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Globetrotting ocean lover can't believe how lucky we are

Geoff Gearheart is a fascinating man, who's lived all over the world with his partner Elizabeth Johnstone and daughter Ella, 3, and he can't believe how lucky the Sunshine Coast is as a region.
Geoff Gearheart is a fascinating man, who's lived all over the world with his partner Elizabeth Johnstone and daughter Ella, 3, and he can't believe how lucky the Sunshine Coast is as a region. Patrick Woods

AN HOUR-long Sunshine Coast Council debate over whether or not to remove six pandanus trees from a Shelly Beach sand dune showed Geoff Gearheart just how lucky this region is.

Born in Holland, raised in Europe and Indonesia and spending time in Latin America, the marine biologist had spent the past six years in the US with wife Elizabeth Johnstone before moving to Australia in January, 2015.

With both Mr Gearheart and his wife holding PhDs, they were lucky enough to secure permanent residency and attention soon turned to deciding where to establish their Aussie base.

Keen surfers, the breaks of Caloundra were too good to pass up, being the closest surf to Brisbane out of the "shadow" of Bribie Island, so the move was made to idyllic Shelly Beach.

 

Sitting in the Caloundra council chambers last month as debate raged over tree clearing on sand dunes, Mr Gearheart was struck with flashbacks to council meetings in Indonesia and elsewhere.

"I get these flashbacks and memories," he said.

"It's like an amazing perspective on things."

He said the council's pandanus tree debate made him realise that people on the Coast were lucky enough to have the luxury to worry about those sorts of issues, which made it such a great place to live.

Is Australia still the lucky country?

This poll ended on 30 April 2017.

Current Results

Yes, I love living here.

40%

Yes, but we have to stay vigilant to keep it that way.

60%

I don't think it ever has been.

0%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

"(In San Diego) they'd be discussing how to keep crystal meth out of the school," Mr Gearheart recalled.

Moving from a strip of 30 million people between Los Angeles and San Diego, the accomplished ocean-goer said the lack of population density in Australia was one of the most attractive parts about it.

 

Geoff Gearheart is a fascinating man, who's lived all over the world with his partner Liz Johnstone and daughter Ella, 3, and he can't believe how lucky the Sunshine Coast is as a region.
Geoff Gearheart is a fascinating man, who's lived all over the world with his partner Liz Johnstone and daughter Ella, 3, and he can't believe how lucky the Sunshine Coast is as a region. Patrick Woods

He loved the fact people could move around freely, find space of their own easily and raise children in nature, and believed it was reflected in tranquillity in a lot of people's psyches.

"I think that's one of the main things that makes Australia so special," Mr Gearheart said.

The couple have one child, daughter Ella, 3, and are hoping to have another and raise them both on the Coast.

They both travel regularly for work, Elizabeth in her work as a marine geologist for IX Survey and Geoff for his work advising on marine conservation programs, which takes him to places like the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

"It is very nice to come back to Caloundra," he said.

His love of the ocean started as a 12-year-old in southern Java, when his dad gave him a mask "and that was it".

"From that moment on I wanted to be a marine biologist," he said.

"My parents encouraged me."

Raised on famed French naval officer Jacques Cousteau, Mr Gearheart likened Cousteau's influence on him and other youths of his time to that of Steve Irwin's on kids of the early 2000s.

He admits it's not the most financially-rewarding career path, but coupled with his Kalawai Adventure business which takes people to West Papua on a traditional Indonesian sailing boat charter, he's found a way to make a living from his passion.

Taking 10-12 guests at a time, often many Coast locals he meets in the community, he takes them to see places he knows well and gives them an opportunity to experience nature and marine conservation done a little differently.

"They're (locations) off the beaten track," he said, adding they were the most valuable coral reefs in the world.

"It's a really cool adventure."

He said it gave conservation fans a new perspective on the challenges in places like West Papua, where he said it was not uncommon for police-owned fishing boats to fish with dynamite, or for poachers and locals alike to take home massive turtles to feed or sell.

"You realise (as a Westerner)... people face basic challenges in life, it's about feeding their kids," the 44-year-old said.

Both Geoff and Elizabeth are doctors in science, holding PhDs from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the world's oldest and most-respected marine science institutes.

Born in Indonesia and raised in the US, Elizabeth said she enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere of the Coast, a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Brisbane.

She's been busy in her work undertaking sea floor mapping of Seqwater reservoirs as well as working on other projects in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

The Coast was a perfect home base for the couple with its significant turtle breeding grounds familiar territory for Geoff, who has 17 years of experience in sea turtle biology.

Topics:  education environment lifestyle marine monday people offbeat profile sunshine coast sunshine coast council


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