Blue Futures Translational Research Initiative (BF-TRI)

Image: Eleanor McNeill

Our vision to become a global leader in the generation, translation and application of interdisciplinary knowledge to create a sustainable, inclusive Blue Future in partnership with local communities.

The Blue Futures Translational Research Initiative (BF-TRI) extends on and consolidates the work of the Blue Futures and Blue Economy Global Challenges projects. This initiative, which will run for three years from 2023, was made possible thanks to an anonymous donor to the University of Wollongong, as well as a range of industry and research partners, including the Australian Research Council.

We imagine a Blue Future in which our coastal communities are healthy, inclusive, equitable and prosperous. A Blue Future will involve us developing and sustaining respectful and harmonious relationships with our natural environment.

The beginnings of Blue Futures

The University of Wollongong, through the Global Challenges program, have been exploring community based approaches to the Blue Economy since 2016. The program of works began with a small internal ’scoping’ study, which explored the capacity of UOW to contribute to a sustainable and socially equitable Blue Economy in our region (South east NSW) and the historical contributions of maritime industries to our region.

The ‘Launching the Blue Economy’ project conducted a ‘stocktake’ of existing businesses and activities in the region that rely on healthy ocean ecosystems.  This included research an extensive mapping process of over 130 existing blue economy businesses and innovators working in the NSW Illawarra and South Coast region.

Launching a Blue Economy

The Blue Futures ‘keystone’ project was a collaboration between UOW and the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council. Blue Futures aimed to contribute to resilient ocean-side communities and develop a vision for ocean futures which respect and prioritise Indigenous knowledges, community values and regenerative economies. Established in 2019 with funding from the UOW Global Challenges program, Blue Futures grew to a wide and diverse network of over 30 academics with partners in Government, industry and community all focused on the sustainable development of our ocean and its communities.

Blue Futures

Blue Futures today

BF-TRI are already active in a range of existing and emerging research collaborations with local Aboriginal organisations, industry and Government. 

Supporting the development of an equitable and sustainable Blue Economy

The Blue Futures team is working collaboratively with Joonga, an Aboriginal non-for-profit orgranisation based in Narooma (Walbunga Country), supporting the organisation with sea country planning and beyond. Currently the team is supporting Joonga with their business model and business planning activities so Joonga can reach its potential on the NSW South Coast. Together, we are exploring how Indigenous models of doing business might provide both a stable platform for sustainable coastal and marine operation and a source of competitive advantage, achieving this via translation of best practices and the establishing of collaborative networks. As part of this collaboration the team is assisting in the development of sustainable business plans for Aboriginal businesses in servicing of maritime infrastructure, seafood processing and tourism. The project goes beyond traditional research practices, actively contributing to growth and job creation on country.

This project is funded by the Australian Research Council, the University of Washington Ocean Nexus program and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Drawing together researchers from Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS) and the Australian Centre for Environment, Society and Space (ACCESS) at the University of Wollongong this research will use a variety of social science methods to gauge community perceptions of, and attitudes to, the emerging Blue Economy sectors of offshore wind and aquaculture (particularly kelp farming) in the Illawarra and South Coast. This research seeks to better understand community attitudes, perceptions and values surrounding the development of these industries. In doing so, it seeks to examine how these can be incorporated into regulatory and consultative processes. We intend to develop a community developed social benefit framework that can be used to inform future development of this nature.


The impact so far

BF-TRI builds on the success of the previous Blue Economy and Blue Futures projects which resulted in a range of impacts and outputs.

Blue Futures was developed in partnership with two Aboriginal organisations: the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council (ILALC) and Joonga Aboriginal Land and Sea Corporation. Aboriginal team members played a crucial role in leading the team in a process of developing novel methodologies and approaches informed by local Aboriginal worldviews and local relationships to knowledges. This process was based on learnings from an award winning program, which was adapted and applied to a research setting for the first time through Blue Futures. As such the full team undertook regular and ongoing engagement with Aboriginal models of decision making, governance and thinking. The impact of this approach included personal growth for team members who reported an improved appreciation and awareness of Aboriginal perspectives. For the research the impact included a shift in focus from more transactional and deficit based models of research, which position Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities and the wider landscape as research subjects from which to extract data, towards an openness to community and Country as partners and knowledge holders in the research.

Blue Futures has been instrumental in actively expanding the role of values in environmental decision making, with a particular focus on relational values and emotional connections to place. It undertook a global review of the role of values in Integrated Ocean Management nd developed an innovative classification system that assists to unpack some of the complexities of existing approaches to integrated ocean management. The team are continuing to explore practical approaches to integrating a more comprehensive suite of values into integrated management approaches, particularly in relation to social and cultural values. For example, they have explored if and how subjective and relational values might be better considered in highly technical decision support tools like Ocean Accounting.

