UWA Oceans Institute

What's in store for our marine scientists?

PostGrad Forum


PostGrad Forum Discussion

The Oceans Institute Postgraduate Forum.


A panel of distinguished experts from research, government, industry and academia gave a thought provoking address about the grand challenges facing our marine scientists over the next decade.

As panel chair, UWA Oceans Institute Associate Professor Julian Partridge opened to an audience of enthusiastic postgraduate marine researchers, declaring, “you will be responsible for managing the marine environment, and it’s important to pick up the baton as soon as you can.”

Dr Rick Fletcher, Executive Director of Research from the WA Department of Fisheries, framed the panel discussion in the context of the recently launched National Marine Science Plan which draws together the knowledge and experience of more than 23 marine research organisations, including the UWA Oceans Institute.

The plan serves to focus the activities of Australia’s marine science community on key areas to improve the level of coordination of the science and infrastructure required for the development of the blue economy.Rick served on the executive committee that developed the plan that identified seven grand challenges for marine research and eight recommendations that cut across all disciplines. He observed that food security and resource allocation were particularly challenging areas in marine science, noting successful fisheries management policy involves both science and social engagement.

“The real question [of fisheries management] is what is an acceptable level of impact?” Rick said. “We need to balance social acceptability with the conservation objectives; and our now, highly digital, society can change its expectations (and let its views be known) instantly.” The WA Department of Fisheries conducts audits for all fifty of its commercial state fisheries annually. The challenge is to deliver this in a regional but cost effective way, and while it’s important to continue to improve our fundamental understanding of WA’s ecosystems this needs to be matched to the needs of governance and better communication of the outcomes.“Think broadly,” Rick advises.

“Governments are looking for real-world solutions. It’s not enough to simply be a biologist; you need to understand what information means and how to apply it.” “There is a fast-growing need for cross-disciplinary knowledge and understanding in a Blue Economy.”Panel member Jock Clough is the Director of Australia’s largest abalone fishery and a long-term investor in abalone aquaculture. He provides extensive support for the Oceans Institute’s activities, particularly the Institute’s annual ‘Oceans Community’ outreach event. “There is an increasing need for science to have a demonstrable impact,” Jock said. “You need to look at where you can have a future impact, and ‘think big’ across disciplines.” 

He encouraged young scientists to be brave; to reach out to the commercial sector to understand their needs, and to turn industrial problems into exciting new research ideas.Jock believes marine aquaculture is a major emerging industry with huge economic and research potential for our marine scientists. “Marine aquaculture requires cross-discipline solutions in marine engineering, biology, conservation, sovereignty and economics,” he said, “and the capacity to generate substantial tonnage is huge.”Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s (WAMSI) CEO Mr Patrick Seares, made parallels between the National Marine Science plan and WAMSI’s A Blueprint for Marine Science, which focuses research priorities for industry and government to manage WA’s marine estate. Patrick emphasised the importance of bringing people from different backgrounds together to identify opportunities and needs in marine science and to turn ideas into action.

“There is a plethora of challenges and no shortage of opportunities,” Patrick said. “Emerging major topics such as decommissioning, bio-fouling, floating LNG design, and marine aquaculture require sustained investment into outcome-focused marine science.” He impressed upon the group the importance of reaching out to consultants, industry and decision makers.  “Work out who the end users of research are.” “You need the relationship with industry first and it is critical to understand the underlying governmental policies driving this research.”National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority’s (NOPSEMA) Environment Manager, Dr Christine Lamont, brought the industry perspective to the discussion. NOPSEMA is the offshore industries’ independent national regulator, ensuring activities are carried out in a safe, sustainable and environmentally acceptable manner.

Christine emphasised that NOPSEMA relies on scientific evidence underpinned by excellent research for its evidence-based decision-making. Christine noted the importance of recognising who the research end user is and what their needs are:  “The science needed by one end user may be entirely different from another, she said.” “We must design research programs that meet clearly articulated end user needs.” At the end of the day the aim is to achieve continuous improvement in environmental management and reduce scientific uncertainty around impact assessment so NOPSEMA can be less precautionary in their decision-making.

“There is a focus on innovation by industry to achieve better, cheaper and cleaner ways of operating, and research needs to support that,” said Christine.Closing the discussion, Emeritus Professor Alistar Robertson and former pro Vice Chancellor for Research at UWA, told our postgraduate audience the opportunities in marine science are great. “We are one of only a few countries to have a National Marine Science Plan to help us understand how to develop a blue economy.” “We’ve exploited the terrestrial environment (and not always wisely) but we’ve barely touched the surface of our marine ecosystems.” “There is great economic potential, but we must tap it wisely.”

Alistar highlighted the importance of working effectively together and understanding the landscape of where you are working.“Look at the policy papers behind the plans,” Alistar said, “they will provide context for what you do.” “Get involved in collaborations and develop a broader skill base.” He stressed the importance of quantitative skills: “I wish I had learned maths and chemistry and then biology,” Alistar told the students. “It’s important to develop deep skills, but be prepared to interact and to think across disciplines, and to have knowledge of drivers other than just science.

”The discussion opened to the audience with a focus on the balance between industrial research and that of the academic science community.“Turning issues into research questions is key,” the panel commented, echoing Jock Clough’s earlier challenge. “Industries are not thinking about research - they just want their issues resolved.” “Your job is to turn their issues into research programs.”

Panel chair, Julian Partridge wrapped up the event. “The UWA Oceans Institute has a role in all of this: excellence in research and teaching will underpin innovation and deliver science with impact,” he said. “It’s now up to you to work together to build Australia’s Blue Economy and ensure a strong future in marine science. ”

Read more about the latest news and activities at the UWA Oceans Institute www.oceans.uwa.edu.au/news-events/oceans-online