Distinguished Professor Peter L. Harrison

Director, Marine Ecology Research Centre

BSc (Double Major in Marine Biology and Zoology), James Cook University 1979
BSc (First Class Honours) in Marine Biology, James Cook University 1980 (Honours Prize)
PhD in Marine Biology, James Cook University conferred 1989

Research Summary

Professor Peter Harrison

Professor Peter Harrison is the founding Director of the Marine Ecology Research Centre and the first Distinguished Professor at Southern Cross University. Peter is a globally recognised leader in coral reproduction ecology and coral larval restoration and has been actively researching and teaching a wide range of marine science and ecology programs for more than 40 years. He has been awarded more than $17 million in marine research grants and Antarctic field support (the majority from national and international competitive research grants including ARC). He has published more than 200 scientific research papers, books, invited major review chapters and major reports, which have been cited more than 12,000 times (Google Scholar); H-index 51.

Peter was a leading member of the coral research team at James Cook University that discovered the mass coral spawning phenomenon on the Great Barrier Reef (Harrison et al. Science: 223: 1186-1189), and was a joint recipient of a prestigious Eureka Prize for Environmental Research for this discovery. He has been awarded multiple prizes for excellence in science research and University teaching including a 2009 Australian Learning and Teaching Council citation for outstanding University Teaching and two University Teaching Excellence Awards.

Peter has been appointed by Ministers for the Environment to a wide range of national committees including the Australian Government's Threatened Species Scientific Committee from 2005-2015, the Christmas Island Expert Working Group 2009-2010, and the National Environmental Research Program Advisory Panel in 2010. He was a member of the DIISRTE Australian Science Delegation to the 12th Australia-EU JSTCC Meeting in Brussels and the Australian-German JSTM Cooperation Meeting in Bonn during October 2012. Peter is also an appointed member of the Port Curtis and Port Alma Ecosystem Research and Monitoring Program Advisory Panel, the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation Scientific Committee, a member of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (Oceania), a member of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, and the Patron of the Banyan Tree Marine Laboratory in the Maldives, central Indian Ocean.

Peter has successfully supervised to completion more than 60 postgraduate and Honours students, with 10 current postgraduate students and Postdoctoral research fellows on topics ranging from coral reef ecology and restoration, impacts of pollutants on marine invertebrates from the tropics to Antarctica, freshwater and estuarine wetlands and communities, to whale and dolphin ecology and conservation. His major research interests include: global patterns of coral reproduction, impacts of pollution and stress on coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, coral and reef restoration, whale and dolphin ecology and conservation, long-term monitoring of tropical and subtropical marine reef communities, dispersal and biogeography of corals and implications for global networks of marine protected areas.

Much of Peter's research has focused on the Great Barrier Reef and subtropical marine habitats in eastern Australia, with additional research in Japan, Micronesia, French Polynesia, the Arabian Gulf, Florida, Bahamas, Maldives, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, the Philippines and Antarctica. During 1995, he was the Project Leader for a United Nations funded mission to assess the impacts of the first Gulf War on the coral reef systems of Kuwait, and has a new coral species discovered in the Arabian Gulf named after him (Porites harrisoni).

Peter also led the development of the SCU Whale and Dolphin Research Centre as its Director since 2002, which has supported numerous postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers on whales and dolphins in Australia and overseas. He was the project leader for the ARC-Linkage grant on ageing humpback whales using non-lethal molecular techniques, which was highlighted in many media reports including feature stories in 'Nature' and on the ABC '7.30 Report' and in an ARC Annual Report. Peter led the major DEWHA-funded research project on the 'Global Status of Cetaceans' (Harrison et al. 2009, 125 pages; internationally peer-reviewed), and led the review of the conservation status of marine mammal species in Australian waters as part of the Action Plan for Australian Mammals published by CSIRO (Woinarksi, Burbidge and Harrison 2014).

