PhD student Kye Adams, from the School of Biological Sciences, is only early into his research career, but if his passion and motivation are any indication, it will be a long and inspiring one.

Describe the focus of your PhD research: 

"Generally, my research is focused around understanding the impact of fishing on sharks and rays. If we understand how fishing impacts different species," we can find ways to potentially reduce our impacts on many of the sharks and rays that are considered vulnerable to extinction. In a parallel project I’ve also been developing a non-lethal alternative for managing shark-human interactions at ocean beaches. A key goal of my research is to provide an alternative to shark-nets, which capture all types of sealife, by designing and testing the effectiveness of aerial surveillance from blimps. A key goal of my research is to provide an alternative to gill-nets (commonly known as shark-nets), which catch and kill sharks as well as other non-harmful sea life creatures."

Why does this interest you?

"As a professional ocean lifeguard, surfer and marine scientist, my interest in sharks and rays comes from spending a lot of time in their home. The conservation of sharks and rays is something I feel requires immediate and urgent attention, given that they are vulnerable to extinction. I feel that we have a social and environmental responsibility to develop strategies that cause the least harm to people and to the environment."

Why is it important?

"Sharks and rays are an integral part of our life support system that is the ocean. Although they provoke a primal sense of fear in many of us, it’s important to recognise that they also provide a balance to the ocean that in turn benefits us all. I feel that is that not only is it possible to co-exist with large ocean predators, but it is essential we adopt sustainable practices so that we don’t irrevocably change the ocean for the worst. By finding a scientifically proven and sustainable strategy for maintaining safety we can also enhance the enjoyment people get from the ocean and reduce barriers for people to access the ocean safely." 

What projects are you involved with at UOW? How did you get involved with them? 

"I’m involved in a number of projects with UOW support. The UOW Global Challenges Program (GCP) has been integral in bringing together researchers with unique perspectives to create something new and exciting. The project I’m involved with Global Challenges stems from my invention of the blimp for shark spotting.  Our project team are now expanding the scope of the project to include automated shark detection, and to understand the complex social dynamics surrounding shark management. The social element is vital to understand the effectiveness of any shark strategy." 

Describe your journey to get to this point:

"I grew up in the small coastal town of Kiama, so naturally grew up surfing or getting in the water most days. I feel a strong connection to the coast. Despite being  told there are no jobs in Marine Science, I decided that I’d give it a shot and secured a place at UOW.  Six years of study later, I feel that am well placed for employment when I finish my PhD in the next 18 months. I feel strongly that as marine scientists we need to justify our position and produce research that is relevant and has lasting impact.  A number of grants and in-kind support have helped me along the way, providing much needed research funds to pay for field expeditions and supplies. Support from the University  and the Department of Primary Industries has enabled most of my research to get off the ground, as well as Kiama Council and a number of NGO research groups including the Save Our Seas Foundation and the Holsworth Research Endowment. Without such support research like mine couldn’t happen."

Who or what has influenced you on your research journey so far?

"It’s funny but most of my influences come from outside science. I feel inspired by creative people such as surfers and musicians who also express a love for the ocean. Creativity is often undervalued in science, but many scientists are creative people which I feel leads to the greatest innovation.  Throughout my PhD, my supervisors have provided ongoing guidance and support, even if my ideas sounded a bit left-of-field or crazy. I appreciate this backing, and their confidence in my ability to achieve success." 

What has been the most exciting moment in your studies and projects so far?

"I love the feeling of discovery. By the nature of a PhD you are working at the very edge of human knowledge, so if you find something new you get to be the very first person with that piece of information. Then it’s even more exciting to get to share your findings with other scientists and the broader community. There have been several moments of discovery in my short career so far, but the most exciting for me was finding that my shark spotting blimp works and that my  idea transpired into something real - something that can impact on the way we all use the ocean."

What do you hope to ultimately achieve in terms of contribution to this field and broader society? 

"I hope my research has an impact on how people use and view the ocean for recreation; either for swimming, surfing or fishing. Ultimately, I’d like to help change the way we view and understand sharks by communicating their vulnerability and promoting a message of mutual respect." 

You recently gained a good amount of media attention for one of your paperS. How did this come about? 

"Science communication is an emerging and increasingly integral part of science. Our new article (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320717303634) is about fishing causing the abortion of pups for a large number of shark and ray species. This is an important but often misinterpreted issue for researchers and fishers to consider. It was important to try to raise awareness so that we can potentially minimise the loss of pups, especially for endangered species. It was good to see the message getting out, and given that social media provided data for the paper, it was nice to also use it as a tool for promoting change and education."  

You have experienced working in interdisciplinary teams with Global Challenges - how important are interdisciplinary collaborations in research? Why? 

"I feel that it’s easy in science to become fixated on a problem and view it from a single perspective. By working on projects with people from diverse backgrounds, finding a workable solution is made that much more achievable. Working within diverse teams also facilitates innovation, through combining a range of skills and approaches. If we only ever stick to research in the one field it limits the scope of our discovery to a very specific audience, but by conducting interdisciplinary research it increases the chances of relevancy to a broader audience and ultimately impacting change on a global scale."

Find Kye on Twitter: @KyeRAdams