I am a marine ecologist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). My research focusses on informing management and policy of major threats to tropical marine ecosystems, such as poor water quality from land-based run-off, emerging contaminants such as microplastics, and population outbreaks of Crown-of-Thorn Starfish. I presently lead the AIMS’ Team ‘Tropical Marine Water Quality and Impacts’ including 20 research scientist and technical staff, and 10 post-graduate students.
Before starting at AIMS in 2014, I worked at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Atherton and in Brisbane (2002-2014); and at NSW DPI Fisheries in Port Stephens (2000-2002). Here, my research focused on collaborative management of coastal zones to improve water quality and floodplain habitat for aquatic biodiversity and fisheries production.
During my postgraduate studies, I worked on the behavioral ecology and endocrinology of fish in tropical coral reef (Bonaire, Dutch Antilles) and temperate reef (Vancouver Island, Canada) environments.
1992 MSc eq. Biology, The University of Groningen, The Netherlands
1997 PhD Zoology, The University of British Columbia, Canada
2014 – current Australian Institute of Marine Science – Principal Research Scientist
2002 – 2014 CSIRO - Research Scientist / Senior Research Scientist / Principal Research Scientist
2000 – 2002 NSW Fisheries – Research Scientist
My research focusses on the ecology of coastal and marine ecosystems. I have published extensively on water quality and emerging contaminants such as pesticides and microplastics, and their potential impact on coastal and marine fishes, especially on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). These publications and associated research have informed policy, planning and management at both State and Federal Government levels.
At AIMS, I established the Microplastics team and conduct research on the ecological risks of microplastic contamination in tropical marine environments; a key knowledge gap for policy makers in Australia and globally. Our work focusses on developing baseline information on national levels of environmental contamination, examining intake and retention by marine organisms including seafood species, and assessing the effects on tropical marine organisms and ecosystems.
More recently, I have also focused on understanding the role of fish predation in regulating population outbreaks of Crown-of-Thorn Starfish (CoTS). Using new DNA technologies to detect Pacific CoTS (Acanthaster cf. solaris) in fish faecal and gut content samples, we found that direct fish predation on CoTS might well be more common than is currently appreciated. This includes species from the emperor family, including redthroat emperor, a popular fisheries species on the GBR. In current work, I am examining the influence of fish biomass removal by fisheries on CoTS population outbreaks.
Partnerships and collaborations have been an important component of my research at AIMS, as well as previously at the CSIRO and NSW DPI Fisheries. My work on improving water quality from land-based run-off has involved effective multi-institutional collaborations and direct engagement with Government and industry, including integral contributions to the 2013 and 2017 ‘Scientific Consensus Statement on Land use impacts on GBR water quality and ecosystem condition’.
At AIMS, my research on microplastics has resulted in new national and international collaborations, including with James Cook University, the CSIRO, and Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), and the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, University of Copenhagen, and the Institute of Oceanology Chinese Academy of Sciences. I presented our work at the National Plastics Summit in Canberra 2020, and my team is participating in various activities of the Commonwealth Blue Charter ‘Clean Ocean Alliance’ Action Group on Marine Plastic Pollution.
My work on water quality and microplastics have informed the update of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (2018), the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan 2017-2022, the ‘Threat Abatement Plan for the impacts of marine debris on the vertebrate wildlife of Australia’s coasts and oceans, Commonwealth of Australia 2018’, the 2014 and 2019 Great Barrier Reef Outlook reports, the Queensland Reef protection regulation and the Queensland Plastic pollution reduction plan.
My more recent research on CoTS has involved multi-institutional collaborations through the National Environmental Science Program Tropical Water Quality Hub, and through the Reef Trust Partnership CoTS Control and Innovation Program. For the latter, I am contributing to the design and delivery of a 3-year research and innovation program to improve CoTS control and surveillance.
- Adjunct Associate Professor, AIMS@JCU Division of Research and Innovation, JCU (2016 – current)
- Team Leader ‘Tropical Marine Water Quality and Impacts’, AIMS (2016 – current)
- Team Leader ‘Tropical marine contamination and eco-toxicology’, AIMS (2015 – 2016)
- Leader, IMOS New Technology Proving Sub-Facility Microplastics (2021 – current)
- Member, CoTS Working Group, National Environmental Science Program Tropical Water Quality Hub (2015 – 2021)
- Program Area lead, Reef Trust Partnership CoTS Control and Innovation Program (2020 – current)
- Contributor, Scientific Consensus Statement on Land use impacts on GBR water quality and ecosystem condition (2013, 2017)
- Member, Pesticide Working Group and Pesticide Community of Practice (2013 – current)
- Member, North Queensland Pest Fish Working Group (2006 – current)
Student supervision and teaching
- Advisor for one Postdoctoral fellow, supervisor or co-supervisor for seven PhD and Master’s postgraduate students
Marine and coastal water quality
Fish health and fisheries habitats
Marine microdebris, including microplastics
Pest species, including Crown-of-Thorn starfish: