Jessica Meeuwig Lecture

23 July 2019


Jessica Meeuwig

Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering logo

Pulling Back the Big Blue Curtain: big fish and big parks

A public lecture by Jessica Meeuwig, Professor of Marine Science, The University of Western Australia and 2019 Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering Eminent Speaker.

Oceans are fundamental to life on planet “earth”. Over 72% of the planet’s surface is water; every 2nd breath we take is oxygen produced by the sea; and our food security depends on protein caught from the ocean. Yet humans are rapidly transforming our oceans and not in a good way. Globally, we are literally emptying the oceans of fish. Only 5% of hammerhead and thresher sharks remain relative to their numbers in 1950. Tunas are down to approximately 40% of historical numbers, and in the case of southern bluefin tuna, 95% are gone. In Australia, some estimates suggest that over 30% of large fish have been fished out, with large tiger, white and hammerheads declining by up to 92% in Queensland. In Western Australia, key species such as western rock lobster, dhufish and herring became so depleted that catch was cut in half to allow stocks to rebuild.

In the face of these challenges, marine parks, areas where marine life is protected from fishing, have been strongly advocated for by the science community as research shows that the coastal fish diversity, abundance and size increases in these protected areas. Australia has now established large marine parks in our offshore “big blue” waters and the question is: how does ocean wildlife respond to protection. We explore this question by deploying non-destructive baited video cameras in offshore waters to identify, count and measure ocean wildlife. This is a window onto our new marine parks.

Jessica Meeuwig is a Professor of Marine Science at the University of Western Australia. She grew up in Saudi Arabia, obtained her SCUBA diving ticket at 15, giving her a closeup view of marine life from an early stage. Trained as a marine biologist, she has worked in the Caribbean, southeast Asia, the Baltic, Canada and now Australia for the last 18 years. Her research group, the Marine Futures lab focuses on conservation-driven research, with particular attention on the role that highly protected marine parks can play in rebuilding healthy resilient oceans. Her research group has pioneered the development and use of mid-water baited remote underwater video systems to further our understanding of our open ocean wildlife – such as tunas, sharks and marine mammals – so that we can better manage these important species.

Jessica’s efforts for our oceans have been widely acknowledged – she was a finalist for West Australian Science Communicator of the Year (2012), a finalist for West Australian of the Year (2017) and now the 2019 Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering’s Eminent Speaker. A strong communicator and advocate for oceans – Jessica believes that sharing research is fundamental to our collective efforts to create flourishing oceans.