CONSERVATIONIST Derek Ball is clad in a shirt the colour of the deep blue ocean he so adores, but on this particular day he’s diving into the urban jungle of a Brisbane coffee shop, in which we meet.
A khaki backpack with an eco-friendly water bottle sits to his right, and to his left, the luggage he will take the following day to New Zealand, off on his next expedition.
Derek, 51, is the CEO of Wild Mob, an Australian-based not-for-profit organisation, dedicated to long-term conservation initiatives which empower local communities.
This biologist and zoologist, along with his team of fellow scientists, ecologists, educators and adventurers, takes paying volunteers on conservation expeditions to Australian and New Zealand destinations. It works on a principle of 4 C’s: Conservation, Culture, Community and Commerce.
Graeme Wood, who founded the successful online travel company Wotif.com in 2000, and the Graeme Wood Foundation, which supports environmental sustainability, the arts and education, in 2006, conceived Wild Mob eight years ago.
Interestingly, the scientist in Derek was skeptical when first approached about the concept.
“I wasn’t quite sure it would work to be honest. But after three cups of coffee I thought ‘let’s give it a go’,” he says.
“We started out low key in our first few years. Now we are working with islands off of Queensland and in central Queensland, Tasmania, Melbourne, Norfolk Island, New Zealand and are looking to expand into Fiji and the South Pacific.”
I stumbled across Derek purely by chance a few weeks ago when I was on Norfolk Island, a place he describes as a “global biodiversity hotspot” and where he regularly takes groups.
It’s a long way from Outback Queensland’s mining town of Mount Isa where he was born, but it was a trip to the Great Barrier Reef when he was six which changed his world and saw him enamoured with the ocean and its marine inhabitants.
“That was it for me. Everyone has their place in the world and this is mine,” he says.
“It is pretty close to the best job in the world. I get to do stuff I love doing and make the world a better place and have the best time doing it.
“You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool greenie, a scientist, professor or career conservationist, every single person can come out with us.
“On every single trip we do, we get to a stage where people realise what they are doing and after a couple of days they get it. People just go ‘we are out here, making the world a better place’. People go away changed.”
Derek says the beauty of Wild Mob expeditions is that they attract every demographic.
“We target school groups. In my view it is they who are teaching us. They inherit this place. Engaging with kids is absolutely critical. Younger people just get it, they’ve been exposed to far more information than the older generation,” he says.
“But we get everyone from 18 year olds to 83 year olds. There are more women. Women are more empathetic and think through the world much better than men. They tend to be more willing to give than blokes are. Women know how to pace themselves and that it’s not a competition.
“And we get all occupations and from all walks of life. Our expeditions are as much about sociology as conservation. Most of my team are introverts and they are really great project leaders because they observe.”
According to the latest annual report published by Wild Mob, in one year it attracted 333 volunteers who worked for 1843 field days and contributed $440,000 worth of their time. More than $500,000 was spent in local communities; 154 students were taught in six outdoor classrooms; and more than 1300kg of marine debris was removed from 10km of marine turtle nesting beaches.
During the same period, 9ha of bridled nail-tail wallaby nursery habitat was protected from cats; weeds were controlled in 35ha of critically-endangered littoral rainforest; and conservation and survey work completed on 50 islands along a 500km stretch of the Great Barrier Reef.
As recently as last month, Wild Mob announced through its hard work and community collaboration, it was close to establishing a second population of one of the world’s most rare birds, the Norfolk Island Green Parrot, on neighbouring Phillip Island.
But while there are many wins, work as a conservationist is not all sunshine and lollipops with Derek recently posting a scathing attack on social media in which he described leaders of Australian governments as a “dragon’s lair of personal vilification, bigotry, ignorance and greed.”
“That particular day I was frustrated as all get out. There are so many challenges in this country and so many opportunities. You can’t fix the problem without having a purpose, there is no vision in Australia.
“Where do the Australian people want to be in the year 2050? What sort of country do you want to live in?
“As a scientist you need to be objective and logical but I’m allowed to have emotions as well.”
He believes the Australian Greens are “ineffectual” and that the Australian Government “pisses a huge amount of money against the wall”, spending $6 billion a year on the environment without managing to save one endangered species.
It would be easy to assume this vocal conservationist is without fear, he loves sharks “they are perfectly adapted to their environment”; and is happy to remove a deadly taipan from a house; but he does find Australian crocodiles “challenging to work with”.
Just don’t call him a Wildlife Warrior, Conservation Crusader or, even worse, a “bloody Greenie”.
“I am nothing so melodramatic. I am very much Mr Average. One of the great things about Wild Mob is that you meet some very impressive people,” he says.
“The Greenies make our lives so much harder. I want to spend time with people who can find balance in the world.
“Being a conservationist is pretty bloody tough. I can’t think of a time in the past 30 years when it’s been so bloody hard to find money for the environment.
“But I am not going to stop. There is no retirement plan at all.”
To find out more about Wild Mob’s work, upcoming expeditions or to donate to conservation causes, go to https://wildmob.org/about/ Photos in this blog courtesy of Wild Mob
The Global Goddess travelled to Norfolk Island as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism – http://www.norfolkisland.com.au and Air New Zealand – http://www.airnewzealand.com.au