Collette Bagnato

Here to protect and preserve! Meet nature’s ally—Marine Park Ranger, Collette

As workplaces go, it doesn’t get much better than the Great Barrier Reef. But here, Collette Bagnato reveals a more rewarding aspect of being a Marine Park ranger: contributing to the conservation of marine world heritage.

Finding purpose in nature’s diversity

From observing complex marine powerhouses in the Great Barrier Reef, to battling the blistering blazes of bushfires on the mainland, no two days are quite the same in Collette’s role as a Marine Park ranger.

“The best part of our role,” she shares,” is the diversity; you never know what is going to happen.”

Collette and her team monitor the island national parks along the southern section of the Great Barrier Reef. That includes the Capricornia Cays, Swains Reef and Keppel Island Group.

Integral to her role are preparation and contingency planning, compliance and education, incident response and research surveying.

Photo of Collette Bagnato

Collette Bagnato

“We’re preserving some of Australia’s most historic and breathtakingly beautiful sites. Climate change remains one of the biggest threats, and nature and the weather can be totally unpredictable. Whether it be a vessel grounding on a coral reef or a tropical cyclone that’s ravaged through the region, one of our responsibilities is to conduct site assessments for damage and act quickly to minimise any adverse impacts or events.”

Although there are challenges to overcome, Collette is confident in her ability to make a difference.

“Exploring the coral reefs reveals the most amazing ecosystems—a world brimming with life and colour! Some of the reef is proving resilient and in beautiful condition, but I’ve also seen reefs with less than 1% coral cover due to predation by Crown of Thorns Starfish. It’s heartbreaking, but that’s why we’re here: to be change-makers and innovators. I want my nieces and nephews to see what I’m seeing now.”

The call of the wild

Collette’s passion for the natural world started many years ago, inspired by her mother.

“I’ve always been obsessed with the water and had a deep connection with animals. As a child, my Mum taught us to swim before we could walk. I think her affinity with nature resonated with me the most. We grew up around animals by the reef, so we snorkelled at every opportunity. We had an awesome upbringing and I wanted to continue this through to my life and career.”

Collette kicked off her career as a diving instructor on the Great Barrier Reef where she quickly progressed to working on Heron Island as a research support officer. During her time at the research station Collette had the opportunity to work closely with a team of global researchers and Marine Park rangers. So, when a Marine Park ranger role was advertised she felt ready to make the move.

Today, Collette has found balance in a role where she contributes to both conservation and research.

“We have the most stunning reefs and cays in the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Around 80% of Australia’s Pisonia forests are found on the Capricornia Cays, and around 75% of the nesting seabirds on the whole Great Barrier Reef breed in the Capricornia Cays and Swains Reef.

“For the last few years, during winter and summer seasons, we’ve been conducting seabird surveys at the Capricornia Cays and Swains Reef. Just recently, a research paper on the seabird breeding populations trends was released which included all our data collection. It’s gratifying to know our work contributes to the greater ecology of saving the reef.”

Inspiring others to succeed

With a role that offers ample opportunities to protect the environment, Collette shares the intrinsic value of being a Marine Park ranger.

“There are more diverse ecosystems under water than there are in our rainforests. Yet there’s so much we still don’t know. We’re learning all the time.

“I feel blessed to work as a Marine Park ranger in the Great Barrier Reef. The work can be challenging, but we love our jobs. In what other role could I encounter whales (including Migaloo the white whale) or pods of dolphins, manta rays and dugongs while cruising around on a boat?

“Every day is an unforgettable experience. We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t passionate about the environment and conserving it for future generations.”

Collette offers the following insight and advice for ambitious future Marine Park rangers.

“I recommend aspiring Marine Park rangers to roll their sleeves up and start by volunteering. You’ll be able to identify your passion and show your willingness to be involved. In this industry, it’s all about relationship-building.”

Are you interested in working with us?

Want to explore a career that protects and conserves marine national parks in Queensland? Discover your next opportunity here.