Caitlin Lennard

I was an intern at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

I moved up from Melbourne, where I studied a Bachelor of Science at Monash University. While a lot of what I’ve learnt in science is very specific, I’ve always been interested in the big picture; how the small things come together and work to create something much larger: a community, a habitat, or a mosaic of inter-connected ecosystems. Nothing is mutually exclusive!

When the opportunity arose to undertake an internship with GBRMPA, I jumped at it. University focuses a lot on teaching us how to research, and I wanted to complement this by seeing first-hand how research findings are applied on a large scale, in the real world.

As a part of the Australian Government’s Great Barrier Reef Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2013, GBRMPA is conducting a series of vulnerability assessments on 'at risk' ecosystems and species within the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and surrounding catchment area. My job as an intern was to research and write a Vulnerability Assessment to be published by GBRMPA. I focused on coastal grass and sedgelands within the GBR catchment. They’ve been identified as highly vulnerable, and the threats facing these habitats significantly impact the health of the GBR itself.

I’ve gained some great insight into how the government is managing the GBR and been lucky enough to sit in on a couple of seminars presented by staff. It’s been challenging, and has involved a lot of reading, including research findings, government reports, policies and legislation. But it’s given me the opportunity to develop skills in information gathering and summarization, as well as the opportunity to create my own diagrams and photographs to effectively present the information I’m trying to communicate.

I think the effective communication of research is essential to the management of the reef (and the environment in general), be this through government reports and vulnerability assessments, or popular articles in magazines like National Geographic geared toward the public. Regardless of the format, the best way to spark action is to communicate a big-picture view, enabling people to see the whole perspective.

The skills I’ve gained are transferable assets critical to all areas of science and conservation, which hopefully I’ll use right throughout my future career.