Noosa Biosphere Reserve Foundation chair Dick Barnes.
Noosa Biosphere Reserve Foundation chair Dick Barnes. Alan Lander

Our Biosphere: questions and answers

THE Noosa Biosphere Reserve Foundation is poorly understood by the public, veiled in secrecy, undemocratically appointed and fails to effectively communicate its goals and benefits to the Noosa community.

That's the view of Noosaville resident and issues management specialist Keith Jackson.

And while Mr Jackson, like a majority of Noosa residents, believes the idea of achieving a sustainable and effective triple-bottom- line community in Noosa is a positive and necessary goal, he has major concerns about the current structure and role of the foundation.

Mr Jackson, who last year looked into joining the NBRF board, claimed the current model could not ensure an essential balance between community, economy and the environment.

"In 2013, the newly de-amalgamated Noosa Council expunged from existence the previous Noosa Biosphere Ltd,” he said.

"In its place, ratepayers got an eccentrically structured, non-transparent NBRF with a restrictive constitution and a board of directors hand picked by the council on a basis that was opaque.”

Mr Jackson said in his opinion the board spent two years processing grants - and feuding.

"There was much acrimony and directors went and came; there was an entrenched reluctance to reveal information to Noosa Shire residents,” he said.

He said most Noosa residents could not understand nor easily measure the benefits of the biosphere to date, which risked prejudice and suspicion toward the concept, especially when up to $3million of ratepayers' money had been invested in it.

"The biosphere should exemplify the best of who and what we are in Noosa, and what we aspire to,” he said.

"It is well past time that NBRF, and the council with which it is so closely associated, demonstrated to the community that it is an effective, ethical and transparent organisation.”

NBRF chair Dick Barnes has been in the job for six months - and as far as he is concerned, he has drawn a line in the sand under all previous biosphere incarnations, and is getting on with the job, free of "Noosa politics”.

"I come to this [role] with a completely open mind,” Mr Barnes said.

He has lived in Noosa Shire since 2004. A former company chief financial officer, he was also a beef farmer on a 600-acre Ridgewood property, and co-founded Country Noosa "which was very successful”.

"As a result I was asked to join the Noosa Community Biosphere Association (NCBA) board as founding president,” he said.

The NBRF is the funding body and NCBA the community arm.

"I ran NCBA for 18 months, then was asked to be a director of NBRF September 2016,” he said, and was appointed chair in May 2017.

Importantly, in the structure, Mr Barnes, along with board member Michael Gloster, remain at arm's length from project funding decisions and allocations, given their memberships of Country Noosa, Landcare and Noosa Parks Association respectively.

He said he was also aware of where the organisation had gone wrong in the past, particularly in relation to communicating its processes and activities, and a recent policy document on self-governance was now an article of faith in NBRF.

"And we produced a Back to Basics document in December, and are working on a Periodic Review paper as required by UNESCO, which has to outline our last 10 years, and our plans for the next 10.”

Mr Barnes said the current NBRF board was stacked with diverse scientific and managerial talent, "and we have staffers, including one who ran the reef program for the World Wildlife Fund.”

Mr Barnes said NBRF was working hard to explain the biosphere concept as best it could, with two explanatory videos it uses on community and, soon, school educational workshops.

And while the organisation receives $250,000 for projects Noosa Council's Environment Levy (from the annual c.$1.8million the levy raises), and $140,000 for operations annually (general council revenue) it is moving to a wider funding model, and Mr Barnes has shown that already the funding put into projects returns at least twice its value in results.

"Most biospheres around the world are fully funded by local authorities - and most are basically national parks with no community,” he said.

"So in a sense we have a good model here.”

Mr Barnes said six projects have been under way for some time now, all primarily focused on the Noosa River system, from economic, environmental, social and recreational viewpoints, which is not easily understood by many.

Noosa River is the lifeblood of tourism, the region's primary economic driver, as well as central to our environmental, recreational and lifestyle well-being, he said.

Recent projects - benefits

Oyster reef/prawn regeneration: Refuge and food source for other fish; river structure repair; potential for commercial fishing; restore recreational facility of river; cleaning effect on water; economic (tourism), social and community benefits.

Land erosion at Kin Kin: Sediment reduction in lakes; encourage fish population; assist agriculture base around Kin Kin; economic, social and community benefits.

Koala tracking: Iconic Noosa 'resident'; adequate habitat; economic/tourism, social and community benefits.

Identify sedges, grasses: Help counter agriculture issues, weeds, improve riverine, wetlands, riparian areas, recognise native species.

Community engagement: Education about our region, how to protect it. Economic/education, social, community benefits.

Current/future projects: Iconic pandanus disease threat reduction, hinterland trail network, regional indigenous interpretation, zero carbon (Zen)

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