3MT finalist maps out dangers of unlocking an unlikely ocean treasure

3 Sep 2020

Scott Spillias from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences was runner-up in this year’s Faculty of Science Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Finals held last month.

While an 80,000 word PhD thesis would take nine hours to present, in 3MT, Scott had only three minutes to effectively explain his PhD research to a non-specialist audience.

“I like how 3MT forced me to communicate my ideas in a simple, short, engaging way,” he said.

“For me, the iterative process of crafting and re-crafting my 3MT presentation was eye-opening to how even slight changes in a choice of word or a gesture can produce a huge change in the impact of your overall message, for better or worse.”

Scott is a PhD Candidate at UQ’s Centre for Biodiversity & Conservation Science who is passionate about protecting the world’s oceans and harnessing its treasures sustainably.

Seaweed is an unlikely resource that’s making waves as a potentially game-changing solution to global challenges such as food security, rising ocean temperatures, and plastic pollution.

Scott’s research aims to provide an evidence base for key policymakers around the potential environmental, economic, and societal impacts of large-scale seaweed farming.

A vital component of his research is building systems models to map out the consequences that large-scale seaweed farms could have on marine eco-systems and communities around the world.

“We live on an ocean planet and unless we are careful about the way in which we go about cultivating the sea, we run the very real risk of making things much worse for our planet and ourselves,” he said.

Scott says that even though scientists currently have limited knowledge of the potential impacts, governments, and private organisations are already sailing full steam ahead on a course for developing our seas.

“By understanding what the significant benefits and consequences are from the outset, we can provide key decision-makers with an evidence base that shows where potential dangers lie and where potential treasures can be found so that the seaweed revolution can help create a world that’s more abundant for nature, people and the ocean,” he said.

Scott Spillas conducting research in the field.

Scott hopes to be able to travel to Vienna next year to further his research and work with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) on modeling how large-scale seaweed cultivation could displace land-use change, mitigate carbon emissions, and promote conservation.

In addition to his PhD research, Scott is also working on a side project that’s bringing together a group of passionate collaborators to interpret permaculture principles for our future use of the oceans.

“Marine permaculture offers a robust framework for regenerating struggling ecosystems, providing needed materials for human societies, and ensuring we don’t subject the marine world to the same harms that we have brought to the land,” he said.