JCU Professor’s extraordinary career recognised

@JCU JCU Professor’s extraordinary career recognised

Below are some photos of JCU's Professor Eric Wolanski receiving an Doctorate Honoris Causa in a ceremony in Hull in the United Kingdom on Friday, January 20, 2017. Also below is the citation that was read by Professor Mike Elliott from the University of Hull, and Professor Wolanski's oration to the students, which he said "was met with the best applause I have ever received".

Congratulations, Eric!

Original media release from November 21, 2016:

JCU Professor’s extraordinary career recognised

A James Cook University scientist is to be awarded one of academia’s highest honours.

Professor Eric Wolanski will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom.

The University of Hull, like other universities, each year confers a small number of honorary doctoral degrees on individuals who are recognised for their exceptional and outstanding achievements.

Prof. Wolanski will receive the honorary degree for his outstanding achievements in what’s known as estuarine ecohydrology. His research focuses on the interaction between physical and biological processes determining ecosystem health in estuaries, coastal wetlands, and coral reefs.

Prof. Wolanski said to receive an Honorary Doctorate in marine science is truly rare and exceptional, and it will be a great honour to accept the award.

"I have collaborated for 10 years with the director of the Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies at Hull University, which is the pre-eminent estuarine research Institute of the UK.

“The Institute needs computer models that predict the ecosystem health of estuaries. This is precisely where I come in with my model based on my 35 years experience as an oceanographer at AIMS and JCU. This model can do that because it combines physics, chemistry and ecology. This model is increasingly used worldwide, at present in Portugal, Palau, Tanzania, India and China."

Prof. Wolanski has been extremely successful, and prolific, in his chosen area of research. During his career he has produced 390 publications. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, the Institution of Engineers Australia (ret.), and l’Académie Royale des Sciences d’Outre-Mer (Belgium).

"For 14 years I was a Chief Editor of the scientific journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science and am still a Chief Editor of the scientific journal Wetlands Ecology and Management. I processed 3300 scientific papers and in that process I mentored numerous young, budding PhD students and scientists and helped them develop into professional scientists".

Prof. Wolanski has previously been awarded an Australian Centenary medal, and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Estuarine Coastal Sciences Association. He is a member of the ARC College of Experts, the Australia-China Science and Research Fund (ACSRF), and the Scientific and Policy Committee of the Japanese government agency Environmental Management of Enclosed Seas (EMECS).

The honorary degree will be conferred on January 20th, 2017.

Professor Eric Wolanski - Citation, as read by Professor Mike Elliott:

My Lady and Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

We need to manage our environment to ensure that its natural features are protected while at the same time it provides benefits for society. For this, the environment needs a healthy ecology and it is well-accepted that you cannot understand and interpret the ecology unless you understand the physics and chemistry of the environment. Similarly you cannot manage something without measuring it and you cannot predict change without modelling the system. In addition, managing the seas needs an international outlook as our environmental problems know no bounds.

It is against this background that I present the Honorary Graduand, Professor Eric Wolanski.

Eric Wolanski and his sister, Isabelle, spent their youth in Bukavu, then Belgian Congo, where their father was a Polish medical doctor trained in tropical diseases and their mother a Belgian nurse. Their relatively privileged life came to an abrupt end in the late 1960s when the family had to flee the Congo which left Eric with no money except a university scholarship. He saw the value of education when at high school in Bukavu with Father Jesuits who bravely kept their high school open even during the Congolese civil wars.

Eric’s wildlife interest started with Congolese students in Belgium and in the field with wardens, rangers and local politicians to save the Kahuzi-Biega forest reserve in Congo, which was rich in elephants and gorillas; the forest was being invaded and destroyed and its animals slaughtered for bush meat. They succeeded in having it designated a National Park which led to the 20-year old Eric being given a commendation from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. He now returns annually to train the Tanzania National Park ecologists in the field and he has supported them as postgraduates with the students all returning home to help save the parks. He has similarly helped science staff at the Palau International Coral Reef Center in the western Pacific under their Chief Executive, a former PhD student of Eric’s. Both of these cases show excellent examples of linking science and management for practical conservation.

Ecohydrology, as an emerging science of aquatic management, has recently been developed and greatly promoted by Professor Wolanski through his papers and books. Eric considers himself lucky when his professor at Louvain University, Belgium, sent him to Princeton University for an MSc and from then to the Johns Hopkins University for his PhD – completed in 2 years; he then had a postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech in California, thereby completing a trio of the US’s most prestigious universities. This started him linking physics and biology and enabled him to get an IBM Foundation $1 Million grant to develop computer modelling and visualization along the Great Barrier Reef.

This then expanded his ecohydrology research in Micronesia, India and China and through his current 8 PhD students and postdocs. These are linking biology and physics for microplastics, box jellyfish, snapper fish, sardines, flatback turtles, ornate spiny lobsters, muddy river plumes, Indian lagoons, the over-heating in the Great Barrier Reef, and the Serengeti waters.

Professor Wolanski has an outstanding record of communicating his science as shown by 13,000 citations to his 380 scientific publications, and 10 books including as Co-editor-in-Chief of the 12-volume Treatise on Estuarine and Coastal Sciences. Professor Wolanski has advised many international and national governmental committees, departments and agencies. He was the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the international Estuarine & Coastal Sciences Association; he also holds an Honorary Doctoral Degree from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, and he is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, the Belgian Acadéééémie des Sciences d’Outre-Mer, and the Institute of Engineers, Australia.

Importantly for Hull, Eric has long been formally linked to the University as an Associate of our Institute of Estuarine & Coastal Studies. He has enthusiastically acknowledged this collaboration thereby increasing Hull’s international reputation in estuarine, coastal and marine fields, for example in our well-received 2015 book on Estuarine Ecohydrology.

As for Eric’s life outside science, he married an Irish girl, Terry, who migrated to Australia and they had two sons and now 2 grandchildren. As well as his family, his other passion is tennis – in his younger days his university in Belgium discouraged sports so he had 5 years without tennis just when he should have been at his prime!  Despite this, at Princeton, he earned pocket money at weekends in the summer holidays by coaching tennis.

Professor Wolanski offers us an outstanding example of how scientists need be cross-disciplinary to engage with the public and to make our science valuable for society. His career emphasises why and how interdisciplinary marine research, in an area which is central to Hull’s own cross-Faculty research agenda, can achieve such high international recognition and have real influence.

My Lady and Chancellor, I am delighted today to be able to present Professor Eric Wolanski for the award of the Degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa.

Professor Wolanski's response:

My Lady and Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I accept the honorary title with a feeling of deep respect towards the name and the great legacy of the University of Hull.

I very much thank the University of Hull. I also thank Professor Mike Elliott for his kind words.

May I say a few words to the many young people here:

The University of Hull has prepared you well to take on the very difficult task to help the world.  The world needs you.

You are fortunate that you graduate from a university with probably the best reputation in Europe in coastal marine science.

Whether you are in coastal marine science or not, you need to keep learning to become multi-disciplinary because you will be called on to help the world face unprecedented challenges in history – we have never been there -  the human population was 2.5 billion when I was born; it may be 13 billion when you reach my age!  Half of them will live near the coast. The pressure on the climate, the environment and natural resources and even world peace is enormous. The changes to the world are so big it is like saying “you will never come home again”.

You will need to find solutions, but not the Chinese way to kill everything wild in the South China Sea and in Africa, nor the way back home to let the Great Barrier Reef die slowly but surely!

You will need to see these challenges as an opportunity to sharpen your skills and your knowledge and to always keep learning.

I wish you well in your life.