Catchments, Coasts and Communities

aerial view of river

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.

A man holds a beaker of water to the light

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

Coffs Harbour rocky beach

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

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.

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Dr Luke Jeffrey Conducting wetland research

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.

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

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.

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Mangrove forest

Community perspectives on land use

Dr Hanabeth Luke is leading research into key issues of importance for residents living in the Clarence catchment. Data collected through a community survey sheds light on community perspectives on local land uses and challenges, including coal seam gas, mineral mining and forest harvesting.

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Hanabeth Luke in navy shirt and hat standing in crop field

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.

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Blueberry rust infected blueberry leaves showing yellow rust

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.

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Bradley Eyre - Dryland flooding in the global carbon cycle

Pesticide pollution threatens shellfish safety

Southern Cross University has found a cocktail of nasty pesticides in wild oysters and water from one of the NSW North Coast’s dominant rivers. In this video Professor Kirsten Benkendorff and Professor Amanda Reichelt-Brushett explain how the samples taken from the Richmond River estuary reveal 21 different pesticides, including a mix of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.

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Western Sydney's growth

The Hawkesbury River is the place where a portion of Sydney’s treated wastewater is discharged and the destination for stormwater runoff from a rapidly growing city. Understanding the river’s ability to cleanse itself as Sydney grows is key to its future.

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Damien Maher and James Sippo Hawkesbury river

Researcher profiles

Professor Damien Maher - researcher taking water samples

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 interests include microbial ecology, hydrology, groundwater-surface water interactions, wetland biogeochemistry, aquatic pollution, ocean carbonate chemistry and climate change. He leads several industry and government-funded projects concerned with catchment runoff and water quality.

Professor Kirsten Benkendorff in the research lab

Kirsten Benkendorff


Professor Benkendorff is a seafood sentinel marine scientist who has been announced as one of Australia’s newest Superstars of STEM, a program that tackles the gender inequity of visible diverse role models in the media. Kirsten's research investigates ways to safeguard the health of our oceans and the seafood we eat. In particular, ways to reduce the impacts of climate change and agricultural run-off to ensure shellfish health and high-quality seafood.

A man smiling at the camera in an engineering lab

Charles Lemckert

Discipline Chair Engineering and Information Technology

A fellow of the Institute of Engineers Australia, Professor Charles Lemckert specialises in implementing and developing monitoring and modelling systems for marine dispersal, air and sea rescue, sediment and pollution transport and coastal and marine management. He is also a passionate educator and an active board member of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Foundation and the International Building Quality Centre.

Associate Professor Joanne Oakes - researcher in laboratory

Joanne Oakes

Associate Professor

Associate Professor Joanne Oakes is known for her use of stable isotope techniques to investigate the ecology and biogeochemistry of coastal, terrestrial, and freshwater systems. Her research enhances 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, ocean acidification, flood and drought.

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Scott Johnston


A former ARC Future Fellow, Professor Scott Johnston's primary research interests focus on how the physical, hydrological, mineralogical, and geochemical characteristics of landscapes interact across various spatial and temporal scales to influence water quality. He has extensive experience in environmental geochemistry and hydrology, particularly in wetlands, and in research and applied management of acid sulfate soils.

Professor Bradley Eyre - researcher in laboratory

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.

Dr Luke Jeffrey conducting research in paperbark forest

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

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.

Dr James Sippo - researcher in mangroves

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. He currently manages a major water quality project on the Hawkesbury River.

Ali Reza Alei

Ali Reza Alaei

Senior Lecturer

Dr Ali Reza Alaei is known for his research on document image analysis and recognition, human visual system modelling for document image quality assessment, biometrics and data mining (sentiment analysis) of Big Data. He has published over 65 high-quality papers in reputed international journals and peer- reviewed conferences and has a special interest in the application of AI and machine learning on catchment management.

Woman smiling at camera

Amanda Reichelt-Brushett


Professor Amanda Reichelt-Brushett's research focuses on human impacts on the environment. She has published widely on catchment management and aquatic pollution and has worked extensively with communities in the Asia-Pacific investigating local pollution issues and environmental outcomes. She was President of the Asia-Pacific unit of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry from 2020-2022 and locally she leads the Richmond Riverkeeper organisation.

Woman smiling at camera

Anja Scheffers


Professor Scheffers is the Associate Dean (Education) in the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Anja has served on ARC College of Experts, is a former ARC Future Fellow and is the Executive Director (Capability and Networks) of the global research network Future Earth Coasts, a global sustainability, research and innovation network that promotes knowledge sharing and action towards implementing our vision for healthy oceans and coasts for a just and environmentally sustainable future.

A man piloting a drone

Brendan Kelaher


Professor Brendan Kelaher is a marine biologist with a special interest in the integration of AI with drone imagery and 4D LiDAR and photogrammetry habitat mapping. His research contributes to evidence-based management of marine systems and fisheries, cost-effective shark bite mitigation and marine management as well as advancing knowledge of marine ecology and monitoring marine megafauna.

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Ben Stewart

Research Technician

With research interests in estuaries, water quality and hydrology, Dr Ben Stewart completed his PhD at Waikato University, New Zealand. His research focuses on investigating hydrological and climatic drivers of water quality across coastal catchments, coastal hydrodynamics and numerical modelling. Currently he is involved in various industry projects across the Northern Rivers and Hawkesbury River, Sydney.

