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Developing future leaders in Tropical Marine Science

SPOTLIGHT AIMS@UWA Researcher

Declan Stick holding small reptile

Declan Stick

PhD Candidate

Thesis: Genetic mechanisms of thermal resilience in a reef-building coral at the Ningaloo Reef World Heritage Area

Declan’s passion for marine science started early, with most of his childhood spent snorkelling and diving. There was never any doubt that he would pursue a career in marine science.

Making it his mission to research coral health, Declan’s PhD research investigates the heat tolerance of coral. His project aims to identify heat tolerant coral, the key traits associated with heat tolerance, and any genetic differences that relate to bleaching resistance.


 

Declan Stick diving with corals        Declan monitoring the health of outplanted coral for the AIMS ReefSong Project

 


Working in Ningaloo, the project will use the Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS) as the experimental platform for testing trade-offs in bleaching resistant corals, and for measuring key ecological parameters associated with the artificial reef structure and associated community. Declan hopes his research will help better inform reef management and restoration practices in the area, leading to better conservation efforts.

“Climate change and the associated increase of mass coral bleaching is the greatest threat to the ongoing persistence of global reef ecosystems. The outcomes of my research will directly inform the management and conservation of the Ningaloo Reef World Heritage Site” reports Declan. 

 


 

Heat stress experiment on Corals

       Acropora tenuis fragments undergoing heat-stress experiments in the Minderoo Exmouth Research Lab


Declan splits his time between the lab, writing up manuscripts, diving, and running experiments along Ningaloo reef. He has also gained experience as a field team leader for Pendoley Environmental’s flatback turtle monitoring program, which prepared him for just about any field work.

Calling turtle monitoring “some of the most challenging field work”, Declan spent eight weeks during turtle nesting season out on a cattle station in remote North Western Australia. He walked long stretches of beach, carrying way too much monitoring gear while wrestling turtles, and looking after a group of volunteers for up to eight hours every night.

Declan’s clear passion for marine science and research focusing on coral reef health, restoration and conservation make it no surprise that he is the 2022 Keiran McNamara World Heritage Research PhD Top Up scholarship recipient. Knowing the reputation of the scholarship, Declan was overjoyed to receive it. The scholarship gave him the freedom to pursue his research the way he wants to without worrying about financial stresses. It has allowed him to expand his research to include more cutting-edge genetic approaches and give him skills he can use in his future research career.

"For me, what’s important is doing good science and contributing to research that will help preserve healthy coral reefs."

His focus now is learning as many new skills as possible that he will use throughout the rest of his career. By the end of his PhD, Declan hopes to have forged new partnerships and published several high-impact papers, setting him up to travel and complete post-docs in labs around the world that work on different coral reefs.


Declan Stick with coral sample

        Declan with a specimen from the Australian Mesophotic Coral Examination onboard the R/V Falkor

 


Declan’s project is a collaboration between the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), the Minderoo Foundation and UWA.

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