CDU plays host to harbour studies expert 


From left: Julia Fortune and Matthew Majid from the Aquatic Health Unit NTG, Professor Bill Dennison and Professor David Parry (AIMS) on Darwin Harbour Photo: Andrew Campbell.

One of the world’s leading experts on integrated harbour studies was in Darwin last week as a guest of Charles Darwin University (CDU) and the North Australian Marine Research Alliance (NAMRA).

Vice President for Science Applications at the University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science (UMCES), Professor Bill Dennison, explored Darwin Harbour with staff from CDU, the Northern Territory Government, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the chair of the Darwin Harbour Advisory Committee.

Professor Dennison said he was passionate about the need to improve the way science is communicated to ensure it can be influential in policy and management.

“Quite often there is a breakdown in communication between scientists, policy makers and elected officials because there is no translation of the technical language,” he said.

“It’s important we achieve a better translation of science to a wide range of audiences.

“My role in life is taking science and making it meaningful, so anyone in policy or management can understand through the use of imagery, graphs and easy-to-read details.

Professor Dennison said achieving results in science started with discovery, which led to integration and then application.

“I think it helps to see science as distinct activities,” he said.

“This is where everything happens, where we can see change and move forward.

“Good science mixed with positive communication ensures we move forward, that’s the magic.

“During my time in Darwin I have been able to communicate my experiences from South East Queensland and from America to hopefully give some knowledge and wisdom to inspire leadership.”

Dr Dennison was brought to Darwin by the North Australian Marine Research Alliance (NAMRA).

The NAMRA is an initiative between the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), CDU, the Australian National University and the Northern Territory Government.

The initiative aims to undertake collaborative research on marine issues in northern Australia, including Darwin Harbour, and to build marine capacity in Darwin through the Arafura-Timor Research Facility (ATRF) adjacent to CDU’s Casuarina Campus.

AIMS’ Science Leader and NAMRA Director David Parry said: “Darwin Harbour is one of four research themes for NAMRA, so it was a terrific opportunity for us to share some of Bill’s insights as we scope our research investments.”

Bill Dennison was impressed with what he saw, both around the harbour and in discussions with researchers in the laboratories of CDU and the ATRF.

“Darwin has enormous potential to develop as an important centre in marine research from what I have seen so far, especially as it is so close to the ‘hot spot’ of the Timor/Arafura Sea,” he said.

Professor Dennison was at the University of Queensland for 10 years and during this time developed an active marine botany group and played a leading role in the Healthy Waterways Campaign for Moreton Bay and its catchment.

He is now playing a similiar role in the Chesapeake Bay region on the east coast of the USA, where he has championed the development of report cards to illustrate key water quality and ecological health issues for a wide range of stakeholders.

CDU’s Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods (RIEL) Director Professor Andrew Campbell, who hosted Bill Dennison’s visit said: “Bill is an outstanding science leader, both for his deep understanding of marine science, and in particular for the way he can communicate that understanding and make it meaningful for a broad range of audiences.

“We are looking forward to ongoing collaboration with Bill and his team at the University of Maryland.”

Professor Dennison obtained his academic training from Western Michigan University (B.A., Biology and Environmental Science), the University of Alaska (M.S., Biological Oceanography), The University of Chicago (Ph.D., Biology), and State University of New York at Stony Brook (Postdoc, Coastal Marine Scholar).