Director’s end of year message

As we all prepare to head off for the Christmas break after a busy and exhausting year, I just wanted to say thank you for your hard work to support the Environment Institute this year. With so many dedicated researchers and initiatives developing, it has been an honour and a privilege to be interim Director of the Environment Institute during 2022.

It’s hard to do justice to all our activities – but I’ll give it a go – outlined through our pillars of: culture and people; research excellence; and communication, engagement and partnerships.

Culture & People 

Top L: A/Prof Charles Caraguel, Douglas Radford, Elaine Bensted and Dr Nina Wooton. Top R: Prof Sarah Wheeler and Prof Andy Lowe. Bottom L: Dr Adriana Milanzzo and Clare Peddie Bottom R: Dr Anna-lise Chaber, Prof Andy Lowe and Hannah Thwaites

I believe we have built an open and inclusive community and a sense of belonging for researchers supported by the Environment Institute, including through our early, mid and senior-career researcher training, mentoring and strategy sessions. Celebrating success is a key element of culture, and we have seen some outstanding recognition of members this year, at global, national and local scales, including pleasingly many early career researchers. From newly minted HiCites (Professor Seth Westra) and Fellows of the Academy of Social Sciences (Professor Peng Bi), to prize winners, honours and finalists at Global (One of 60 finalists selected to progress to the next stage of the XPrize Carbon Removal Award 2025, Professor Andrew Lowe), National (Australian Navy Commendation – Professor Jeremy Austin; Eureka Prize finalists – Fungimap, Extreme Heat Team) and State levels (SA Tall Poppy – Dr Erin Fagan Jefferies; 7 News Young Achiever, Dr Nicole Foster; 3MT Peoples choice winner, Isobel Hume; Circular Economy Student Award, Liancheng Li;). We also saw A/Professor Phill Cassey and Professor Patrick O’Connor elected as councillors in the newly established Biodiversity Council (with EI Board Chair Professor Hugh Possingham on the board) and fellowship awards from ABRS to Dr Perry Beasley-Hall and from Subak Australia to Dr Dominic McAfee, Dr Andrew Thornhill, Dr Stuart Brown, Darren Ray.

Research Excellence

Research excellence is a key pillar of our university, and our members achieved some outstanding results this year. Our ARC success was exceptional and included the only Future Fellowship awarded to the University in 2022 for Associate Professor Alec Zuo. We saw members provide leadership in several large grant awards, including Professor Seth Westra in the One Basin CRC, Associate Professor Phill Cassey in the ARC Special Research Initiative in Excellence in Antarctic Science Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future, Dr Alice Jones in an Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s Blue Carbon Ecosystem Restoration Grant, and Professor Timothy Cavagnaro with partners SARDI, Birchip Cropping Group, Kalyx Australia and the Thomas Elder Institute in the Federal Government’s Soil Science Challenge program.

In 2022 we focussed support around six research initiatives focussing on halting unsustainable species loss and exploitation and developing the research to underpin ecosystem management and restoration programs.

  1. Environmental and Wildlife Crime: Our teams are actively building new programs to halt illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging and unsustainable fisheries extraction.
  2. Biodiversity and Climate Adaptation and Rewilding: We are developing new modelling and eDNA approaches to understand adaptation pressures and monitor biodiversity and are working to design resilient ecosystems in the face of natural disasters such as fire and flood.
  3. Marine & Coastal Ecosystem Restoration: We are using underwater sound and other technologies to rebuild the lost oyster reefs and marine ecosystems of Australia.
  4. Green Urban Futures and Planetary Health: We are optimising urban tree planting and green space and water scape design in cities and industrial contexts to reduce the impact of climate change and improve health outcomes for people.
  5. Citizen Science & Engagement: We are building scale around our significant citizen science programs (e.g. Echidna CSI, Insect investigator, iBandi) and are poised to take a national leadership role.
  6. EnviroTech to Natural Capital: We are developing new standards, measurements methods and policy capabilities for the rapidly developing natural capital markets, and we look forward to welcoming Dr Thuy Pham in 2023, Environment Institute Future Making Fellow, who will add significant capability in this area.

