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Coastal marine ecosystems – managing human impacts (seagrass restoration in GLT) – Emma Jackson

Get to know Emma Jackson

Undertaking an RHD in coastal marine ecosystems will help you be part of the solution.

Coastal marine ecosystems – managing human impacts (seagrass restoration in GLT) – Emma Jackson

Personal experience

Despite originally wanting to be a tree surgeon, I quickly shifted to marine biology when I became old enough to snorkel. From the start, marine biology for me was always about how species interact with their environment and humans, and how things change over space and time.

My honours research examined how the ecology of a major estuary had changed over 20 years. Following this, I studied an MSc in Marine and Coastal Resources and Development, before taking up a part industry-funded PhD on the importance of seagrass habitat to fisheries. I built an incredible respect for what a fairly unnoticed marine habitat can provide in terms of benefits to the wider ecosystem, including humans. My postdoc positions were focused on large-scale drivers of change to coastal and marine habitats, and the knock-on effects (often negative) to these benefits.

A little frustrated with the dire scenes I was researching, I changed direction. I moved to CQUniversity five years ago to start researching what we can do to reverse declines and make things better through restoration or, ideally, changing how we use the marine environment to allow benefits to be sustained. I now research seagrass restoration in a major industrial port in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, the ideal place to make an impact.

Research at CQUniversity: Coastal marine ecosystems – managing human impacts (seagrass restoration in GLT) and the applications for businesses/society/the environment

CQUniversity’s reputation in coastal marine ecosystem research is growing, with new partnerships and research networks forging research collaborations which are synergistic rather than duplicative.

Central Queensland and, in particular, Gladstone is the perfect place to research seagrass restoration. It is quite literally research on the front line. Not only have there been large declines in seagrass due to urban and port development, but with these losses occurring within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and influencing the reef itself, what better place to research how to restore these meadows, and have some real impact? The Gladstone Marina campus has the sea and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area on its doorstep, and Port Curtis is an amazing mix of shipping, heavy industry and tourism, with some spectacularly-wild marine and coastal spaces.

Research has no impact unless it actively engages other researchers (to drive scientific knowledge forward), community (to address concerns, build empathy and action) and industry (to solve problems and promote innovation). Coastal marine ecosystem research at CQUniversity is all about keeping it real, through working with industry and community to ensure the research we do has real application and can make real changes for the better.

Choosing an RHD at CQUniversity means that you are part of the research team rather than just another student. You will engage with the community, industry and researchers within and beyond CQUniversity. The availability of facilities and equipment, and proximity to field sites mean that your research can develop in a supportive and flexible environment. Our students are particularly appreciative of CQUni’s coastal location, the facilities and the engagement with industry, community and other researchers.

Current research projects

Current and planned research undertaken at CQUni in coastal marine ecosystems includes: examining novel approaches to green engineering coastal habitat, through the beneficial reuse of industrial infrastructure and by-products; habitat-friendly coastal structures and multi-habitat restoration; the creation of ecosystem nurseries and the tools for restoration practitioners to develop restoration industries; mitigation and restoration through bio-filtration of nutrients and bio-stabilisation of sediments.

Our coastal marine environments are critical to human welfare. Take seagrasses… not only do they provide habitat for commercial and recreationally-important fish and shellfish, but they filter sediment and nutrients from coastal runoff, preventing coastal erosion; they are food for turtles and dugong; they trap carbon, offsetting our carbon footprint and reducing the acidity of our seas; and they even reduce water-borne pathogens. Coastal development continues to increase as we grow our ‘blue economy’, often at the detriment of coastal ecosystems and the benefits they provide. However, with the right research these are problems that can be solved. Undertaking an RHD in coastal marine ecosystems will help you be part of the solution.

Research career highlights

This is a split between being invited to give a keynote lecture on seagrass restoration at the Australian Marine Science Association Annual conference and meeting all the other dedicated restoration researchers in Australia, and seeing my first successful trials of restoring seagrass.

I love being a researcher, but if I wasn’t doing what I do now, I think I would be involved in doing on-the-ground environmental works that result from someone else’s applied research, either with government or consultancy.

Explore more about current research at CQUni’s School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences .