Not so Great Barrier Reef

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Conservationists in Australia spend a lot of time trying to get various threatened bits of nature to be taken seriously  by the public, in order to build pressure to protect them. One way to do this is to compare them to some iconic place that everyone knows and loves: the chosen site might be as striking as Uluru, as filled with life as the Daintree rainforest, as important as the Great Barrier Reef.

These icons are the rock solid, absolutely dependable class of environmental sites. Everyone knows them and a lot of people have visited them. If they were music, they’d be Classic Hits that everyone can hum along to. If they were supermarkets, they’d be Coles and Woollies.

But recent news shows that all isn’t necessarily well with the icons of Australia’s environment. The waters of the Great Barrier Reef are suffering from a slew of proposed coal and gas projects, which will boost existing huge amounts of ship traffic over the coral and fish below.

All this means that the Reef could actually lose its World Heritage listing. That’s a bit like having your knighthood taken off you – embarrassing and bad for the wallet. Many of the tourists who spend $6 billion a year could be turned off by the idea of visiting a mere ex-iconic reef, and spend their dollars elsewhere.

From an environmental communications perspective, potentially losing iconic status is PR gold. Would you rather read a story titled ‘Peter Jones awarded a knighthood’ or ‘Sir Paul McCartney to be stripped of his knighthood’?  With an existing household name, the work of getting the audience interested is done for you.

Psychology studies show that people fear a potential loss more than than they value a potential gain. It’s called ‘loss aversion’ .  So referencing the potential loss of a major Aussie icon is definitely going to grab attention effectively.