Blue Futures has a strong focus on applied and translation approaches to research. We have actively partnered with small and medium enterprises throughout the region to explore how UOW might support the development of a robust, resilient and sustainable Blue Economy. The Blue Futures team has partnered with the Entrepreneurs' Program of the federal government of Australia to offer translational education programs. Engagement protocols and methods were developed to support the translation of Industry 4.0 technology to our local Blue Economy participants. Our team travelled the NSW South Coast to spent time with each participating business to understand and document current business practices, workflows, value adding processes and the business's role in the wider supply chain. Internet of Things (IoT) sensor technology were purchased from Binary Tech (a local start-up company) and showcased to the businesses who were tasked to identify opportunities within their own work environment from a business model/supply chain innovation perspective. The researchers familiarity with the participating business due to site visits is critical to help with the identification of technology transfer opportunities. By late 2022, the team helped to form a collaborative relationship between the Oyster industry and Binary Tech. Signature Oysters from Bateman’s Bay are trialling IoT sensor technology on their Oyster farm as part of the technology transfer initiatives. The IoT sensors are embedded in the flip farm technology and assist oyster farmers with operational efficiency and water temperature monitoring. Binary Tech is currently servicing seven oyster farmers in Australia and New Zealand with their technology.


Blue Futures Seminar Series

In November Blue Futures held a series of five online seminars The aim was to showcase Blue Futures research, and to bring together community and scholarly experts to explore our engagement with water and coastal change. The seminars attracted over 400 registered participants.

‘Ways to Water’ – Wollongong Art Gallery

The exhibition ‘Ways to Water’ opened at Wollongong Art Gallery on 6 November 2021, and will run until 6 February, 2022. The exhibition features an Augmented Reality component that showcases research by the Blue Futures research team.

The exhibition also includes new artwork by Blue Futures researchers:

  • Golda, Agnieszka, 'Trace I', sculpture: acrylic on found wood
  • Golda, Agnieszka, 'Trace II', mixed media: casuarina dye and cotton on silk
  • Stirling, Jo, ‘Water Bodies’, three paintings: watercolour.
  • Golda, Agnieszka & Stirling, Jo, 'Ways to Water', Curatorial and design works.


Ballard, S., & Saunders, J. (2022). Art Writing and Coastal Change: Story-Telling in the Blue Economy. GeoHumanities, 1-20.

Ballard, S. (2021) “Pacific Sea Shells” Curatorial essay for Ways to Water exhibition

Croft, F., Voyer, M., Adams, M., Visser, C., Leadbitter, D., Reverly, J., Steel, F. and Kennedy, J., 2019. Does 'the local' provide a pathway to revitalizing primary production in regional communities?: A case study of professional fishing on the NSW South coast. Australasian Journal of Regional Studies, The, 25(2), pp.254-281.

Gacutan, J., Lal, K., Herath, S., Lantz, C., Taylor, M., & Milligan, B. (2022). Using Ocean Accounting towards an integrated assessment of ecosystem services and benefits within a coastal lake. One Ecosystem, 7, e81855.

Lobb, J., Christine Howe, Shady Cosgrove, Catherine McKinnon, Luke Johnson Island, Blue Ecologies (special issue) (5 papers)

Lobb, J. (2021). Preparing for the inevitable: Five states of mind. Griffith REVIEW, (72), 275-279.

Lobb, J. (2021). “Hooded Plover, Bawley Point” Plumwood Mountain Journal
Vol. 8, No. 1 Special Issue “An Endangered Menagerie”

Lobb, J. (2021). “The Sea Brought Us Here” Curatorial essay for Ways to Water exhibition, Wollongong Art Gallery

Lobb, J. (2020). Stories from the Conti: swimming at the continental pool, Wollongong – past, present and imagined futures Rising Tides”, 25th Annual Australasian Association of Writing Programs Conference, November 2020

Farmery, A., Allison, E. H., Andrew, N., Troell, M., Voyer, M., Campbell, B., Eriksson, H., Fabinyi, M., Song, A. & Steenbergen, D. 2021. Blind spots in the Blue Economy risk limiting contributions to food and nutrition. One Earth. vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 28--38, doi:10.1016/j.oneear.2020.12.002

Perkiss,S., A McIlgorm, R Nichols, AR Lewis, KK Lal, M Voyer (2022). Can critical accounting perspectives contribute to the development of ocean accounting and ocean governance? Marine Policy 136, 104901

Voyer M, Moyle, C., Kennedy, J., Howlett, C., Viney, G., Sacedon, R., Kuster, C, Forehead, H (in press) Selling out or breaking ground? When Social License to Operate meets research, Research in Ethical Issues in Organisations

Voyer, M, Benzaken, D & Rambourg, C (2022) Institutionalizing the Blue Economy: an examination of variations and consistencies among Commonwealth countries. Vol 377, No 1854 Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

Voyer, M., Edward H Allison, Anna Farmery, Michael Fabinyi, Dirk J Steenbergen, Ingrid van Putten, Andrew M Song, Emily Ogier, Dominique Benzaken, Neil Andrew, 2021. The role of voluntary commitments in realizing the promise of the Blue Economy. Global Environmental Change, 71.

Voyer, M., Moyle, C., Kuster, C., Lewis, A., Lal, K. K. & Quirk, G. 2021. Achieving comprehensive integrated ocean management requires normative, applied, and empirical integration. One Earth.

