We enjoyed hearing from Dr Peter Macreadie at a recent Environment Donor Circle. Peter leads the innovative and award winning Blue Carbon Lab at Deakin University and shares his story below.

How did you become interested in environmental research?

I was always passionate about the ocean. As a kid I would take any chance I could get to put my head in the water. To me, the oceans had a magical appeal. I planned on studying marine biology, but somehow got distracted during University and ended up majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry. I picked up a job developing antimalarial and antifungal drugs at CSIRO. After two years in that job, I was diagnosed with cancer and came within weeks of death. I decided at that point that I wanted to get back to studying the oceans. As it turned out, they needed help more than ever due to climate change, collapsing fisheries, and coastal development.

What is blue carbon?

‘Blue carbon’ refers to carbon that is sequestered by the oceans. We’ve learnt that the heavy lifting is being done by three coastal vegetated ecosystems: seagrasses, saltmarshes, mangroves, which occupy only 0.2% of the seafloor, yet sequester more than half the ocean’s blue carbon. These blue carbon ecosystems are among earth’s most efficient carbon sinks, burying carbon faster than tropical rainforests and locking away carbon in the ground for millennial time scales. In addition to sequestering carbon, blue carbon ecosystems provide other important ecosystem services, such as fisheries enhancement, coastal protection, and social amenity.

What is the focus of Blue Carbon Lab?

Our current focus is on creating the business case for restoring our coasts. Fortunately, as we increasingly move into carbon markets, we now have an ecosystem service – carbon sequestration – that can attract funding for restoration. Blue Carbon Lab is working hard to gather the information we need to show the world that investing in our coasts will not only help mitigate climate change, but will also help improve natural capital, and contribute to jobs, economic growth, capacity building and community wellbeing. Some of our projects include: modelling impacts of sea level rise on the future distribution of blue carbon ecosystems, testing methods for restoring inland wetlands to avoid release of greenhouse gases, and determining the optimal approaches to managing coasts to maximise blue carbon sequestration.

Would you share any highlights from the journey? 

I’ve had incredibly good fortune when it comes to opportunities to share my research one-on-one with influential people; from former Prime Ministers (Howard, Gillard), to Hollywood Superstars (Hugh Jackman), to business leaders (Andrew Liveris – Dow). By far the most memorable experience was arguing about the power of blue carbon with Rupert Murdoch.

Another highlight was being included in the AMP Foundation Tomorrow-Makers for 2015.

What inspires or motivates you? 

I’m hard-wired towards wanting to do a good job. I’ve always been motivated in this way. Whether I was stacking shelves at Woolies or running a research lab at Deakin. But since having kids I think I’ve felt a greater sense of purpose: the desire to make a big and positive change in the way we manage our natural resources – to learn and teach others how we can be good stewards of the earth, which for me has lately manifested in research that demonstrates conserving nature is a smart and long-term global business strategy.

How can the ACF community contribute to the work of Blue Carbon Lab?

Blue Carbon Lab and Deakin University welcome all donations to support this work and are currently seeking donations to support a small project “How Marine Microbes Can Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions”. We are also seeking a significant individual donor or a pool of donors to support the development of the Victorian Sea Level Rise and Carbon Network (SCaN).

Contact the Grants Team for a copy of the project proposals or to discuss further. Deakin University would also welcome any interest from donors with coastal or wetland properties who may wish to ‘host’ field research. Contact Rikki Andrews (Philanthropy Strategist, Deakin University) via email or call 03 9246 8408 for further details.