It’s no secret the Great Barrier Reef – described by Sir David Attenborough as ‘the most magical thing you ever saw in your life’ – sits high on the bucket list of travellers across the planet.
For an American father and daughter from New Jersey, however, the reason for venturing to the World Heritage-listed icon is to ‘pay it forward’ and give something back.
Corinne Toczylowski, 26, a zoo keeper at New Jersey’s Bergen County Zoo, has become a ‘reef warrior’, volunteering at the Great Barrier Reef’s Fitzroy Island turtle rehabilitation centre, off Cairns, in a placement with Australian not-for-profit Oceans2Earth.
Her father, Jim, meanwhile is gearing up to compete in next month’s Cairns Airport IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship as part of the week-long Cairns Airport Adventure Festival (5-13 June), raising funds for the homeless.
It will be the seventh IRONMAN (3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run) for the New York banking high flyer who, at 54, is Managing Director and Head of Operational Risk for the Americas with Dutch bank, ING.
Describing IRONMAN events as ‘a great stress relief’, he is also a board member for US charity, Back on My Feet, which combats homelessness through the power of running and community support.
“It will be my first full IRONMAN outside the US, my first trip to Australia and the longest distance I’ve ever travelled,” says Jim, who started looking for an endurance event near Cairns to visit his daughter.
“Cairns looks like an amazing place… and I’ll get to swim in the Great Barrier Reef!”
Hailed by organisers as home to one of the ‘most picturesque’ courses in the global IRONMAN suite, one in five of more than 3,500 competitors are making the journey to Cairns from overseas, led by Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States, China and Hong Kong. A total of 42 countries will be represented at the event, also including the IRONMAN 70.3 Cairns.
Jim Toczylowski is also looking forward to experiencing one of the world’s greatest natural wonders through his daughter’s eyes and, in turn, understanding the importance of conservation and tourism working hand in hand.
Since 1 May, Corinne has been based in Cairns, commuting to Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre’s Fitzroy Island facility each day as an Oceans2Earth volunteer helping the turtle rehabilitation centre care for sick or injured marine turtles with the ultimate aim of releasing them back into the wild. The Great Barrier Reef is home to six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles.
Now wanting to make a career transition into marine conservation, Corinne says there’s no question time spent in the Great Barrier Reef has changed her life for the better. She views its protection as the responsibility of all peoples of the world in order to combat threats like climate change and, in the case of turtles, issues like marine debris.
According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Outlook Report 2014, plastic bags, discarded fishing gear, plastic and glass bottles, rubber thongs, aerosols and drink cans are commonly found in the reef region. Marine turtles often eat plastic bags, mistaken for jellyfish.
Further, a World Economic Forum report, released January 2016, estimates the ocean currently holds more than 150 million tonnes of plastics and warns that in a business-as-usual scenario it will contain more plastics than fish by 2050. The theme for World Oceans Day 2016 (8 June) is preventing plastics pollution.
“It’s really important to understand that even though you are just one person in a great big world, there is far more out there than you just living your day to day,” says Corrine. “I want to show people that this is an amazing, beautiful place and you don’t want to do anything to take that away.”