Immersive learning in the Indo-Pacific

Addu Atoll, Maldives is one of a series of atolls, islands and reefs that comprise the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

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Written By

Tianna Killoran


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

4 December 2023

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Sights set on opportunities in the Indo-Pacific

In a ceremony to be held at Australian Parliament House in Canberra on 5 December 2023, two JCU students — Indus Fisher and Tomas Cooney — both from the College of Science and Engineering will be awarded the prestigious New Colombo Plan Scholarship for 2024. This scholarship will take them to the Indo-Pacific to study marine environments, learn a new language, and gain skills in the field with an internship. Hear from Indus and Tomas about their plans for their time abroad.

The New Colombo Plan (NCP) Scholarship Program supports high-achieving university students to undertake offshore programs, including study, internships, and language-training programs in Indo-Pacific locations. Since 2014, this program has aimed to strengthen Australia’s regional standing by building a diverse cohort of Australian students and alumni with greater knowledge, capabilities and connections with our Indo-Pacific partners. During this time, a number of outstanding JCU students have participated in the New Colombo Plan.

Indus and Tomas went through a detailed application process to receive the NCP Scholarship, with support from JCU Global Experience in preparing for their applications and interviews. The NCP application process involves a competitive nomination process, as well as the submission of written applications addressing assessment criteria such as academic excellence, leadership and community engagement, adaptability and resilience, and NCP strategic objectives.

Receiving this scholarship enables them to undertake an immersive experience of up to 19 months with three parts — study, language training and internship. With both Indus and Tomas currently in their second year of study, they say they’re keen to get their feet wet with their upcoming experiences abroad in Fiji and the Maldives.

Tavoro Waterfalls in Bouma National Heritage Park on Taveuni Island, Fiji.

Finding their feet in Fiji

Now in the second year of his Bachelor of Marine Science at JCU, Indus Fisher says the NCP Scholarship will enable him to complete the final semester of his degree learning about coral reef ecology and maritime skills from the sun-soaked and tropical South Pacific island of Fiji.

Growing up in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef in Mackay, Indus Fisher says that he relocated to Townsville to study Marine Science at JCU. “I grew up working on conservation and ecotourism boats with my dad and was around the water a lot,” he says. “So, I came to JCU out of passion for our marine environments.”

Since beginning his degree, Indus has also secured the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation (NQBP) Marine Science Scholarship for the duration of his studies. He says this opportunity has provided him with valuable financial support to help him focus on his studies, as well as important placement experiences with NQBP each year.

“I did one placement involving plankton tows throughout the marina. They have tripod structures they put down that are intended to be colonised by fouling marine organisms,” Indus says. “We send these off for DNA analysis to find any early warning signs of invasive species. So, doing work like this is very hands-on and applicable for my studies.”

As part of his NCP Scholarship, Indus will study at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji from mid-2024. “Our waterways are really important environments that are going to face increasing stress as we develop coastal areas. I feel that Fiji is a place that is very relevant to this, as it — along with a lot of other Pacific Islands — is facing accelerated sea level rises.”

Indus is keen to tailor his learning around this growing environmental concern. “There are some elective subjects I’m really keen for,” Indus says. “I’m going to be studying coral reef ecology and conservation, while also taking a maritime skills course. I’m really looking forward to it and hope to complement my marine knowledge with practical skills in Fiji.”

Indus will also be learning Fijian within his first six months of study, which he says will be a unique opportunity to learn and work alongside locals and experienced researchers in Fiji. “I’m very excited to do that. I’ve never learned another language before,” he says.

“Another important thing for me about the NCP program is the opportunity to learn alongside and from Traditional Owners, and people who have been working with, living in and managing environments in a sustainable way,” Indus says.

The final 12 months will include an internship, with Indus saying he’s looking forward to seeing the opportunities that are available. “My main passion is for managing and restoring estuaries and waterways. They’re very integrated and complex systems that need our protection.”

JCU student Indus Fisher smiling with thumbs up in a rainforest with students in the background at a creek.
JCU Bachelor of Science student Tomas Cooney smiling with a small lizard on his hand.
Left: JCU Bachelor of Marine Science student Indus Fisher will be undertaking his NCP Scholarship in Fiji (Supplied by Indus Fisher). Right: JCU Bachelor of Science (Majoring in Marine Biology) student Tomas Cooney will be undertaking his NCP Scholarship in the Maldives (Supplied by Tomas Cooney).

Making waves in the Maldives

Tomas Cooney is a second year Bachelor of Science student (majoring in Marine Biology) who also secured the prestigious NCP Scholarship. In the second semester of 2024, he’ll be studying at the Maldives National University and says he’s looking forward to gaining on-the-ground knowledge of the key challenges facing marine environments in the Pacific.

“Marine Science has been one of my major passions growing up. This came from getting my scuba license,” Tom says. “When I was 13, I fell in love with the ocean.”

Moving from Melbourne to Townsville, Tom says he knew that JCU was the place to go for a comprehensive education in marine environments, and his studies have given him the benefit of real-world experience. “I came all this way up to Townsville to study it properly, as well as to have access to opportunities such as the NCP Scholarship and gain experience.”

“Last year I volunteered for a PhD student who was studying acoustic monitoring and tracking of animals. I got to do a ten-day field trip in Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park near Cooktown,” he says. “It was just an amazing experience. We were out in the middle of nowhere, staying with rangers, going out every morning to track animals. It gave me a lot of skills in identifying animals and data collection.” Tomas says that this experience inspired him to seek out other opportunities to get more involved real-world environmental management.

As for his plans for the NCP Scholarship, Tomas says he will complete the final semester of his degree while studying in the Maldives, where he says he’s keen to engage with the expertise and experience of local communities. “After that semester, I’ll undertake an internship along with part-time language studies in Dhivehi (Maldivian),” he says. “I’m really hoping for something in marine or coastal management, which is why I was interested in going to the Maldives for the NCP Scholarship.

“There’s a real demand for coastal management there due to a large accumulation of issues they’re facing, like rising sea levels, pollution and erosion. The Maldives are a hotspot for learning how nations in the Pacific are taking a head-on approach to these challenges. I think it’s just the perfect place to go, get involved, and learn some key strategies.”

JCU's Orpheus Island Research Station provides students and researchers with access to unique environments, including reefs, intertidal zones, forests and grass plains.

Choose your own adventure with JCU

Curious about how you can gain international experiences, cross-cultural skills and lifelong memories while studying abroad? Indus and Tomas’s NCP Scholarships were supported and guided by the friendly Global Experience team at JCU, who facilitate both inbound — incoming international students — and outbound programs — JCU students studying internationally — ranging from 2–6 week trips to 12-month exchanges.

JCU’s Global Experience programs give students the chance to explore new ways of learning, build valuable connections and develop a broader perspective on their career ambitions.

Want to learn more about how JCU can open up a world of opportunities? Get in touch with the JCU Global Experience team. Or, find your hands-on, tropical education experience by exploring JCU's range of offerings in Marine Science and Marine Biology.

Discover JCU Marine Science

Excel in your field by gaining valuable hands-on experience undertaking real-world research in unrivalled locations such as JCU Orpheus Island Research Station.