Thesis ‘Development and application of fatty acid tracers to assess the impacts of White Shark cage-diving on target and non-target species’
Sharing the experience and insights;
I am thrilled to have been awarded the HDR Student research Impact Prize, as it recognises long term efforts by my supervisors and myself to better understand white shark cage-diving in South Australia, as well as corporate work to build a more collaborative environment in animal research. The whole team put in so much effort to develop the research, winning this award is a tremendous honour that reflects the level of input by the whole team.
I have always really enjoyed the challenge of research. As soon as I was an undergrad volunteering for PhD students and being involved in their research, knew I wanted to do a PhD too.
I was incredibly lucky to have such wonderful supervisors led by Dr. Charlie Huveneeners. I moved from interstate for the PhD project, having not met Charlie or the rest of the supervisor team. The advertised PhD project combined several elements I was interested in researching (biochemisty, shark diet, and tourism), so I was initially drawn to the project.
I was aware it was led by Charlie, whose research I was familiar with, but I had not met or worked with him before. I asked my honours supervisors at JCU about the team, and they all recommended working with group, so I trusted their recommendation and came to Flinders.
It was a risk, but worked out wonderfully, as Charlie was an outstanding supervisor and I was very lucky to get to work with him.
It is very difficult to pick a single highlight during my time at Flinders. I loved the fieldwork component of my work, as spending time cage-diving with white sharks was thrilling and presented an exciting logistical challenge for collecting tissue samples.
However, I enjoyed the statistics and analysis component of my PhD just as much as the field work. This is where I got to explore the results of all of the difficult fieldwork, and it made it just as exciting as collecting the samples.
Early on, several of the biochemical methods I further developed throughout my PhD were not well understood, and only just beginning to be applied.
Getting to develop them further, and then apply them to complex question about shark trophic ecology is what I am most proud of.
I recommend trying out a few ideas that seem a little kooky. They might not work at all, or they could work great.
Use your PhD as an opportunity to learn as much as you can, and as you learn you will approach new ideas differently to those already in the field.
Use that fresh viewpoint as a means to be creative when you approach challenges, even if you are not in a traditionally ‘creative’ field, like biochemistry.
I completed my PhD and graduated in September 2019. Since, I have been working for Flinders and the Georgia Aquarium, applying the biochemical methods from my PhD to the question of tiger shark diet.
We are working to better understand what these sharks eat throughout the world to determine where they might be at risk of ingesting plastic from specific prey items. Tiger sharks commonly eat turtles, rays, and seabirds, several of which are notorious for consuming plastic.
Where these animals are consumed by tiger sharks, the sharks may be accumulating high plastic loads, with unknown impacts on their survival.
I hope to continue to expand the use of biochemical tracers for detailing shark diet.
To do so, I am hoping to build the capacity to do these cutting edge biochemical analyses at Flinders, bringing in research students to build up an ecology group that can answer some of the most challenging questions in food web ecology.
I am interested in how multiple species share ‘space’ in a food web, and would like to expand what we know about resource competition in sharks.