Our world-class research is helping to resolve the complex environmental, social, and economic issues within coastal catchments.

Professor Damien Maher

Southern Cross University hydrobiogeochemist

Environmental Scientist Professor Damien Maher.

Well over 80 per cent of Australia's population lives in the coastal zone, and the coastal zone is subject to a range of complex issues.

The Catchments, Coasts and Communities Cluster aims to bring together existing research strengths in coastal biology chemistry, aquatic pollution, hydrology, land use management and social sciences to help solve some of these wicked problems that we're facing.

Communities are a key social unit that really define the human race. What we want to do is undertake research that improves the lives of communities within the coastal zone.

Clean water and sanitization, managing catchments in a sustainable way, and life underwater because the work we do improves water quality in these catchments.

Working with community, with government, with industry… these partnerships are what actually will drive change.

Southern Cross University has invested heavily in this area since its inception, which has resulted in a critical mass of expertise, knowledge and instrumentation that allows us to do cutting-edge research in catchment sciences.

It's an awesome group of academics who are coming together to work within this cluster.

The impact that we can provide for the community, for the environment into the future and that's really what's driving and motivating us.

Catchments, Coasts and Communities

Lake Eyre basin

Innovative solutions for land and water management

We drive transformative environmental, social and economic change within catchments, coastal zones and their communities through impactful and engaged research. From carbon storage models and methane cycling in trees to pesticide run-off and mitigating the effects of fertilisers in our waterways, the cluster develops practical and innovative solutions to critical land and water management issues. 

World class facilities and infrastructure

Analytical lab and Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer facilities

Collaborative research

We take a collaborative approach to research with government, industry and community

Community education

Community education and empowerment on coastal and catchment zone issues

Key research projects

Dr Luke Jeffrey Conducting wetland research
The role of trees in methane cycling

Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, but there are significant uncertainties as to where the methane originates from. Researchers at Southern Cross University are combining a range of techniques to unravel the plant and microbial community interactions involved in methane cycling in Australian forests.

Technical and Laboratory Officer Roz Hagan sampling water in the Macleay River
Water quality

Scientists at Southern Cross University are involved in a range of research projects and development of new technology to monitor water quality within local catchment areas. Collaborating with government, industry partners and citizen scientists, this research covers flooding, environmental impacts and climate extremes. 

Mangrove forest
Blue carbon

Research from Southern Cross University’s coastal biogeochemistry experts has contributed to scientific debate around the climate benefits of blue carbon and the development of carbon and methane budgets. Our researchers have also played a major role in the development of the world’s first blue carbon accounting model (BlueCAM), adopted by the Australian Federal Government.

Lismore flood 2022
Flooding and intermittent coastal streams

Coastal biogeochemist Professor Bradley Eyre is currently leading four large ARC research projects, three of which are looking at the effects of extreme events such as floods on the aquatic biogeochemistry of intermittent coastal streams, tidal wetlands and inland dryland rivers.

Blueberry rust infected blueberry leaves showing yellow rust
Intensive horticulture and coastal catchments

Coffs coast waterways are bearing the brunt of a nitrogen double-whammy from fertilisers and recycled sewage. Remarkably in dry periods, though, the waterways can protect downstream habitats by removing much of the nitrogen naturally, Southern Cross University researchers have found.

Bradley Eyre - Dryland flooding in the global carbon cycle
Dryland flooding in the global carbon cycle

Professor Bradley Eyre is leading two Discovery Projects from the same round, worth a total of $893,000. His ground-breaking research is aimed at better understanding the global carbon cycle – which is the biogeochemical exchange of carbon between the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and fossil fuels.

New study finds agricultural pesticides can affect prawns and oysters
Managing impacts of pesticide run-off in areas of intensive coastal agriculture

Researchers from the University’s National Marine Science Centre have demonstrated that imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide, can impact the feeding behaviour of prawns in a laboratory environment, leading to nutritional deficiency and reduced flesh quality. The study identifies the need for effective management of pesticide use and run-off from intensive agriculture in coastal areas with productive seafood industries.

Researcher profiles

Professor Damien Maher - researcher taking water samples
Professor Damien Maher

As a specialist in hydrobiogeochemistry, Professor Damien Maher's research covers a range of topics from local water quality issues and solutions, to global biogeochemical and hydrological cycles. His research team have been working on a collaborative project with local and state government to monitor water quality in the Richmond River, and the chronic impacts of recent flooding on the NSW North Coast. 

Professor Bradley Eyre - researcher in laboratory
Professor Bradley Eyre

Professor Bradley Eyre is a biogeochemist with diverse research interests, including the flow of carbon and nitrogen through the earth-system, and changes in flow due to global change (e.g. climate change, ocean acidification, eutrophication). He works in estuaries, rivers, near-shore coastal areas, muds, permeable sands, mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs. Professor Eyre is currently leading five large ARC research projects focusing on greenhouse gas emissions from aquatic systems and their contribution to global budgets, and shallow water carbonate sediment dissolution and how this influences the uptake of CO2 into the oceans.

Associate Professor Joanne Oakes - researcher in laboratory
Associate Professor Joanne Oakes

Associate Professor Joanne Oakes is acknowledged for her use of stable isotope techniques to investigate the ecology and biogeochemistry of coastal, terrestrial, and freshwater systems. Her findings are enhancing knowledge of how the processing and fate of carbon and nitrogen are impacted by conditions such as elevated nutrients, changes in faunal or microbial communities, increased temperature, and ocean acidification.

Dr Luke Jeffrey - researcher in forest
Dr Luke Jeffrey

A postdoctoral researcher in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, and a recipient of the Chancellor’s Medal, Dr Luke Jeffrey’s research into tree-based methane emissions – or treethane – represents a new frontier for the global methane and carbon cycles. What’s more, his game-changing discoveries are being made close to home, in the wetlands of the far north coast of NSW.

Dr Judith Rosentreter - in boat researching mangroves
Dr Judith Rosentreter

Dr Judith Rosentreter is one of a group of Southern Cross University biogeochemists whose research is having an impact close to home and across the world. As well as increasing awareness and enabling strategies in areas such as blue carbon, climate change, greenhouse gases and the development of carbon and methane budgets, Dr Rosentreter recently took on a leadership role as part of the Global Carbon Project. This ambitious international initiative is amassing data towards building a complete picture of the Global Carbon Cycle and human influence on it. A project of common good for today and the future, it affirms Dr Rosentreter’s rising influence in the research sphere, and that of Southern Cross University. 

Dr James Sippo - researcher in mangroves
Dr James Sippo

Dr James Sippo is a biogeochemist whose research covers the role of natural systems in climate change mitigation. A key element of his research is blue carbon and its relation to greenhouse gas exchange and carbon storage. Dr Sippo played a major role in the development of the world’s first blue carbon accounting model (BlueCAM), adopted by the Australian Federal Government.