Friday February 11th is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. With combined goals of showcasing women and girls doing amazing things to promote, engage and foster female representation in science it is also a reminder of the progress that still needs to be made. The more individuals, families, organisations, Governments can do to encourage, mentor and celebrate women and girls in science the better our societies and lives will be.


Kelly Hannan (L) with her team heading out for field work. Kelly was awarded a Lizard Island Doctoral Fellowship in 2019 for her study into the effects of elevated carbon dioxide on the physiology of fishes. She was awarded her PhD in 2021 and now works in science in the United States. Photo: Jana Birkby.


At Lizard Island Research Station women scientists have been conducting world class coral reef research for many decades. Most years, women are leaders of about half of the research projects conducted at LIRS. In 2021, there were 55 leaders of research projects at LIRS of which 28 were women and 27 men. While that sounds about right, unfortunately there is a gender disparity in their academic level. Of the women project leaders in 2021, 57% are postgraduate students rather than postdoctoral researchers. For men, the proportion is 37%. It appears that women in coral reef science are still hitting barriers to advancement in their careers.


PhD student Emma Weschke is studying the effects of boat noise on reef fishes both in the field and in controlled aquarium conditions. Photo: Lyle Vail.


Despite this, women at LIRS are leading teams to complete a range of projects ranging from microplastic ingestion by larval fish to marine pollution to solving the lifecycle puzzle of the crown of thorns and understanding changes in the abundance of algal turfs on coral reefs. The inclusive environment on the research station, fostered by Directors Dr Anne Hoggett and Dr Lyle Vail and staff as well as ongoing support from LIRRF and the Australian Museum means that women who have researched at LIRS are paving the way for themselves and other women. With each visit to LIRS, scientific discovery, publication, degree achieved, student mentored these women are building a community of women across the world.

Let’s celebrate their achievements and support women and girls who aspire to a life in science.


Professor Maria Dornelas (2nd left) and her PhD student Viviana Brambilla are investigating how coral communities work in a multidisciplinary, long-term research program. Maria and her colleague Joshua Madin (left) were awarded substantial funding for this important project by the LIRRF thanks to the Charles Warman Foundation. Photo: Lyle Vail.


By Greer Banyer | LIRRF Trustee