Riki Gunn, founder and Coordinator of GhostsNets Australia, is no stranger to the ocean and certainly no stranger to knuckling down and getting something done.
Riki shares her deep respect for the ocean and marine life with Australia’s Indigenous Saltwater People (a name for those living near, obtaining their livelihood from or paying their respect to the ocean), many of whom she now calls her colleagues.
Riki’s journey began as a fisher, so she understands that fishing is a vital industry. She believes that we are intelligent enough to harvest the ocean sustainably and as a Board Member of the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group in 2002, Riki played a pivotal role in developing and implementing strategies to achieve this. Ghost nets emerged time and time again as a critical and yet highly complex issue. For Riki there was only ever one avenue to tackle this issue: the communities most impacted by the ghost nets had to be part of the solution.
Riki’s innate sense of community development drives her work. Advocating against short-term solutions, like engaging the Army to do a once off clean-up, Riki works respectfully with the locals to build a more sustainable response. Just listen in on a meeting with the representatives from the original 15 ranger groups. “How can we make the most impact with our budget?” she asks the group. “Spread it thinly like vegemite so everyone gets something to work with, or can we make more inroads if we dish out chilly bombs to tackle those areas with highest number of nets or most turtles entangled?” Peanut butter they eventually decide, a good spread, but crunch where it counts.
Comparing herself to an old vaudeville act that had multiple dinner plates spinning on top of sticks, Riki described her role as the person who gets the plates spinning: “and then I step back only giving them the occasional nudge to keep the momentum going.” But there is far more subtlety in her role than that.
What would success look like to Riki? Success would be our shores free from ghost nets, but no doubt her success can also be measured in the remarkable relationships and cross-cultural learning which is being accumulated on the journey.
Photo below: "the last net off the beach" by Jane Dermer.