By Rex Halverson, NBRF Chair
Last month Noosa Council unanimously approved a new four-year partnership agreement with the Noosa Biosphere Reserve Foundation (NBRF), recognising our successful contribution in supporting the Noosa Biosphere on behalf of both the Noosa community and Council.
We have achieved a host of successful outcomes in recent years that will have ongoing benefits for Noosa’s environment, iconic species and our experience of living in a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Our projects have helped deliver seed funding to local conservation groups, schools, business, research institutes and PhD students – all working to maintain our Noosa Biosphere Reserve as a special place for generations to come.
As part of the conversation around this decision there were some articles and social media posts that have misrepresented the role and structure of the NBRF. As we look forward to the future, we want to address these now.
Biosphere reserve status recognise sites of excellence around the world for their commitment to maintaining a balance between people and place. Under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme, biosphere reserve communities are living laboratories that use research to seek innovative approaches to biodiversity conservation and sustainable economic and cultural initiatives. Noosa is one of only four Biosphere Reserves in Australia and part of a global network of more than 700 sites.
As the governing authority of the Noosa Biosphere (the Noosa Shire LGA plus 3km offshore), the Noosa Council, as the founding member, established the NBRF in 2015 for the purpose of advancing the MAB programme and to manage the charitable Noosa Biosphere Reserve Trust. The Foundation, however, has no direct executive or operational power over activities under any government control.
The role of the NBRF is focused on developing projects and research that advances the conservation of healthy land, water and wildlife, and fostering sustainable economic development.
Recent articles have blurred the line between the functions of the NBRF and the Noosa Community Biosphere Association (NCBA). To be clear, the NBRF was setup by Council to manage the Noosa Biosphere Reserve Trust, and the NCBA was setup as a separate organisation at the same time that would use a membership model to engage the community in Noosa Biosphere activities. The NBRF has no authority over the NCBA though we do seek to work collaboratively in promoting biosphere reserve values.
The notion that NBRF is a ‘closed-shop’ is not a true representation of the governance structure or current operational model.
The NBRF is managed by a volunteer skills-based board of up to eight directors, including one council representative to manage the Trust. Membership is made up of current and former directors. Directors are selected through a publicly advertised recruitment process, and anyone can apply. Prospective directors are interviewed by a gender-diverse panel and selected based on their experience and expertise to provide a diversely represented skillset to the board. As some director terms expire in late 2021, opportunities will be forthcoming for members of the community to apply and get involved in shaping the future of the Foundation.
We acknowledge the current gender imbalance on the NBRF Board and assure the community we are formally committed to achieving gender equity by 2025. As part of our plan to increase the diversity of input from additional sectors of the community, we recently established an expertise-based advisory panel with one female advisor already on board. We will be calling for expressions of interest for more advisors next month.
While we acknowledge concerns from the past, a change to our overall governance structure requires more than simply changing our constitution. We are, however, actively reviewing our management model, in consultation with Noosa councillors, and also including looking to other biosphere reserves globally for best practices. We have also been proactively making internal changes for enhanced community engagement for some time as we are committed to learning from the past and building a better and even more inclusive future for the Noosa Biosphere.
To increase our participative approach to projects, we developed the stakeholder symposium model. After delivering three events, they are generating excellent outcomes and community feedback. The symposiums bring together representatives from the community, government and science to identify what gaps exist in the work already being done and the projects or new research needed to achieve shared goals.
Currently, less than one per cent of the Council Environment Levy is allocated for operational expenses to NBRF to maintain the Noosa Biosphere Reserve Trust and to source funding and project partners. Since our inception, the NBRF has consistently delivered at least a 3:1 return on the community’s investment and frequently reports on its progress to council. We also report to UNESCO periodically to demonstrate Noosa’s collective shire-wide ongoing progress as a site of excellence, under the MAB programme.
We have also been fostering Noosa’s connection to the world network of biosphere reserves by engaging with other Australian and international coastal biosphere reserves and the Australian MAB National Committee.
Looking forward, we recently signed a new MoU with University of the Sunshine Coast to develop more research and education opportunities and we are excited about the future opportunities this and similar partnerships will bring to the Noosa community.
We have launched a new monthly newsletter, increased our social media outreach, are attending community events, regularly communicate our progress in the local media and have established our annual Noosa Biosphere Gala (set for 2 November).
Biosphere reserves are about communities working together and we believe Noosa is leading the way.
Noosa Biosphere Reserve status is a celebration of our community and environment. It symbolises the values in which we live by and recognises decades of our community’s collective efforts and commitment to protect our special place. Upholding this status is a privilege that we all have a stake in maintaining. It is up to all of us to ensure Noosa continues to be a special place for future generations and we are pleased to be playing a part.
Stay up to date by visiting our website to learn about the work we do (noosabiosphere.org.au) and subscribe for up to date information on how you can get involved.