2013 winner of The Nature Conservancy Applied Conservation Award


Congratulations Kathryn Berry, James Cook University

Congratulations to Kathryn Berry, 2013 winner of The Nature Conservancy Applied Conservation Award for her project  "The Physical and Chemical Effects of Coal on Marine Biota". Kathryn will receive a $6000 research grant as well as funded attendance to EcoTas13 in Auckland, New Zealand to receive her award and to ESA14 in Alice Springs to present The Nature Conservancy address. More detail on Kathryn's project is provided below.

Highly Commended awards were presented to Peter McDonald (USyd) for his project 'Mammal refuges and predator occurrence in the MacDonnell Ranges'' and Stephen Griffiths (La Trobe) for his project 'Investigating the thermal suitability of artificial nest box microclimates  and their effect on box occupancy'.Both Peter and Stephen received a complimentary 2014 ESA membership.

'The Physical and Chemical Effects of Coal on Marine Biota'

Very little is known regarding the biological effects of coal on marine organisms to competently evaluate risks of coal contamination in the marine environment. This is of particular interest since a series of port developments and expansions are currently planned along the eastern coast of Australia that will facilitate increased exportation of coal overseas. A likely 4-fold expansion in coal export by the end of the decade will result in a significant rise in shipping traffic through the Great Barrier Reef, potentially increasing the likelihood of accidents such as the grounding of the coal carrier Shen Neng 1 in 2010.  While shipping accidents may result in spills of up to 100,000 tonnes, coastal habitats are already chronically exposed to coal dust. Consequently, unknown quantities of coal dust enter the marine environment and are subsequently dispersed via currents to other coastal ecosystems, including coral reefs.

The overall objective of this project is to determine whether the expansion of coal exportation along the Queensland coast poses a threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem. We aim to identify some of the ecological implications of coal pollution in the Queensland marine environment, particularly at coral reefs, and to define its toxicity for certain coral species. This project will involve multiple aquaria experiments and field monitoring for comparisons of sites exposed to- and sheltered from influences of coal dust. Both coral mortality and sub-lethal indicators of stress (bleaching, reduced photosynthesis etc.) will be used. Specifically the project will:

  • Identify the potential biological effects of various exposure routes (i.e. coal in suspension and spill scenarios) of coal to coral reefs, and establish threshold concentrations of coal dust that are harmful to corals (lethal and sub-lethal).
  • Determine whether these effects are due to the leaching of metals or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), or a physical process (i.e. smothering, abrasion, reductions in light or feeding ability).
  • Monitor concentrations of coal particulates in the sediment and water adjacent to existing ports, in the vicinity of river mouths of catchments within which coal is transported from mine to coast, and within the spatial extent of flood plumes from these rivers.

The overall aim of this project is to provide industry and regulators with scientifically rigorous information to improve impact assessments, risk modelling and management of coal dust in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

ESA gratefully acknowledges the ongoing support of The Nature Conservancy and the Thomas Foundation in generously funding this significant applied student award.