Inspired by sharing her love for the ocean, reef guide Natalie Lobartolo is opening up the rocky shore with her new business Reef Connect.
Natalie is guiding Rock Pool Rambles and Citizen Science Snorkel tours during the Milbi Festival and plans to keep offering the tours in the future.
“My intention is really to focus on the education and the connection and just getting people out in [an] easy and simple way.”
“I just realise how important it is to have opportunities for people to connect with nature and animals.
“I remember the first time I went for a snorkel off these rocks.
“It looks quite dark and just blue, like there wouldn't be anything there, and my mind was just blown.
“The colours and diversity of coral and fish and other marine life is just incredible, and I think there's very little like it on the east coast of Australia in terms of a shore dive.”
But Natalie said people don’t have to get wet to enjoy the diversity of marine life, and those looking to explore the shore can join a Reef Connect Rock Pool Ramble.
“There's a whole bunch of life in the rock pools.
“And it's just incredible to see how excited kids can get when you show them a creature that seems quite simple, but if you tell a story or introduce some fun facts, they just get excited so easily and just really love it.”
Natalie said her passion for the ocean was sparked by a visit to Sea World when she was six years old.
“Since then that has set me off on my journey and I've come to work as a guide with dolphins in the wild and see how incredible it is in their natural environment.
“I'm not necessarily for animals in captivity, but I can recognise that it was that potential for connection that was really powerful.”
After many years working in marine research and as a Master Reef Guide on the Great Barrier Reef, she’s looking forward to sharing her knowledge with the community through her new business.
“Master Reef Guides are storytellers and interpreters, and they bring the reef to life… it's all about allowing opportunities for people to experience the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef.
“It's a World Heritage area, which means that there's nothing like it on the whole planet.”
Reef Connect focused on local marine environment
Natalie said the idea for Reef Connect came about through her work with tourism operators on the Great Barrier Reef and in the local community doing community snorkels.
Reef Connect is starting out with some local tours during the school holidays, then in coming months Natalie will be guiding trips to Heron Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef.
“Reef Connect here in Bargara is really important because not everybody will have the opportunity to go out to the Great Barrier Reef.
“Having the programs here will provide the opportunity for people to see how amazing corals are and how amazing the reef is and all of the marine life, whether it’s straight off the shore or out on the Great Barrier Reef, there's just so much to see.”
Natalie said participants on the snorkel tour will also make a valuable contribution by collecting data as citizen scientists.
“Citizen science is really important because marine park managers and people at the management level can't be everywhere all the time.”
Using a colour chart developed by Coral Watch, participants will help to monitor coral health by submitting observations for ongoing monitoring, she said.
To find out more about Natalie’s Reef Connect tours, head to www.reefconnect.com.au
- More Milbi Festival news: Taribelang Bunda tours share culture and stories