Changing times: back to Australia and more eDNA

It’s been quiet here for a while, which I fully intend to change in the coming weeks. To get people up to speed, I’ll start by giving an update on what’s happened in the last months.

As you might remember, last time I wrote, I was doing research for the University of Leeds into the biodiversity of central Indonesia’s marine environment. We had some very interesting fieldwork trips and were using environmental DNA to describe the health of coral reefs. Unfortunately, COVID happened and the world got turned upside down. Fieldwork got cancelled, Europe went into lockdown, life slowed down.

Just before that happened though, my partner started her PhD in Australia. What was supposed to be a few months of separation turned into an indeterminate period of uncertainty when Australia decided to close its borders for anyone besides citizens and their immediate family. I made the decision to try to move back to Australia asap under the immediate family rule, just before the government introduced flight caps. This massively limited how many people could fly into the country and resulted in my booked flights being cancelled (and rebooked) 4 times.

It’s great to be back in Australia – “Look at me now” headland

Eventually I got lucky and landed in Sydney in mid August 2020. Two delightful weeks of quarantine later, I was declared COVID-free and released out into the wide Australian east coast. More specifically, Tanika and me are now living near Coffs Harbour, a lovely place midway between Sydney and Brisbane. While it’s not a lively city like Leeds or Perth, it more than makes up for that in nature. Its great to be living close to the ocean again, with ancient Gondwana rainforests nearby for hikes, and even a nice creek next door ideal for morning (or evening) kayaks.

Early morning kayak on the creek next door

Moving back to Australia did create logistical issues for my job in Leeds. Working from home might be the norm in many countries at the moment, the situation was not viable long-term. As soon as I arrived in Australia, I started applying for jobs and I am very glad to share that I got offered a position working for CSIRO, Australia’s national science organisation. CSIRO does a lot of exciting research, but might be best known (and celebrated) for inventing WiFi, Australia’s ocean-proof plastic bank notes, and coining the term petrichor: the smell of rain in the air.

Sunset surf at Diggers beach

I won’t be inventing new words at CSIRO (I think), but I am doing very exciting work at the intersection of hardcore scientific research and management. For the next 3 years I will be preparing a roadmap on how environmental DNA (eDNA) can be used to monitor Australia’s marine parks. If you have been following the blog, you’ll know that eDNA is an amazing new method to study the marine environment, but so far the use of eDNA is still mostly restricted to fundamental research. Together with members of Oceans and Atmosphere and the Environomics Future Science Platform, I’ll be turning the many findings and recommendations of eDNA researchers into a realistic pathway for managers of marine parks who want to start using eDNA. A big challenge, but an exciting one which will be research focused on direct, real world applications.

In the coming months I’ll try to get back to regular blogging, hopefully including updates on my new research, explainers of exciting new upcoming papers, and plenty of critters news!

New place, new critters! A juvenile pineapple fish (Cleidopus gloriamaris)