A PhD student from The University of Western Australia who has a passion for marine conservation will research the impact of overfishing of sharks on marine ecosystems.
The research is being made possible through the 2016 Keiran McNamara World Heritage PhD Scholarship.
Emily Lester, 25, of Mount Lawley, said she would be observing the behaviour of reef fish and sharks in and around the world heritage area of Ningaloo.
The scholarship, open each year to WA university students, is named in memory of the late Keiran McNamara who was Director-General of the Department of Environment and Conservation (previously CALM) and worked tirelessly to secure World Heritage status for Shark Bay, Ningaloo Coast and Purnululu.
The McNamara family donated $500,000 to fund the scholarships to build on Mr McNamara’s life’s work, to ensure the advancement of knowledge and expertise in conservation and management of WA’s world heritage areas.
Ms Lester said sharks were being fished out of coral reefs at alarming rates and it was important to understand the role they played in an ecosystem to be able to assess the impact that removing them would have on coral reefs.
“Coral reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and this diversity is important for tourism industries and to support fisheries,” Ms Lester said.
“Through my research I will be using techniques including life size models of sharks to see how a shark’s presence influences the behaviour of reef fish.”
Ms Lester said coral reefs were an important source of food for large numbers of people in the developing world, but they were subject to lots of disturbances such as cyclones, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns and bleaching.
“Sharks might play an important role in regulating the behaviour of fish so that recovery from these disturbances is accelerated,” she said.
In partnership with the Global Finprint Project, the data collected through the research will be used improve global knowledge of the role of shark and fish on ecosystems in the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area and highlight the importance of the area within the Indian Ocean.
Jess Reid (UWA Media and Public Relations Adviser) (+61 8) 6488 6876