Voyer,M., Quirk, G. Farmery, A.K., Kajlich,L., & Warner, R, 2020, 'Launching a Blue Economy: crucial first steps in designing a contextually sensitive and coherent approach', Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, pp. 1--18, doi:10.1080/1523908x.2020.1856054

Voyer, M., Farmery, A. K., Kajlich, L., Vachette, A. & Quirk, G. 2020. Assessing policy coherence and coordination in the sustainable development of a Blue Economy. A case study from Timor Leste. Ocean & Coastal Management, 192, 105187.

Island Literary Journal – ‘Blue Ecologies’

Based on MECO[Blue] writing retreat, publication of Special Issue of Island Literary Journal, ‘Blue Ecologies’, featuring work by five UOW writers:

  • Shady Cosgrove, ‘Tour of Grief’
  • Christine Howe, ‘Where is your Country?’
  • Luke Johnson, ‘Littleproud!’
  • Joshua Lobb, ‘Sea-Sorrow’
  • Catherine McKinnon, ‘most of it is water’

The special issue also featured invited submissions from leading Australian Writers, including Tony Birch, Rick Morton, Ouyang Yu, Judith Beveridge and emerging Indigenous writers.

2508 Magazine – ‘Blue Future’

The 2508 magazine, now The Illawarra Flame, presented a ‘Blue Future’ series from Sept 2019 to early 2020. Each month a different Blue Futures story was featured.

Blue Futures at Sydney Festival

Blue Futures contributed to Sydney Environment Institute’s Requiem series, Sydney Festival 2021.

‘Hooded Plover at Bawley Point’ – Joshua Lobb

Joshua Lobb presented ‘Hooded Plover, Bawley Point’ as part of Requiem: An Endangered Menagerie. 22 January, 2021.

UOW's Global Climate Change Week 2021 - ‘Continental Pool Reflections’

Blue Futures contributed to UOW's Global Climate Change Week 2021. Joshua Lobb presented ‘Continental Pool Reflections’ as part of the panel:

Sustainability Impact in Our Region. 20 October, 2021.

Featured at ‘Plastic-free biennale’

‘Plastic-free biennale’, NIRIN (Sydney Biennale), including YouTube video: PhD student Nuwanthi Kanchana in collaboration with Kim Williams and Lucas Ihlein. 

Looking into the Blue Future

The team is actively exploring means through which to consolidate and build on our work so far. BF-TRI will explore the ways in which relational and collaborative approaches to environmental governance can be applied to support a local Blue Economy. It maintains the place based approach of Blue Futures with a focus on transformative opportunities for the Illawarra and South Coast built in partnership with Traditional Custodians, industry, Government and community. It extends on Blue Futures by broadening its scope to incorporate the coast and catchments which interact with and are in relationship with the ocean environments of the region. It aims to consolidate blue sky, innovative thinking with practical and tangible outcomes for the Illawarra, South Coast and beyond.


Narration, in gentle male voice - 


A learned man had dedicated his life to studying the sea.


One day, while setting up his books and instruments, a local fisherwoman wandered by. She warned of the rising tide, but he ignored her and carried on.


So focussed was he on his work, and so focussed was he on his insult, that they both failed to noticed the surging sea encircling them.


As neither could swim, with the dry land shrinking, they were forced together. 


The man apologised. The woman accepted. They shared their knowledge and awe of the ocean. Once connected, they saw their circumstance with fresh eyes.


Together they worked. Binding the man's instruments with the woman's fishing lines to fashion a raft.


As the last rock disappeared beneath their feet they pushed off towards their shared Blue Future.


Who are BF-TRI?

Michelle Voyer

Michelle Voyer is a Senior Research Fellow with the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS) at the University of Wollongong. Her research focuses on the human dimensions of marine conservation and resource management, and the nexus of social science and policy.

Freya Croft

Freya Croft is a Research Fellow at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS). She is also in the final stages of her PhD in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities at the University of Wollongong. Her PhD research looks at emotional and embodied encounters with marine megafauna at Ningaloo Reef (Western Australia) and the potential of these encounters to facilitate the uptake of pro-environmental behaviour and attitudes. Her research interests are broadly related to human ocean relationships, emotional connections to oceans and coasts and considering creative methods and solutions for complex social/environmental issues. 


Tillmann Böhme

Dr Tillmann Böhme (MBA) is a creative, collaborative and innovative minded person; start-up entrepreneur, senior lecturer, and an expert supply chain analyst. He Is an experienced applied field researcher working alongside practice. His passion is bridging the academia practitioner relevancy gap by contextualizing relevant academic theory into practice and share these insights with academia through publications.

Makrita Solitei 

Makrita Solitei is a final year doctoral candidate at the University of Wollongong, School of Geography and Sustainable Communities. Her interdisciplinary research in business and human geography involves grassroots innovators in Kenya and their role in creating circular economy outcomes in the waste sector. She also works closely with Indigenous communities in both Kenya and Australia in mapping value streams of waste and setting up business models.


The BF-TRI team Freya (left), Makrita, Michelle and Tillmann. Photo: Eleanor McNeill
The BF-TRI team Freya (left), Makrita, Michelle and Tillmann. Photo: Eleanor McNeill