watching galaxies being born right before your eyes’, says Southern Cross University graduate Lucas Handley. 

Lucas, a marine scientist, free diver and underwater photographer, is the Heron Island reef reporter for ABC TV’s Reef Live starting tonight.

During the program he’ll talk to his former Southern Cross University lecturer Professor Peter Harrison about the spectacular synchronised coral reproduction event which is about to start on the outer sections of the Great Barrier Reef.

Professor Harrison is currently on Heron Island and One Tree Island to continue his innovative Coral IVF technique which provides the seed stock to repopulate damaged sections of reef.

We spoke to Lucas about his love for the marine environment.

Question: The documentary Blue showed us you’re a natural communicator. Now ABC Reef Live is an opportunity to share your passion for the wonders of the marine environment with others while highlighting the threats. What are you excited to share with audiences for Reef Live?

Lucas: One of the messages of Blue was that there is hope if we can come together to work on our challenges. I think 2020 has been incredibly hard for many, many people, and to overcome this our society has had to work together on unified goals. Reef Live celebrates the regeneration of the reef, and offers hope in a time when we are being bombarded with what seems like insurmountable challenges, and gives us a reason to keep working together. I'm excited to see our reef at one of its most spectacular times, knowing that the rest of Australia get to see it and appreciate it at the same time. 

Question: Professor Peter Harrison is one of the world’s leading coral reef experts and co-discoverer of coral spawning in 1981. You’ve crossed paths with him at Southern Cross Uni where he was one of your lecturers. Now you’ve had the privilege of spending time with him for Reef Live. Describe the experience of learning from Peter and what it means for you?

Lucas: As a young student, I sat through Peter’s lectures on the skeletal density of corals, and the associated problems of climate change. I distinctly remember a conversation on the beach at Heron Island, where, still a student I had remarked that we know enough about climate change, to start talking about it and doing something about it now. I had argued that more experiments are great, but shouldn’t that money go straight into climate change abatement, if it’s limited. I was an eager, young, passionate student and at the time I was flying off on each uni holiday to film a tv series for Discovery Channel about the changes in our oceans. I wanted action. 

Part of my statement I still believe, but I now realise what value we have in the search for more knowledge. It creates more scientists, more arguments of reason. More people that can critically analyse information and present articulate passionate answer to the worlds challenges. It also creates the meaning behind what we do. We are scientists after all, because we have an enquiring mind and that thirst for knowledge is what will take us collectively forward. 

Teaming back up with Peter brings things full circle for me. I went on to push for change, and he went on with his research. It’s going to be an incredible experience to be there with Peter as he brings his research onto live TV, and I’ll finally be able to reveal to him that I’ve headed back into research. 

Question: Younger viewers of Reef Live – the next generation of marine scientists - will inherit the groundbreaking work and legacy of Peter Harrison and others in the field of coral reef restoration. What message do you have for marine scientists of the future?

Lucas: Always take time to remind yourself why you wanted to be a marine scientist in the first place. Dive, visit, walk, sail, photograph, explore. Keep the passion for your work alive, and then remember to find creative ways to use your knowledge. Scientists should not be restricted to laboratories.

In an increasingly connected world, we need our scientists to work both within academia, and industry; media, politics and economics. I think that some of the hardships of the past came from having scientific work divided from these other industries. What Peter and Reef Live is doing is showing how we can connect things.

To overcome the hurdles, we need to work collaboratively within other industries. Make friends with fishermen, miners, captains of commerce; because it is from these relationships, these understandings of trust that the wheels of change are often assembled.

Reef Live presenter Lucas Handley with Professor Peter Harrison
Southern Cross University coral expert Professor Peter Harrison with Marine Science graduate Lucas Handley.