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Dec

TropWATER’s Dr Ian McLeod wins 2020 Eureka Prize for Applied Environmental Research

James Cook University scientists are celebrating two wins at last night’s ‘Oscars of Australian science’, the Eureka Prizes.

A team of scientists led by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU has won the 2020 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research.

Social-Ecological Research Frontiers is led by Professor Josh Cinner. The international team includes scientists from seven Australian institutions, with Dr Michele Barnes, Dr Jacqui Lau and Dr Georgina Gurney rounding out the Coral CoE at JCU team.

“We study coral reefs bucking the trend and thriving despite climate change, over-fishing and pollution,” Prof Cinner said. “Some coral reefs have surprisingly high amounts of fish despite high human pressures. We call these reefs ‘bright spots’.”

Studying bright spots can help inform new solutions to tackle the decline of reefs worldwide. The team used a blend of social science, ecology and other disciplines to identify and learn more about these unique areas.

Rebuilding Australia’s Lost Shellfish Reefs has won the 2020 Eureka Prize for Applied Environmental Research.

This collaboration between JCU, The Nature Conservancy, and the Universities of Adelaide and Tasmania has documented the decline of Australia’s once-extensive shellfish reefs and identified what needs to be done to repair and conserve them.

“Early maritime explorers such as Cook and Flinders regularly referred to extensive shellfish reefs, formed by dense aggregations of oysters and mussels,” said Dr Ian McLeod, Principal Research Scientist at JCU’s TropWATER.

From early European settlement of Australia, vast quantities of oysters and mussels were harvested for food and as a source of lime for mortar, until less than one per cent of Australia’s shellfish reefs remained.

“These reefs, which once stretched around our southern coastline, provide food, clean water, boost fish populations and protect our shorelines,” Dr McLeod said.

“Bringing our shellfish reefs back from the brink will reinstate those vital ecosystem services, benefitting the marine and coastal environments and all who rely on them.

“The Australian Government’s recent $20 million Reef Builder commitment to rebuild reefs at 13 locations around Australia is a giant step towards recovering this lost ecosystem and puts Australia and JCU at the forefront of underwater marine restoration.”

Dr McLeod and Adjunct Associate Professor Chris Gillies led the team, with collaborators from The University of Adelaide and the University of Tasmania. The research is supported by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program Marine Biodiversity Hub.

JCU Provost Professor Chris Cocklin congratulated all the researchers involved, along with their collaborating institutions.

“The Eureka Prizes are independently judged, and recognize the very best in Australian Science,” Professor Cocklin said. “To bring home two such awards at the end of a tough year is a great achievement and a well-earned tribute to all involved.”

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