Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

For many, telling the story of the Great Barrier Reef is as important as the science of saving it. Shaney Hudson looks at the connections being forged by traditional owners, tourism corporations and scientists as they fight for the future of this global icon.

I’m floating face-down in the water. There’s a marine biologist bobbing to my left, an Indigenous ranger treading water to my right, and below us, the spectacular underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s even better than it looks in the oversaturated brochures, and spine-tingling to see with my own eyes.

It’s a relief. After years of media hype claiming the reef was dead, or dying, I’ve found coral gardens of pastel blue staghorns and elegant crimson fans, giant clams that flinch when we swim overhead, and a hive of fish—some cowardly, all colorful—darting in and around an ancient underwater ecosystem.

While the marine biologist explains the science, our sea ranger talks us through the Indigenous value of what we’re seeing: Giant sea cucumbers whose slimy secretion was used for sunscreen, coral used for ceremonial scarring, and the importance of this Sea Country to her people.