Queensland Government Media Releases

Scholarship scientist unlocks tiny secrets for protecting the Great Barrier Reef

May 16, 2017

Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy and Minister for Small Business
The Honourable Leeanne Enoch

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Scholarship scientist unlocks tiny secrets for protecting the Great Barrier Reef

The Palaszczuk Government is funding important new research to help deliver greater insight into the health of the iconic Great Barrier Reef.

Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy and the Minister for Small Business Leeanne Enoch said today (Tuesday) research by the “scholarship scientist” could unlock “tiny secrets that could play a big role in managing the health of the reef”.

Speaking in Townsville, Ms Enoch said James Cook University PhD student Bettina Glasl's reef research is being funded under the $405 million whole-of-government Advance Queensland initiative.

“Bettina Glasl has received Advance Queensland funding to research a way to develop a reliable, fast and low-cost method for improving current reef monitoring programs,” Ms Enoch said.

“Reef health is typically determined by looking at the condition of coral – known as visual surveys. However, Bettina’s work involves analysing the Great Barrier Reef’s microbes which are driving the health and survival of the reef.

“The microbes have the potential to act as early warning indicators for reef health, enabling timely management intervention,” she said.

Ms Glasl, who joined the research project following completion of a Master of Science at the University of Vienna, is working towards her PhD in partnership with scientists from James Cook University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, University of Queensland, Bioplatforms Australia and the Great Barrier Reef Authority.

She said she was committed to doing “my part towards protecting and preserving the Great Barrier Reef”.

“It’s one of the largest, most biologically diverse and ecologically important ecosystems on the planet,” Ms Glasl said.

“Microbes are very tiny but very expensive to research. The $45,000 Advance Queensland funding means I can actually do the research and support the expenses associated with the field work and laboratory equipment required.”

Great Barrier Reef Minister Steven Miles said Ms Glasl was well equipped with the skills and knowledge to undertake the research.

“Bettina’s impressive pursuit of scientific excellence underscores the importance of the Palaszczuk Government’s $1 million funding package over three years for world-class scientists to develop solutions to the problems affecting the Great Barrier Reef,” Mr Miles said.

Member for Townsville Scott Stewart said the Palaszczuk Government was committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

“This government is fully engaged in implementing new projects to protect the reef with an extra $90 million being spent over four years, because the reef is undeniably the jewel in the crown of North Queensland,” he said.

Principal Research Scientist and PhD supervisor Dr Nicole Webster said Ms Glasl has so far met all her scientific milestones.

“The first 12 months of Bettina’s project have included monthly collection of reef communities: corals, sponges, macroalgae, sediment and seawater at targeted sampling sites,” Dr Webster said.

“Once the microbial DNA from these samples has been sequenced, Bettina will be in a position to establish a microbial baseline for the Great Barrier Reef.

“This baseline is particularly important as we still know so little about how these microbial communities vary with environmental conditions.”

Advance Queensland is the Palaszczuk Government's $405 million whole-of-government initiative focusing on harnessing innovation to unlock business potential, grow our regions, foster new industries, and give future generations the necessary skills and knowledge for the jobs of tomorrow.

Read more about the Advance Queensland Research Fellowships and PhD Scholarships recipients at Advance Queensland.