Lin Sutherland hopes to inspire change through the documentary Beauty and the Reef.
Lin Sutherland hopes to inspire change through the documentary Beauty and the Reef. Jerad Williams

Documentary explores how we can keep beauty of our Reef

Imagine if the world as you knew it was facing destruction but there was a chance to halt it, only time was running out and no one was listening.

It sounds like the plot of a B-grade thriller but it's the quest Lin Sutherland has taken on.

Far from being a fanatical doomsayer, the Queensland filmmaker is a hardy optimist, believing people will always choose to save the world if they get the message in time. Her latest film is her bid to help that happen.

Beauty and the Reef documents the challenges facing one of the world's most spectacular ecosystems, the Great Barrier Reef, which Lin has seen deteriorate with her own eyes.

"I've done more than 10,000 dives over the past 20 years,” she says. "At least 5000 of those would be on the reef and I've watched the change. I saw the stages happening. I could see a lot of the beauty was disappearing.

"I wanted to make a film to just show people what's happening. I didn't set out to point fingers; there's no politics behind it.

"It's about education and just trying to create a conversation based on science and facts to try to save what we can.”

She is distributing the film herself, attending community screenings and putting together panels at key locations so people can seek answers to the questions it inevitably raises.

The Nine Network has bought the film for mainstream broadcast but Lin believes the grassroots approach is key to getting the message to stick.

"When I've shown the film, at the end people sit there silent then say, 'What do we do?',” she says.

"I haven't had one person yet who's tried to argue with it.

"I believe people do want to act to save the reef - of course they do - and I want to show them we can do that.”

Lin doesn't see herself as a rampant greenie, although she probably has some pedigree. She was born in Tasmania. Her dad was an earth scientist and geologist and her mum was a conservationist and wildlife carer.

Her grandfather, the late Max Jacobs, was a respected director-general of forestry in Australia, an internationally recognised expert in his field who studied at Oxford and Yale and consulted to the UN.

The family moved to Townsville for her father's work before settling in Sydney.

She was drawn to the outdoors and grew up loving the ocean and the bush and was a member of the Venturer Scouts.

After school, she set off for the United States as a summer camp counsellor after seeing the jobs advertised in a newspaper. She worked in California at a camp frequented by kids of the Hollywood elite.

"I ended up staying for three years in the States,” she says. "I taught water skiing, did a bit of modelling. I loved the ocean, surfing and swimming.”

It was in Florida where she had her first scuba dive. She was hooked from the start.

"I thought, here's a whole world that no one really talks about or sees from underneath,” she says. "I loved the marine animals, the beauty. That was it.”

Even as a small child she had been drawn to travel brochures and pictures of tropical islands. When she returned to Australia, she moved to the Whitsundays, where she worked as a scuba diving instructor.

Lin Sutherland's work has been shown on free to air TV in Australia and on Discovery and Travel channels, also in Europe and the US.
Lin Sutherland's work has been shown on free to air TV in Australia and on Discovery and Travel channels, also in Europe and the US. David Wachenfeld

"I lived on a boat and I dived four dives a day for six days a week,” she says. "It was a dream job.”

The filmmaking started when she was asked to help out with a travel documentary that involved underwater shooting.

"They'd ask me to do things for the camera and from there, it went to saying things,” she says.

It led to Lin being commissioned to host her own 13-episode wildlife travel series Roar of the Wild in 2006, which was shown on the Travel Channel across Europe.

More TV series were to follow, both as a producer and presenter, including Travel Wild, which screened on the Discovery Network and CBS in the US and, most recently, episodes for the Endangered series for the Nine Network in Australia.

Beauty and the Reef is her own passion project, born of a need to show people what is happening to the underwater world she knows and loves.

"I did it for the Great Barrier Reef,” she says. "I've been documenting the reef for about 20 years but I think it reached crunch stage in the last five or six years.

"The first thing I noticed was there weren't as many fish as there used to be. I couldn't work it out. We'd be diving in remote areas. There wasn't anyone out there fishing but there just wasn't the big schools like there used to be.”

Lin has dived around the world and has seen first-hand the devastating effects of poor reef management, particularly blast fishing, using explosive devices to stun fish or literally blow them out of the water.

"I've been in the water when the bombs have gone off and they sound as though they're right next to you,” she says. "It's devastating for reefs; it completely destroys them.”

Lin Sutherland is a prolific producer of nature documentaries, travel and wildlife series.
Lin Sutherland is a prolific producer of nature documentaries, travel and wildlife series. David Wachenfeld

Another practice she's seen in other waters is the use of cyanide to sedate fish in their natural habitats so they can be more easily caught for the live fish trade, mainly for aquariums.

"I've come across these things in many locations elsewhere,” she says.

"I'd always come home and say thank goodness our reef is protected but it all connects. What's happening in the oceans affects everywhere else.”

She set about researching the more insidious reasons the Great Barrier Reef is facing its own problems, seeking the opinions of scientists and factual information in a bid to give people a clearer picture.

"It's not one factor,” she says. "The degradation of the reef is just a symptom of a lot of things. The documentary looks at deforestation, rising water temperatures, chemicals, pressure on marine park green zones.

"It looks at the bigger picture. It doesn't try to blame; it tries to educate and it tries to give the lesson without being too disturbing or depressing because I don't want people to think there's nothing they can do.

"We know the causes; science knows the causes. It's really about acknowledging them and coming up with big solutions.”

The film premiered last month in Brisbane, launched by Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch, and has been shown in cinema and community screening events around Southeast Queensland.

Lin also recently took it to a breakfast meeting of North Queensland tourism leaders in Cairns.

"For half an hour, no one touched their breakfast and at the end they all just wanted to know what they could do,” she says.

"It's an impact documentary but I believe there's answers. I think the solutions have been there for ages but it's just a matter of the collective will to do something about it.”

Lin says governments are not necessarily who should be tasked with leading the charge. She's hoping it will be an uprising of the people that will bring about change.

"The good news is there are people who've seen ahead of the game who we can look to for answers,” she says.

"Unfortunately they're not the ones in key positions or the ones who're getting the funding. Others are more aggressive in getting their message out there.

"I'm just trying to empower people with a little bit of knowledge.

"I think we're on borrowed time but we have to believe we can change things.”



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