Students engage next generation to protect Great Barrier Reef

7 Dec 2016

A team of University of Queensland students has been applauded for their idea to help protect the Great Barrier Reef from imminent threats such as land clearing and coral bleaching.

In partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the team developed a concept for an interactive app to educate primary school aged children on the reef and the importance of conservation.

Winners of the Semester 2 2016 Community Engagement Program
Cassandra Erbs from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation with CEP winners Bronte Wilson, Ebony Granada, Julia Salisbury, Lara Simpson, Lucia Chen, and their MBA Project Advisor, Mark Scanlan

The project was the stand-out of this semester’s Community Engagement Program (CEP), an initiative that gives students from the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law (BEL) practical experience working with non-profit and community groups.

Director of Marketing and Business Development at the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Cassandra Erbs, said the app would empower children, their parents and teachers to create positive change to protect the reef.

“As we know, the Great Barrier Reef is under serious threat,” she said.

“It’s important for people of all ages to be engaged and learn about what’s happening on the reef, and the area we thought was lacking was actually with some of our younger Australians.

“We tasked the UQ students with educating youth on the importance of this world wonder sitting on their doorstep.”

Although their app is still in the concept stage, the team hopes to see it grow into a learning tool that can be integrated into the Australian primary school curriculum.

Potential app users will be tasked with a “mission” to help protect the reef as they progress through different levels, explore the reef environment and learn more about the fragile ecosystem and threats to its safety.

Team member and Bachelor of Commerce/Economics student Bronte Wilson said her team had a lot of creative freedom to explore new ideas.

“What I loved most about working with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation was the trust they had in us to pursue different avenues,” she said.

“Ultimately, we decided to go with gamification. We felt it embodied a progressive and forward-thinking way to educate children on the reef.

“It feels amazing to be acknowledged because a lot of hard work, time and energy went into this idea and we’re all really passionate about the project and the values of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.”

Ms Erbs said there might be opportunities for the students to continue work on the app in 2017.

“Right now we’re taking the ideas the students have come up with and putting them together to pitch out to corporate clients that may be able to help fund the project,” she said.

“So far the response has been amazing. I can tell you we’ve already had a corporate partner say they’re really keen to come on board and fund this project with us, so we’re super excited that it could come to fruition within the next year.

“Working with the students has been absolutely fantastic. They’ve been so engaged, enthusiastic and came up with some of the best ideas.”

Team members Lucia Chen, Ebony Granada, Julia Salisbury, Lara Simpson, Emily Wheildon, and Bronte Wilson received the winning team award at the biyearly CEP awards ceremony in November.

Ms Wilson and Ms Granada also received highly commended awards for their individual achievements, along with Cameron Randell from the CEP Epilepsy Queensland project team.

CEP Coordinator Cass Vickers said the reef project was recognised because the team members played to each other’s strengths and developed a positive relationship with the Foundation.

“The team effectively engaged their client and pursued every opportunity available,” she said.

“Their level of research was outstanding. I look forward to seeing the project come to life.”

The highly commended team award went to a project team partnered with the YMCA.  Fabio Batista from the YMCA team received the award for outstanding individual achievement.

Find out more about the Community Engagement Program

Media: Cass Vickers,, 0431 625 791 | Alysha Hilevuo,, 07 3346 9349