CMERC turns two and growing bigger every day

02 December 2021

Just two years after being founded' CQUniversity's Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) has cemented itself as one of Australia's leading marine science organisations.

In that short span of time CMERC has been commissioned to undertake more than $2 million in research projects' resulting in a doubling in the number of CQUni marine research staff' plus the recruitment of 15 additional research higher degree students (Masters or PhD level).

CMERC Director Associate Professor Emma Jackson attributes the rapid growth in staff numbers' research project activity and publication of reports in peer-reviewed scientific journals' to its strong focus on working with community and industry to develop practical and sustainable solutions for Australia's unique coast and marine environments.

"It's been a rapid – and sometimes challenging – period of growth for CMERC' but it really demonstrates the desire from our coastal communities' managers and industries for a specialist research facility like ours'" Dr Jackson said.

"In fact' the COVID lockout of international students has meant that we've been unable to keep up with demand from industry for researchers who are able to solve the real-world challenges. As a result' we currently have six industry-funded scholarships that are available for Masters and PhD students that we are seeking applicants for."

Headquartered on the shoreline of the Gladstone marina' CMERC is the only coastal and marine research facility in Central Queensland and features world-class research equipment and laboratories with access to cutting-edge analytical capabilities.

It was established in 2019 to undertake research following a 'working with nature' approach that recognises the place of the communities and industries that live and work along our coastlines.

"This means our work entails far more than just monitoring the condition of our environments – CMERC is undertaking proactive applied research from coastal catchments to sea' to develop practical solutions to the challenges facing coastal and marine ecosystems'" Dr Jackson said.

Research partners include the Gladstone Ports Corporation' the Great Barrier Reef Foundation' Department of Agriculture' Burnett Mary Regional Group' Fitzroy Basin Association and the Australian Seaweed Institute' and CMERC's flagship research activities include leading the restoration of Queensland's depleted seagrass banks.

"Seagrass plays a critical role in marine ecosystems' trapping sediments' storing carbon' and providing breeding habitat for fish' turtles and dugong'" Dr Jackson said.

"CMERC has Queensland's only seagrass nursery where we are cultivating seagrass seeds and replanting sea banks all with the help of volunteers in the community who want to assist in our efforts to protect the very thing that makes coastal living so wonderful.

"Our research team has also delivered vital work in the area of microplastic contamination of marine environments' which has included supporting the rollout of the simple and practical solution of installing 'Drain Buddies' nets over storm water outlets to capture plastic waste before it hits the sea."

A new initiative with Gladstone Ports involves designing seawalls packed with marine life by using ecological engineering approaches to infrastructure design. And a partnership with the Burnett Mary Regional groups looks at the impacts of large-scale restoration works. Meanwhile work with the Australian Seaweed Institute is focused on developing a circular economy of farming seaweed' which absorbs excess nutrients from the ocean' for on-sale as a methane-mitigating livestock feed or farm fertiliser.

"These are new and exciting approaches to solving some very difficult challenges facing our communities and our oceans – it's great to see so much support for CQUni's vision in creating CMERC. We can't wait to see what our third year brings!"