Today the community is remembering a true hero and pioneer of Great Barrier Reef conservation, who has left a legacy that will live on forever.
Renowned conservationist, John Rumney passed away peacefully on the weekend aged 70, after suffering a stroke in early September.
Few names are as synonymous with reef protection as that of the Port Douglas-based conservationist who for more than three decades dedicated his life to safeguarding the reef.
John was awarded Australian Geographic’s Lifetime Conservation Award in 2019, in recognition of his life’s work and was named Douglas Shire’s citizen of the year in 2017.
Originally from the United States, and a nature lover, John came to Australia because he had to see the Great Barrier Reef. Once he arrived in Port Douglas he knew this was home. He and wife Linda built a boat and started a commercial fishing business and soon he became increasingly aware of the negative effects human activities were having on the fragile environment.
From there, John’s passion grew, and he founded the scientific research and dive vessel, Undersea Explorer, and Eye to Eye Marine Encounters research and eco-tourism operations, advancing research and understanding of the reef that resulted in greater protection and conservation.
Most recently, John founded the Great Barrier Reef Legacy in 2016 of which he described as the evolution of his life’s work, building on all his previous endeavours to create a foundation that brings together the best scientific minds, educators, and multimedia specialists to create positive and lasting outcomes for the environment.
In its first four years, GBR Legacy has raised over $1 million, ran five major reef expeditions, and supported research projects from major universities and government organisations, as well as educated our regions school students through their unique multi-media content like the Virtual Reality experiences many of us have enjoyed.
GBR Legacy co-founder and friend, Dr Dean Miller, said John was selfless beyond measure and “had the unique ability to fuel the fires in you that made you want to do great things.”
“John loved the natural world. Every little detail was fascinating beyond belief, and he inherently understood the processes that drive the systems we take for granted from local to global,” Dr Miller said.
“John started, was part of, or chaired countless committees, attended meetings at every level, lobbied our politicians, appeared in and coordinated countless documentaries, and most importantly was a leader and a trusted voice in all reef-related matters.”
Dr Miller said his mentor was a “pioneer in thought and actions”, creating the first ecotourism venture before the word had meaning, expertly mixing science, tourism and adventure to benefit the reef and the communities that rely on it.
“So today we celebrate a humble man who achieved larger than life goals – a loving family man, great colleague, inspiring mentor, and the most loyal and genuine friend anyone could hope for. An adventurer at heart, a conservationist by nature, and one of the worlds’ great leaders who valued those around him,” Dr Miller said.
Recently GBR Legacy launched the world’s first Living Coral Biobank Project, which will see hard-coral species stored and kept alive in a state of the art holding facility in Port Douglas in perpetuity to aid in all reef research, restoration and recovery projects.
John was extremely excited about this project that would help secure a better future for the reef’s survival and leave a true legacy for future generations.
Overall John’s work, endeavours, and organisations have helped increase reef research as well as raise the standards surrounding fishing, tourism, and diving on the reef, and has accelerated actions vital to the future survival of coral reefs around the world and ensure community resilience for his beloved Port Douglas and the Far Northern region.
John is survived by wife Linda, three daughters, Shannon, Jenna, and Nikki and his grandchildren, who all share his passion and love for the environment.
There are no Barriers too Great to save our Reefs – GBR Legacy