Research Fellow recognised in Women Divers Hall of Fame

Scuba-diving to collect vital field data on the health of the Great Barrier Reef is an important part of what our marine scientists at the Australian Rivers Institute do.

Dr. Emma Kennedy, a research fellow at the Australian Rivers Institute has received an award from the Women Divers Hall of Fame, an organisation that promotes exceptional women divers across the world. Women tend to be underrepresented in the diving community and this award acknowledges the contributions of women in the exploration, greater understanding, safety, and enjoyment of the underwater world.

“I’m extremely grateful to receive this training grant. I think the thing I’m most excited about is learning to use the power tools underwater”

Dr Emma Kennedy

The award supports Dr. Kennedy to undertake specialist dive training which will help in her research on the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

diver

A diver brings the final set of experiments to the surface using a float bag. Credit: Nik Taylor

Monitoring ecosystems can be a useful way of tracking the impacts of environmental change. As part of a Great Barrier Reef Foundation project, ARI researchers have been designing and testing a monitoring protocol to track impacts of ocean acidification (caused by carbon dioxide pollution) on the Great Barrier Reef. Increased carbon dioxide isn’t visible in our oceans in the way that other forms of pollution (like oils, plastic and cloudy sediments from floodwaters). However, by monitoring the health of coralline algae, a key indicator species sensitive to changes in seawater chemistry, we can see what effects ocean acidification is having on the reef in real time. A large component of this marine research has involved making underwater observations: this means a lot of time spent underwater for our scientists, using scuba-diving to set up experiments right along the length of the Great Barrier Reef.

Diving at remote field sites can be physically demanding and dangerous: surging conditions on the exposed outer reefs being just one the many hurdles regularly encountered by our scientists! To carry out their coralline algae research, the Coral Reef Algae Lab field team, led by Dr. Emma Kennedy, moved between field sites, spending up to seven hours a day underwater building ‘calcification monitoring stations’ to collect baseline data on coralline algae calcification rates right along the length of the reef. Spending between an hour and two hours underwater at any one time, the field team completed 458 people-dives in order to complete the work between them (the equivalent to 45 days underwater!). The data collected will feedback into existing reef monitoring schemes, helping to inform better reef management.

dive boats

Securing research boats at Heron Island after a long day of diving. Credit: Marine Briand

Up until now Dr Kennedy had to make do with mallets and hammers to secure her experiments to the reef. The new training will let her use more efficient equipment like power tools to attach equipment. This will save time and make the work more efficient and safer for everyone. For now though, its back to the lab to analyse all the data collected last year. Our warmest congratulations to Emma, who will travel to Hobart to complete her Commercial Dive Training at UTAS in November.

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