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‘I sea, I care’ Community Heroes: Interview with Dr. Rebecca Koss

“Continue collaborating and coordinating within and between your communities, to build strength, trust, and solutions that show the wider community what you are all capable of doing. Because you can. This is how we create the shift”

– Dr Rebecca Koss

The ‘I sea, I care’ community is a tribe of heroes determined to actively protect our marine environment. In our first interview for this program, we were joined by Dr. Rebecca Koss, who embodies the spirit of ISIC communities. As a sustainability leader, a game-changing influencer and an inspiration, she is creating impact everywhere she goes. 

She started out as a marine researcher while simultaneously creating and managing the Sea Search citizen science program with Parks Victoria. She also became the youngest board member for the Central Coastal Board. As the previous Senior Communications & Engagement Advisor for the Victorian Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, she has authored and co-authored several influential reports, such as the inaugural ‘State of the Yarra and Its Parklands 2018 Report’. Her various roles over the last 20 years have stretched over marine science, sustainability, communication, social governance, and environmental stewardship. With her holistic experience and understanding, she is now focusing on the nexus between business and sustainability.

Throughout this impressive career, Dr. Koss believes her biggest impact so far has come from her ability to bring people together. To coordinate and collaborate together, to shift each other’s thinking and create trust in one another, that’s when real change and impact happens.”

As a steward for Victoria’s marine & coastal environment, her deep love for the sea started at a young age, growing up next to the beach, with her snorkel set gifted to her by her father. She reminisced about the memory with us, saying: “I remember the first snorkel I ever did at my local beach. -Every summer I used to trundle off down to the beach, by myself, with my snorkel set in hand”. It’s a powerful memory that started a lifetime of snorkelling and diving, which grew into a deep respect for the life inhabiting the waters and sea floor. 

She has first hand knowledge of the unique beauty of the Victorian marine environment, and can see the potential consequences in following short-term decisions over long-term, sustainable solutions. “I’m very privileged to have dived in these beautiful temperate marine ecosystems. With climate change and our consumptive resource use of marine systems, this will have large impacts on current ecosystem condition. This change is inevitable, unfortunately, so I feel very lucky that I’ve seen the beauty of our temperate marine environments. This beauty resonates with me and I feel, intrinsically, a steward of our coastal and marine systems”.

Understanding the unavoidable nature of change has influenced the kind of future she envisions for Victoria’s marine and coastal ecosystems. She paints a realistic but hopeful image of how humans are likely to respond to environmental changes.  

“I feel like we’re at a shifting point, where we’re recognising that we can no longer hide from the impacts of climate change on our coastal areas. When I say coastal, it’s not just the sand, it’s even 5km, 10km inland, our estuaries as well. I think we can no longer deny that climate change is going to have some severe impacts on the settlements along the coastline and also on the food pyramid structure in our marine ecosystems. 

I’m hoping that the recently legislated Victorian Marine & Coastal Act 2018 and Marine and Coastal Policy 2020, will provide a strong foundation to create and deliver many smart decisions about sustainable strategies and policies.

Unfortunately, I think we’re going to see more devastation before we actually see behavioural shifts in mindsets and actions- and sometimes that doesn’t happen until there’s actually an impact on people.

We’re seeing a shift with our farmers, who are supporting strategies for climate action, as they are on the frontline of climate change impacts that highly influence their livelihoods. I’m hoping that we actually create and implement sustainable, long-term strategies so that we minimise any more impacts on our coastal and marine systems. It’s up to all of us to create the shift and the change”

With this future in mind, there are three things she would change today, if she could, to safeguard Victoria’s marine and coastal ecosystems:

  1. Shifting the current silo approaches in academia & government towards integration of environmental, social, cultural and economic landscapes, when making decisions, through understanding that these areas are completely interconnected.
  2. Limit the development of many of our coastal areas so that they can be adaptive to climate change impacts, including the creation of water sensitive cities.
  3. Reduce resource extraction in our marine and coastal systems.

While this is aspirational, it is not impossible and she offers a message of advice to those who seek change: 

“Do not be afraid to approach people who have high roles in government and demonstrate your collaboration and solutions. Those in power will listen to you if you demonstrate your ability to solve their problems. Do not be afraid to approach them because they will make the time for you.”

Dr. Koss’s holistic thinking and collaborative approach represents perfectly the nature of the ISIC community, which aims to encourage people to value the coast as an intrinsic part of our culture.

“As Australians, we tend to gravitate to the coastline, especially in the warmer months. It’s where we recreate, it’s where we find our peace and quiet, where we meditate and so on.”  

For the Indigenous people of Australia & Torres Strait Islands, and all Australians, the marine environment shapes life on land, inspires stories, and supports our lifestyles, health and wellbeing. While marine issues can often seem ‘out of sight & out of mind’, what happens on our coasts affects us all. 

Watch the full interview with Dr. Rebecca Koss HERE

Interview by: Marta Cortada-McCorkell & Frances Walpole

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