Obituary / Vale John Rumney

Vale John Rumney Port Douglas


John Rumney, a true hero and champion of the Great Barrier Reef has passed away.

He was the 2017 Douglas Shire Australian of the Year.

For more than 35 years, John along with his wife Linda, have been actively involved in ecotourism, research and conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. He was a visionary who created, founded and directed three highly respected organisations and businesses: the Great Barrier Reef Legacy (GBR Legacy) organisation, Undersea Explorer and Eye to Eye Marine Encounters.  These endeavours have supported hundreds of scientific studies, students and international documentaries, as well as raising the standards in terms of wildlife tourism and adventure diving.

John belonged to many different conservation projects and Councils, consulted for Climate Change panels, and worked alongside, and featured in, many environmental television programs and documentaries (including the Discovery Channel, VOX TV, National Geographic, ZDF, Stern, Channel 10 News, and 60 Minutes).

Sir David Attenborough was one of his many clients.

John won numerous awards for his excellence in environmental conservation. He sat on countless Boards and Committees that have paved the way for reef conservation and preservation. John was a key spokesperson in many documentaries about the Great Barrier Reef.

John used his interpretive and photographic skills, comprehensive ecological knowledge, nautical expertise, and contagious enthusiasm to found the Great Barrier Reef Legacy (GBR Legacy) organisation, which is a social enterprise created to address the urgent need to ensure the long-term preservation of the Great Barrier Reef.

GBR Legacy’s mission is to redefine the way that research, education, communication and conservation projects can be funded to solve environmental problems of the highest significance.

John’s submissions helped bring about the increased re-zoning of the protected areas of the Great Barrier Reef from 4.5% to 33%. He was involved in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to protect Coral Sea reefs that was signed by tourism and fishing industries to restrict fishing at sensitive Coral Sea reefs. This has now evolved into the Save the Coral Reef campaign.

He helped to establish the International Reef Check program, a non-profit foundation focused on monitoring the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

John actively participated in the development of Minke Whale Watching Guidelines. He implemented and trialed plans that are now the world standard, used by the International Whaling Commission for sustainable best practice in-water whale tourism, and have been used in the development of similar legislation in several other countries.

In his own words, he described what brought him to the Douglas Shire,

“I grew up in the United States and was enthralled by the underwater wonders that Jacques Cousteau captured in his documentaries. The dream of joining in my own version of a ‘Calypso’ adventure has never died for me, and today I lead a life on the Great Barrier Reef far beyond my youthful fantasies.”


“I arrived in Far North Queensland over 30 years ago, keen to explore the majesty and wonder of the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef is probably my heart and soul. I left the States to come here to explore it – and I’m still totally fascinated by it. “

“When I first arrived in Port Douglas I spent many years fishing and diving on the Reef; spending weeks at a time at sea with my wife Linda and eventually with my young family. Over time I started noticing that my idea of the Great Barrier Reef as a pristine wonderland didn’t match with what I was observing. Once I started to notice there were less and less fish then I changed my life more and more.”


We are so deeply grateful that John came here and dedicated his life to ensuring that the Great Barrier Reef has a future. The Great Barrier Reef Legacy organisation will always be seen has his generous gift to us and we thank him for this.

We pass on our deepest condolences to his wife Linda, his children, Shannon, Jenna and Nikki and his grandchildren.

 Image credit: Justin Gilligan, via Australian Geographic


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