Ready to nurture the next wave of ocean science
Marine biologist Dr Emma Camp has been announced as a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science 2020 Fellow and a TIME magazine Next Generation Leader for 2020.
Amid all the challenges and disruptions thrown up by the year 2020, marine biologist Dr Emma Camp has managed to add a proud and “really magical moment” to her dive log.
In February, the internationally renowned corals expert was able to take her dad to Opal Reef, offshore from Port Douglas. There she showed him the coral nurseries she and her collaborators have created in their quest to aid the corals of the Great Barrier Reef in their fight to survive climate change.
In a way, the trip closed a very personal circle. Twenty-six years earlier, during a family holiday in the Bahamas, Camp’s dad had given his then seven-year-old daughter her first glimpse of the underwater world – “this city of crazy natural architecture not even hinted at from the surface,” Camp says. That sense of wonder has never left her.
Now, to add to a clutch of global awards and accolades in recent years, Camp has been announced as a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science 2020 Fellow and a TIME magazine Next Generation Leader for 2020.
It has been some journey for the sporty girl from Essex, England, who went to the United States on a basketball scholarship, studying environmental science and chemistry, but fell in love with marine biology during a semester in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
“Previously, I didn’t know a marine biologist or what a marine biologist did. You know, I hate to say it but I think I thought it was kind of like being a dolphin trainer or working at SeaWorld,” Camp says.
“That period studying abroad was the first time I’d been exposed to marine biology – at a research station, doing research, doing science – and I realised, ‘Oh, that's a job that I could be doing’.”
Camp is now a marine biologist of several years standing, having completed her PhD at the University of Essex under the supervision of David Suggett.
Suggett now heads the Future Reefs group at UTS and he and Camp collaborate on researching “super corals” – corals that thrive in unexpected places such as mangrove lagoons – and the potential lifeline they offer to coral reef ecosystems under siege from climate change, warming and acidifying oceans and coral bleaching.
COVID-19 forced the postponement, probably to 2021, of a large research expedition to mangrove locations on the northern Great Barrier Reef, to test corals for their physiological and genetic traits. In the meantime, work will carry on in the lab.
Camp compares her current research to agriculture and the use of land management techniques such as crop rotation.
“There are indications that the elemental diagnostics of plants, for example, can show whether they have stress tolerance or not. I want to ask if the same applies to corals,” she says.
“Can we take a small coral fragment and, based on its elemental signature, have a diagnostic indicator of stress tolerance?”
While research is at the heart of Camp’s L’Oréal fellowship, there is also the important advocacy and engagement program Girls in Science, which this year will be a virtual event.
“It’s a great honour to be involved and very exciting to see a brand such as L’Oréal focused specifically on the environment and the impact of climate change. It’s also exciting to be involved in a program that is so focused on women and girls in science,” Camp says.
"If one person feels a bit more motivated to conserve reefs or the environment in general, I feel like I've had a success.
“Having that platform to elevate the message but also act as a role model or to just share my experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – with the next generation is really exciting.
“If one person feels a bit more motivated to conserve reefs or just the environment in general, then I feel like I've had a success in that respect.”
In reflecting on her own pathway to success in marine science, Camp says most of her mentors have been male and singles out her dad – “always supportive, always positive”; her husband, Rawiri – “my biggest champion”; and Suggett – a “massive mentor” and now co-researcher.
“I've been very lucky with the really amazing male champions in my career,” she says.
For the young generation coming through, Camp is determined to be a role model and mentor herself.
“I hope young females can see in me someone they can relate to, and say ‘OK, I can do that’. I can have a kid and still be a scientist, for example. Breaking down some of those stereotypes … that you can’t have a family and be a successful scientist. That’s really important for me.
“If we don't include girls and females in the discussion, we're losing 50 per cent of the brain power to address important questions. Men and women often tackle things very differently – you need that synergy between both mindsets to come up with the innovative solutions we need.”
And with that, Camp is off. Having helped her New Zealand-born husband develop his confidence in the water, she is now helping three-month-old son Tāne learn to swim. The local pool awaits.
The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science Australia & New Zealand fellows Girls in Science program is on Monday 26 October 2pm-3pm.
The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science Australia & New Zealand was launched in 2007 and has recognised 49 outstanding scientists. Read more here.
Read more about Emma Camp’s inclusion in TIME magazine’s Next Generation Leaders 2020 here.
EMMA CAMP’S ROLE CALL
- ARC DECRA and UTS Chancellor’s Research Fellow
- STEM Women’s Gamechanger, Australian Academy of Sciences
- United Nations Young Leader for the Sustainable Development goals
- Rolex Awards Associate Laureate, 2019
- NSW Tall Poppy Science Award 2019
- Presenter to High-level Women in Power luncheon at UN General Assembly, 2019
- Speaker on Coral reefs and Climate Change, 73rd UN General Assembly Media Zone, 2018