1. Describe the first time you saw the Great Barrier Reef.
I visited in 1994 and went to Orpheus Island with Dr Terry Done from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. At this point I’d only worked on Caribbean reefs so I was overwhelmed with the diversity of corals and fish (about 10 times higher in Australia). It was an inspirational moment and I remember looking at all the corals and thinking – how do we ever figure this ecosystem out? I still find myself thinking that today, though I’m not quite as clueless as I was then.
2. You were born and studied in England. How did you come to be working in Australia?
Have you ever experienced an English winter? Or an English spring or autumn for that matter? Actually, I’d been undertaking research in the Caribbean but then started working on Pacific reefs in Palau in around 2003. Pacific reefs are so much more complex than those of the Caribbean and I wanted to rise to the challenge. I’d also spent time at UQ on sabbatical in 2004 and fell in love with Queensland so when you add the prospect of countless English winters and the opportunities here at UQ, it was a no-brainer. My move was greatly facilitated by being awarded a Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council.
3. What’s been your career highlight to date?
Before my research career began I was designing marine zoning plans for the Belize Barrier Reef. At that point we had almost no science to guide us and my career goal became to provide science to help make useful decisions and anticipate the consequences of those actions. So, every time our research helps someone make a decision – be it a fisheries policy, marine park area design, intervention strategy for crown-of-thorns starfish – I feel delighted. But I also love the transformation you see in students and post-docs as they make new discoveries, and the very process of discovering new things. I feel like for every step we take forward in understanding coral reefs, we have to take half a step back as we gain renewed respect for the sheer complexity and resilience of nature.