A man looking at the camera in a laboratory setting

Christian Sanders


Professor Christian Sanders’ work focuses on the dynamics of sedimentation rates in marine systems, along with carbon and nutrient cycling in coastal wetlands. His current research interests are studying nutrient runoff and other pollutants in estuaries and coastal wetland systems in Australia and around the globe, blue carbon, radionuclide tracers and coastal wetland restoration.

Dr David Newell

David Newell

Associate Professor

Associate Professor David Newell researches the conservation and ecology of threatened fauna, specialising in the endangered rainforest frogs of subtropical eastern Australia. He undertakes climatic niche modelling to understand the impacts of climate change and disease, as well as the emerging field of bioacoustics. He uses captive husbandry and translocations such as Project GRASP (Lismore campus) to conserve highly threatened species and to study the amphibian chytrid fungus.

A woman holding a large drone

Deb Stokes


Dr Debra Stokes undertakes field research with the aim of increasing our understanding of the interplay between human activities and geomophlogical and ecological change in coastal habitats. She employs non-invasive techniques to monitor NSW marine turtle populations and behaviour, particularly drones. Her research interests include mangrove botany and ecology, estaurine benthic ecology and sedimentation processes.

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Feifei Tong

Senior Lecturer

Dr Feifei Tong is passionate about understanding the motion of water in the ocean and on land and how it impacts structures and the environment. His research interests include fluid mechanics, water and ocean engineering, computational fluid dynamics and data analysis that incorporates machine learning. Current research includes crowdsourced data for real-time flood forecasting, offshore wind energy and catchment modelling.

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Guoyang Fu


Dr Guoyang Fu completed his PhD degree in Civil Engineering in the field of rock mechanics, His research mainly focuses on developing solutions to address issues in life-cycle analysis of aging and deteriorated infrastructure (condition assessment, failure prediction and rehabilitations), pipeline rehabilitation, rock and tunnel stability, post-flood assessment, resilient infrastructure design - including novel and affordable solutions such as amphibious houses - and coastal infrastructure

Dr Hanabeth Luke

Hanabeth Luke

Senior Lecturer

Hanabeth is a passionate educator and researcher who works with rural and regional communities to develop capacity to adapt and respond in times of uncertainty and transition. As Project Leader of three Soil CRC research projects, her work links farmers, scientists, farming system groups and organisations across Australia in order to understand drivers for improved resilience and wellbeing of land and communities. Her focus is on using social research to inform decision-making.

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John Grant


John Grant has decades of experience in soil-related research, soil interpretation and land and soil mapping. His current research includes riparian and coastal restoration, plantation productivity and agroforestry in the Pacific, landslip, and community engagement that includes linkages and long-term outcomes of Landcare projects.

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Marie-Chantale Pelletier

Senior Lecturer

Dr Marie-Chantale Pelletier has a multi-disciplinary background in forest science and management, environmental economics and natural capital accounting. Her research explores options for improvement in sustainability reporting. She works with water and land management organisations to test how new frameworks for the measurement of natural capital can support investment in coastal and catchment environments.

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Vinh Bui

Senior Lecturer

Dr Vinh Bui has a background in both computer science and electrical engineering. He is currently researching in the area of applied computing, focusing on applications of artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things in healthcare and related areas. He has a special interest in synthetic data and synthetic environments for machine training.

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Wenjing Yu

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr Wenjing Yu is an archaeologist in the field of geoarchaeology. She is working on US-ESR dating of mammal fossil teeth from South Africa and Southeast Asia. This work will help to understand the relationship of Paranthropus, early Homo and Australopithecus in South Africa, as well as other key non hominin taxa such as Dinofelis. She has also worked as a heritage officer for Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Cooperation.

A man standing in a river, a boat in the background

Jacob Yeo

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Dr Jacob Yeo is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in coastal biogeochemistry, specialising in greenhouse gas emissions from Australian estuaries and tidal wetlands. Jacob's research focuses on examining the impacts of geomorphology, disturbance, and their interaction on estuarine greenhouse gas emissions. He aims to constrain these effects in estuaries and upscale them to a global scale.

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Douglas Tait

Senior Researcher

Dr Douglas Tait is a biogeochemist focusing on groundwater dynamics in a range of terrestrial, freshwater and coastal systems. His research has used natural tracers and advanced modelling techniques to highlight the role of groundwater discharge in delivering significant amounts of nutrients and pollutants to coastal waters.


Eric Brymer

Senior Lecturer

An AHPRA registered psychologist, endorsed sport and exercise psychologist and board approved supervisor, Dr Eric Brymer is interested in the human-nature relationship and the implications of this relationship for the health and wellbeing of planet and people. His research is particularly focused on the impact of adventure and the design of effective interventions.

Golam Sorwar

Golam Sorwar

Senior Lecturer

Golam has an extensive multi-disciplinary research background in IT, health and environment management. He has achieved very high recognition in his research and scholarly activities nationally and internationally. He has published more than 125 peer-reviewed articles. His current research particularly focuses on the technology adoption modelling and the application of ICT, especially AI, machine learning and virtual reality for sustainable health and wellbeing of our community.