These initiatives are also helping support several large-scale research bids for submission in 2023, including three CRC bids which we are leading, supporting or have laid the foundations for: Green Economy Transition (thanks to Board Chair Professor Hugh Possingham for support), Economic Participation of Indigenous Communities and Scaling Green Hydrogen (lead by the Institute of Sustainability, Energy and Resources) respectively.

Communications, Engagement & Partnerships

Trees for Good project at Alberton Primary School

I’m a strong believer in the importance of communication of our research and engagement with partners. This activity can take many forms beyond academic papers, many of which are able to capture public imagination (e.g though art and music) and help promote the hope and wonder of biodiversity and our environment. These activities include:


  • Inspiring the next generation of students by engaging with schools to organise state-wide school marine park art competition (Professors Melissa Nursey-Bray and Bronwyn Gillanders) and talking about the benefits of trees (Professor Bob Hill with Board member Professor Chris Daniels).
  • Organising public debates on Rewilding Marine Ecosystems, Youth Agency in Sustainability
  • Co-hosting public lectures by Dr Naim Kapucu Pegasus Professor, University of Central Florida, on ‘Network Governance for Urban Infrastructure Resilience to Disasters‘ and   Christopher Raymond from University of Helsinki on the IPBES Values Assessment.
  • Supporting Dynamic State, an event bringing together a group of 120 scientific, artistic, entrepreneur, community and local government network leaders to consider the global megatrends and solutions that could be actioned here in SA.
  • Organising a communications training with the Science Media Centre – thanks to participation from board members Dr Susannah Eliott and Elaine Bensted.

Thanks to our Advisory Board members – Professor Hugh Possingham (chair), Sandy Carruthers, Professor Chris Daniels, Dr Susannah Eliott, Elaine Bensted – for actively engaging and providing strategic advice: EI Management Committee – Professor Bronwyn Gillanders, Professor Seth Westra, Professor Sarah Wheeler – and four Theme Leads – A/Professor Damien Fordham (Biodiversity), Professor Seth Westra (Water), Professor Sean Connell (Marine) and Professor Veronica Soebarto (Landscapes).

I also want to acknowledge and thank Professor Bob Hill whose work as Institute Director up until 2021 laid the foundation for many of the outcomes reported here. I’m grateful for our EI staff, Leah Panakera-Thorpe,  Belinda Gosden and Annemarie Gaskin for making the magic happen, and our consultants, contractors and casuals for helping deliver the excellent outcomes: including Natalie Betts (ARC grant writing), Damia Ettakadoumi (CRC writing), Damien Coulthard (Indigenous engagement), Kiri Marker and Ramona Palfy (Communications).

But again, thank you to you all for your help and support this year – take a well-earned break with family and friends and I look forward to working with you in 2023.

Professor Andy Lowe
Interim Director, Environment Institute.

Further details:


  • Professor Seth Westra has been recognised as a HiCite,
  • Professor Peng Bi has been elected as a new fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.
  • We saw two groups nominated as finalists in the national Eureka prize awards, Fungimap (led by Dr Jasmin Packer) and Extreme Heat Team (led by Profs Peng Bi & Dino Pisanello).
  • Associate Professors Patrick O’Connor and Phill Cassey have been selected as Councillors in the newly established Biodiversity Council, and Professor Hugh Possingham (Chair of the Environment Institute) is a board member.
  • Dr Erin Fagan Jefferies was an SA Tall Poppy award winner and also made it into the Advertiser’s 40 movers and shakers under 40 list.
  • Associate Professor Jeremy Austin and team were awarded an Australian Navy Commendation for their DNA work to identify the ‘unknown sailor’ from HMAS Sydney as Thomas Welsby Clark.
  • Dr Nicole Foster won the University of Adelaide STEM Award as a South Australian 7 News Young Achiever
  • Dr Pablo García-Díaz (former PhD student with Assoc Prof Phill Cassey) was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.
  • Isobel Hume (PhD student with Prof Tim Cavagnaro) was the winner of both the People’s Choice and also Student’s Choice awards winner in the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) final.
  • Several EMCRs have been awarded fellowships including an ABRS Postdoctoral Fellow to Dr Perry Beasley-Hall and Subak Australia fellowships to Dr Dominic McAfee (recently graduated from the program, 2022 cohort) and 2023 cohort members Dr Andrew Thornhill, Dr Stuart Brown, Darren Ray.
  • Liancheng Li (PhD student in the School of Architecture and Built Environment) won the Green Industries SA’s Circular Economy Student Award for ‘Masters-PhD’ presented by Dr Susan Close, Deputy Premier and Minister for Climate, Environment, and Water.
  • Together with Seawater Greenhouse and University of Birmingham, UK we have been selected as finalists to progress to the next stage of the XPrize Carbon Removal Award 2025.

