STUDENTS from Reef Guardian Schools in Gympie are being enlisted to protect their local environment for the benefit of plants, animals and habitats near the shoreline of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
More than 40 student leaders from six schools are taking part in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's 2012 Future Leaders Eco Challenge which includes hands-on activities at the Gympie State High School Agricultural Farm today.
GBRMPA Reef Guardian Schools acting program manager Carolyn Luder said students would learn how inland, coastal, marine and reef catchment areas were interconnected and reliant on one another to function.
"Inshore ecosystems cover about 10% of the Great Barrier Reef and are made up of a diverse range of habitats including seagrass meadows, salt marshes, mangroves, estuaries and beaches," she said.
"Some of these habitats and species may not be part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area but they are interconnected and vital to the health of the reef.
"These areas are under a lot of pressure from a range of impacts including coastal development and declining water quality, so it's vital students understand the need for long-term protection of these habitats."
Burnett Local Marine Advisory Committee chair Sue Sargent said the Future Leaders Eco Challenge was a great opportunity for students and teachers.
"We all know the future of our natural resources will rest with our children, but having participated in these events, they give me confidence that tomorrow's leaders are up to the task," she said. "Gympie is part of the Great Sandy Biosphere - an area recognised by UNESCO for its outstanding biodiversity values.
"The event will show students how we can all live more sustainably in this region, whether it be going plastic free, planting a school vegetable garden or composting food waste.
"All of these little changes add up to a better environment in which to live."
The event will be jointly hosted with Cleveland District State High School, with support from the Earth Smart Science program, Waterwatch, Gympie and District Landcare, Burnett Mary Regional Group and the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry.
Reef Guardian Schools is an environmental education program run by GBRMPA.