Peter is passionate about science and ecology and its application to conservation management, and has participated in many international and national marine science conferences and workshops. He also enjoys communicating science research to the broader community and has featured in more than 30 television documentaries including BBC 'Blue Planet Live', ABC ‘Reef Live’ and many hundreds of other media interviews on national and international television, radio, newspapers, and magazines to highlight science research and promote conservation and management. Peter has won prizes for his photographs and his images have been very widely published in international and Australian textbooks, popular books, science journals, poster series, magazine articles and newspapers, and featured in art exhibitions.

Awards and Distinctions

  • 2015 Whitley Commendation Award for the book The Action Plan for Australian Mammals 2012.
  • 2009 Australian Citation Award for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning, Australian Learning and Teaching Council.
  • 2008 Vice Chancellor's Teaching Excellence Award, Southern Cross University.
  • 2000 University Award for Teaching Excellence, Southern Cross University.
  • New coral species Porites harrisoni (Veron 2000) named after Peter in recognition of his international coral reef research.
  • 1992 Eureka Prize for Environmental Research (joint recipient) for the discovery of, and research on, the mass coral spawning phenomenon. (Award presentation broadcast live on ABC-TV 'Quantum').
  • Young Scientist Travel Award, 5th International Congress of Invertebrate Reproduction, Nagoya, Japan, 1989.
  • Dr R. Palmerston-Rundle Prize for Biological Sciences. Award for the best performance in BSc (Honours) degree within the School of Biological Sciences, James Cook University, during 1980.
  • The Lawrence George Chun Tie Bursary, James Cook University, 1980.
  • Nominated for the 2006 'Nature' Mentor Award by postgraduate students.

Committee, Council and Board Membership

  • Appointment by the Minister for the Environment to the Australian Threatened Species Scientific Committee (Australian Government Department of the Environment), Committee Member since 2005, reappointed mutliple times until 2015
  • Appointment by Minister for the Environment to the Expert Panels to assess the impacts of a Supertrawler as a Declared Commercial Fishing Activity under Section 390SH of the EPBC Act from 2013-14, and the second Declared Commercial Fishing Activity from 2014-2015.
  • Member of the Australian Delegation to the 12th Australia-EU Joint Science and Technology Cooperation Committee (JSTCC) Meeting Brussels October 2012, and Australian-German Joint Science and Technology (JSTM) Cooperation Meeting, Bonn October 2012 (DIISRTE)
  • Appointment by Minister for the Environment to the Christmas Island Expert Working Group 2009-2010
  • Appointment by Minister for the Environment to the National Environmental Research Program Advisory Panel 2010
  • Appointed member of the Port Curtis and Port Alma Ecosystem Research and Monitoring Program (ERMP) Advisory Panel, 2010 ongoing
  • Southern Cross University Council member (elected Academic staff representative from 2010-2012)
  • IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (Oceania) Member 2006 to present
  • Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation Scientific Committee Member 2012 ongoing
  • Patron, Banyan Tree Marine Laboratory, Vabbinfaru, Maldives since 2007
  • National Marine Science Centre Board Member 2005-2011
  • Marine Science and Management Course Coordinator (2002-2010)
  • Masters and Graduate Diploma of Marine Science and Management Course Coordinator (2003-2010)


A list of Peter's publications is available through the following links: GoogleScholar and ORCID.

Some Recent Media Interviews and Broadcast links:


Coral IVF spearheads Australian innovation to world's business leaders – April 2021

US philanthropists back coral crusader from Southern Cross – June 2021

First Coral IVF babies on the Great Barrier Reef thriving – Dec 2020

Front row seats for birth of new corals livestreamed from Reef for ABC Reef Live – Dec 2020

How science is delivering millions of healthy coral babies onto damaged reefs – Nov 2020

Southern Cross reef research a global TV hit for BBC Blue Planet Live - 2019

More coral sex helps restore damaged reefs - 2015


Interview for ABC 730 story Climate change redress needed to stop damage to the Great Barrier Reef – August 2021

Interview on Nine’s Weekend today about annual Coral spawning -  Dec 2020


Playlist of Coral IVF videos on SCU YouTube https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJEJ0sWR10y_1q9ngMj9K8nn6WfbqCEpj