Media @JCU newsletter Notices Vale Professor Richard Kenchington

Vale Professor Richard Kenchington


Holidays at the seaside in Great Britain as a young boy led to a lifelong passion for Professor Richard Ambrose Kenchington.

Prof Kenchington’s enthusiasm for the ocean, including the Great Barrier Reef, would eventually blossom into a distinguished and illustrious career as a marine biologist and ocean administrator.

After graduating in 1965 with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from Queen Mary College at the University of London, Prof Kenchington completed his Masters of Science at the University of Wales in 1968.

Appointed in the same year as a Senior Tutor in Marine Biology to the then University College of Townsville (now James Cook University), Prof Kenchington would go on to become a Research Fellow in the Marine Biology Department at JCU between 1972 and 1977, conducting research into Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS). Prof Kenchington worked with Navy divers to develop COTS survey methods using manta tows that have been used ever since.

One of Prof Kenchington’s greatest achievements was his foundational role in the early years of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Between 1974 - 1975, Prof Kenchington was a member of a small group which developed principles that subsequently informed the drafting of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act.

This led to his appointment to the newly formed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) in 1977, where he took on various roles including as planner and then as the Director responsible for planning and also research and monitoring.

In these roles, he was instrumental in setting up the initial GBR zoning and was also involved in drafting the nomination to UNESCO which resulted in the GBR being listed as a World Heritage Area. At the time, it was the largest World Heritage Area on the planet.

A new posting came calling in the late 1980s, when Prof Kenchington served as a Marine Policy Fellow with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the United States.

Following his fellowship, Richard published a book, Managing Marine Environments, in 1990which outlined principles that had never been prominently highlighted before including marine spatial planning. Other influential publications Prof Kenchington co-authored included Guidelines for establishing Marine Protected Areas (1991) and The Great Barrier Reef: Finding the Right Balance (2002).

Between 1991 and 1993, Prof Kenchington was seconded to be the Secretary for the Commonwealth Government's Resource Assessment Commission's Coastal Zone Inquiry.

The Inquiry addressed many coastal and environmental aspects in a holistic way, such as consulting coastal and island Indigenous peoples around Australia - which Prof Kenchington strongly supported. The Inquiry paved the way for legislative and policy changes in how Indigenous governance, use and management of Sea Country, including fisheries, are recognised around Australia.

After returning to GBRMPA, Prof Kenchington created the External Services Branch in the Authority, working with international and regional agencies and governments.

For example, in 1996, he was a member of an Australian team that designed a strategic plan for marine protected areas in eastern Indonesia (COREMAP). He established the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) and the associated International Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management Symposia.

He also played a significant role as a senior advisor to the UN Environmental Programhelping to rebuild their marine program and guiding their marine conservation work.

In 2001, Prof Kenchington was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science by JCU in recognition of his marine conservation efforts at the national and international level.

Despite ‘retiring’ as an Executive Director at the GBRMPA in 1999, Prof Kenchington went on to pursue an academic career at University of Wollongong (UOW) - first as an Honorary Visiting Professor and then as part of the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security in 2010. He eventually retired in 2020.

In May 2022, Prof Kenchington was awarded an Emeritus Professorship at UOW in recognition of his vast and highly impactful contributions to international scholarship, policy and teaching

Fondly known to many of his colleagues as ‘RAK’, Professor Kenchington was a creative mentor and leader.  He loved working with students in real life management problem solving, preferring a practical approach over the theoretical.

As a pioneer in many aspects of marine conservation, Prof Kenchington published prolifically and was extensively cited.

Sadly, Prof Kenchington passed away in Canberra on March 1, 2023. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy for not only the Great Barrier Reef but also for marine conservation globally.

In the week of Prof Kenchington’s passing, a historic United Nations Treaty for conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (the High Seas Treaty) was finally agreed at the UN after almost two decades of negotiations. The Treaty is a monumental win for ocean protection and is a fitting tribute to Prof Kenchington’s life-long advocacy.

He truly was a world-renowned leader in ocean and coastal conservation and management.