Reward from ocean’s secret

Matthew Fraser undertaking research at the Abrolhos Islands.
Matthew Fraser undertaking research at the Abrolhos Islands.

The postgraduate marine science student, from UWA, was named as a finalist in the WA Science Awards in the student scientist of the year category for his thesis research on seagrasses.

Mr Fraser developed an interest in Australia’s coastal environment when he moved to WA from Scotland after he finished high school.

A trip to the Great Barrier Reef during his travels around the country inspired him to study marine science so he could learn more about aquatic ecosystems.

‘I found out a lot about seagrasses and the important role they have in maintaining coastal ecosystems,’ he said.

His studies took him to Shark Bay, a world heritage site, which has the largest seagrass meadows in the world and where Mr Fraser is currently conducting research for his PhD on how seagrasses might respond to future environmental changes.

‘Seagrasses are very finely balanced with the environment around them and they are affected by changes in factors such as temperature, light and nutrient availability,’ he said.

‘Seagrasses are foundation species, so any effect on them impacts the entire ecosystem, including sea turtles and the critically endangered dugongs which feed off it.’

Mr Fraser said nutrients and sediment run-off from coastal development could also greatly impact seagrass by reducing light and causing an increase in algae, which competes with seagrass.

His research has contributed to the conservation of Shark Bay and has helped to develop effective management solutions for the WA marine environment.

‘Given that seagrasses provide important functions, including habitat for juvenile fish, maintenance of water quality and carbon sequestration, we must carefully manage future coastal development, particularly in the face of future climate change,’ Mr Fraser said.

As well as his own research, he has been highly involved in teaching and mentoring students and recently developed an innovative undergraduate program which allows students to be involved in practical marine research.

He was one of 17 finalists, nominated across five categories, for outstanding research, crucial to the state’s future development.