Azure, tropical water, golden beaches, turtles…This week’s Real Scientists curator may have the coolest job ever. I know we say that every week, but it’s true. Real Scientists takes you to sunny, semi-tropical Townsville, Australia to meet Environmental Scientist Dr Mark Hamann (@turtlesatJCU), Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science at James Cook University. Mark’s research focuses on minimising human impacts to tropical marine wildlife and their habitats. Originally hailing from Adelaide, South Australia, Mark completed his PhD at the University of Queensland, spent some time in the Northern Territory and went on to work for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. He travelled the Vietnamese coast, talking to people about turtles. So he got to look at the scientific and social aspects of turtle habitats and conservation.
Mark returned to Queensland to research the effects of a new mega-dam on the habitats of freshwater turtles, and ended up staying in Queensland.
Mark has four main areas of research. He assesses the vulnerability of marine wildlife (marine turtles, dugong and inshore dolphins) to climate change, plastic pollution and coastal development. He also gets to attach gadgets to marine turtles and dugongs to study their behaviour in coastal environments. In looking at how human waste affects the environment, he is developing techniques to quantify plastic pollution in river and coastal environments. And he also carries out research associated with developing community-based projects for marine turtles in Torres Strait.
As with many scientists who are not lab-based, Mark’s work involves complex environments, systems, varied work and multiple stakeholders:
Within these projects I combine field based and experimental biological science with quantitative and qualitative social science. Most of my research involves working alongside Industry, Government agencies, Indigenous communities and NGOs to strengthen management options for marine wildlife in Australia. I am involved with several national and international marine turtle initiatives. For example I am the Co-Vice Chair of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group and a member of the IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU’s Science Advisory Panel. I have a great group of post-graduate students who help keep me sane and ensure that I actually go out and look at turtles every so often.
We asked Mark how he ended up in science:
My path into science has taken a few turns. I enjoyed science at school, but I did not really think of it as a career because I did not really know what scientists did. I loved the outdoors and the environment and by chance I met some biologists at Innes National Park and after a few camp fire chats I was convinced to apply to a University. I started with an environmental science major at UNE, switched to zoology and biochemistry at Flinders and then did a PhD in anatomy at UQ. I took a similarly convoluted path to from post doc to academic.