Vale Martin Cunningham

It is with immense sadness that we record the death of Innisfail’s Martin Cunningham, following a tragedy in the waters off Bowen on 25 May. Martin, aged 43, was the son of Yvonne Cunningham, who some of you will know from her decades of conservation activity in the Innisfail region and as secretary of the former WPSQ branch. More recently many will know Yvonne from the mesmerising observations and photographs of the wildife that surrounds her home which she posts weekly on her blog, News from Coquette Point

Martin was a professional fisherman who is described as having had “saltwater running through his veins” and who grew up with a love of the ocean and the Reef. He had inherited Yvonne’s deep commitment to environmental protection and to sustainable practices in the use of our natural resources. 

Some readers will recall that last year Martin was instrumental in drawing attention to the huge amounts of sediment washing into North Queensland rivers from banana plantations along their banks and used a drone to get dramatic footage of the red plumes of soil being carried out to the reef. This material was delivered to the Queensland Minister for the GBR, Steven Miles, who confessed he had never seen video footage like it. This footage and a subsequent interview formed the basis for a hard-hitting  ABC Background Briefing program, Rivers of Red, in August last year. Listening again to a recording of the program I was struck by Martin’s passion to make a difference, to do everything in his power to protect the dying river and reefs that he knew and loved so well. 

This was just one of the threats that aroused Martin’s concern and which he brought to public attention. Others included the dumping of dredge spoil, the run-off of chemicals (and their inexpert or inappropriate use) and the high water temperatures which he recorded when he was at sea.

Now he is gone and the Reef and the rivers have lost a powerful and authentic voice – all the more valuable because he was a local born and bred, known, respected and loved by many in the community. 

For Martin’s family it must be a shocking and unbearable loss and we send to them our deepest sympathy. But, as with the sudden death of Felicity Wishart last year, we have all lost another of the Reef’s passionate defenders, way before their time, and sadly in what seems to be the hour of its greatest need.

The audio recording and transcript of the Rivers of Red program in which Gregg Borschmann interviews Martin and others, and some of the drone footage is still available – just click on the title above. Both the Townsville Bulletin and Cairns Post included some moving tributes to Martin in their coverage of this tragic event.

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