WSC: Plenary Speakers

Dr Alana Grech is Assistant Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Australia. Her research uses spatial analysis to assess the impact of human activities on coastal and marine ecosystems, and conservation planning to inform and facilitate natural resource management. Alana works in collaboration with ecologists, oceanographers and managers to apply her research to seagrass ecosystems in remote areas of northern Australia, including the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait, and Gulf of Carpentaria. The transfer of research to management action and policy is her highest priority, and she actively generates partnerships to deliver research outputs directly to government and non-government agencies and Indigenous communities. Alana was previously a Senior Lecturer in spatial information science at Macquarie University, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.


Professor Peter Ralph is a Professor of Marine Biology at University of Technology Sydney, and the Executive Director of the Climate Change Cluster (C3) in the Faculty of Science. Within C3, he leads two research programs: Algae Biosystems and Biotechnology, and Seagrass Health. His prolific research output has significantly advanced our understanding of photosynthetic processes in seagrass, coral, plankton, and algae growing at their environmental extremes. In addition, he has developed new sensors, diagnostics and systems to further understand the research physiological capability of marine macrophytes. He has developed a team of world-class molecular physiologists/ engineers to advance industrial applications of algal biotechnology. His extensive collaborations with the education, research and industry sectors enables the translation of science into viable commercial and conservation projects. Professor Ralph is also founder of the Deep Green Biotech Hub, and a member of the IOC-UNESCO Blue Carbon International Scientific Working Group and former leader of the CSIRO Marine and Coastal Carbon Biogeochemistry Cluster.


Dr Jillian Ooi is a teaching and research academic at the Department of Geography, University of Malaya, Malaysia. She studies seagrass distribution patterns to understand how different species respond to their environment, and has a special interest in the subtidal, forereef meadows of the Johor east coast islands. Jillian has been working to improve the profile of seagrasses amongst Malaysian policy-makers by highlighting seagrass ecosystem functions. Together with members of her lab, Team Sea Habitats, she has been exploring evidence for the use of these meadows as habitats by fish and invertebrates, and as feeding grounds by dugongs. A major part of her work involves supporting community groups, NGOs, and industry partners to set up outreach and monitoring programs that produce valid data for science, while elevating seagrass appreciation. When she is not watching grass grow, Jillian plays the gamelan and has won national arts awards for composition, music direction, and performance. She considers the ocean her primary source of musical inspiration.


Dr Maricela de la Torre-Castro is an Associate Professor at Stockholm University (Dept. of Physical Geography); she has a background in Marine Sciences and since her masters works with Natural Resource Management. Her research trajectory started at the Department of Systems Ecology from which Stockholm Resilience center has its roots. Maricela’s research focuses on seagrasses as social-ecological systems and she has worked extensively in East Africa (mainly in Zanzibar, Tanzania). Her main interest resides in human-nature interactions and how the world can transform towards a more sustainable and just society. This is investigated through in-depth case studies of humans and seagrasses, in which ecological goods and services, patterns of resource use, management and governance regimes as well as the ecosystem base are considered. Her projects include seagrass small-scale fisheries and poverty, high-valued marine products such as sea cucumbers, social aspects of climate change and the important topic of gender in coastal settings; all to better understand institutional, management and governance processes. Maricela’s work is done together with social scientists. She is a member of various scientific boards and she is the editor of the book “People, Nature and Research in Chwaka Bay, Zanzibar, Tanzania”. Her teaching tasks include participation and/or leadership in the courses Ecosystems goods and services management, Landscape ecology, Political Ecology, Climate and Society and Geography and Natural Resources. There is little free time for music, all spare time goes to Maricela’s twins.