Outreach activities

  • Organised a state-wide school art competition aimed at increasing young people’s knowledge of South Australian marine life and Australian Marine Parks. The students were inspired to create their art following a University of Adelaide organised roadshow with Professors Melissa Nursey-Bray and Bronwyn Gillanders.
  • Professor Bob Hill presented at TREENET the 23rd National Street Tree Symposium 
  • Supported Professor Bob Hill work with schools to promote trees through the Trees for Good Project (with Treenet, Project Green Group, DeBill Environmental, SASTA, Port Adelaide and Enfield Council, Green Adelaide and Alberton Primary School)
  • Professor Volker Hessel exhibited research at the Royal Adelaide Show
  • Held a panel discussion on rewilding our marine ecosystems with Department for Environment & Water (with Board member Sandy Caruthers); AusOceans and The Nature Conservancy as part of Sustainability Week
  • Hosted a public discussion: Pints of Ideas: Youth Agency on Sustainability with members of Ecoversity and the United Nations Association of Australia during Sustainability Week.
  • Hosted a Regenerating Australia Screening followed by a Q&A session with the movie’s director, Damon Gameau.
  • Co-hosted a public lectures with:
    • Stretton Institute, School of Architecture and Built Environments, the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Resources by Dr Naim Kapucu, ‘Network Governance for Urban Infrastructure Resilience to Disasters‘, Pegasus Professor of public administration and policy from the University of Central Florida
    • School of Social Sciences, the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Resources by Prof. Christopher Raymond from University of Helsinki to give an overview of the key messages of the IPBES Values Assessment.
  • Foundation Supporter of Dynamic State, an event bringing together a group of 120 scientific, artistic, entrepreneur, community and local government network leaders to consider the global megatrends and challenges facing the world and the local solutions that could be developed and actioned here in SA.
  • Supported the Miyawaki mini forests and smart green networks symposium with Kyushu University and UTS Sydney.
  • Participation in events:
    • Uraidla Sustainability Fair Q&A public discussion on Driving Change in Our Communities MC’d by Professor Andy Lowe
    • World Environment Day Event – Stories from 2030 Disruption – Acceleration – Transformation ‘Vision without action is merely a dream’ so the hard work of action must accelerate. The 82 global contributors to ‘Stories from 2030’ work on identifying risks, harnessing finance, developing and deploying solutions and driving government action. Joining the author, John O’Brien, are some of the amazing local contributors to share their views of the decade ahead. Including Professor Andy Lowe.
    • Electric dreams: Anthropocene in C Major Jamie Perera, an artist that uses sound to deconstruct objects and data in ways that create provoking experiences for listeners, and Professor Melissa Nursey-Bray, a researcher from the Environment Institute, who focusses on connecting community to environmental issues discuss how art and hope can converge to create pathways of awareness and deconstruction as we share the global challenge of how to face climate, colonisation and social justice crises.
  • Organised a communications training with the Science Media Centre – thanks to board members Dr Susannah Eliott and Elaine Bensted for helping to organise and for participating.
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