Donna Kwan

Portrait of Donna Kwan

2015 College Recipient, College of Marine Environmental Sciences*

Dr Donna Kwan is the program manager responsible for the implementation of the Dugong Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) under the United Nations Environment Program. Dr Kwan holds a PhD in dugong reproductive biology and has spent her career working in research, conservation and management of dugongs.

Her areas of expertise include population biology, collaborative research, conservation and management with local communities, as well as policy development and implementation at local, national and international levels.

Now based in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Dr Kwan is considered a world-leading researcher of turtles and dugongs. Dr Donna Kwan came to JCU from Papua New Guinea to pursue her passion for marine biology. After graduating from James Cook University with a Bachelor of Science, Dr Kwan returned to PNG and worked for the Department of Fisheries as a turtle biologist. She was based in Daru, a remote island on the PNG side of Torres Strait where facilities were extremely basic and challenging.

Dr Kwan enrolled in a Masters degree at JCU as an external candidate to focus on her research on turtle fisheries. She returned to JCU for her doctorate, conducting research on the dugong fishery in Torres Strait. Once again, this involved extended periods of time living in remote Indigenous communities in the Outer Islands of Torres Strait, this time on Australian islands.

After four years working as an Assistant Director in the Marine Division of the Federal Environment Department in Canberra, Dr Kwan was appointed to the United Nations Environment Program as the foundation head of the Secretariat for the Dugong MoU, under the Convention of Migratory Species.

Dr Kwan is now based in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi has donated more than 9 million US dollars on behalf of the UAE Government since 2009 to underwrite the Dugong MoU. Under Dr Kwan’s stewardship, the number of countries that have dugongs and which are signatories to the MoU has grown to 26 of the 46. The Dugong MoU Secretariat now facilitates and coordinates conservation actions through the Dugong, Seagrass and Coastal Communities Initiative across 11 countries, including Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mozambique, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste and Vanuatu.

Dr Donna Kwan was awarded a Bachelor of Science (Biological Science) at James Cook University in 1986, a Master of Science in 1992 and her Doctor of Philosophy in 2002.

*Now known as the College of Science and Engineering.