Award recognises work of Torres Strait marine biologist Madeina David

Trailblazing Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait) islands marine biologist Madeina David has been recognised as one of her university’s top alumni at a ceremony this month.

David, 24, was in September awarded James Cook University’s early career outstanding alumni for the College of Science and Engineering.

The award recognises David’s work with the Torres Strait Regional Authority connecting traditional knowledge and modern science, while inspiring young Zenadth Kes islanders scientists to protect and preserve their homes.

David grew up on Iama (Yam Island).  Her parents raised her with a strong understanding of how critical the ocean is for the Zenadth Kes.

Madeina david and alex carter, torres strait
Madeina David and JCU TropWater’s Alex Carter take a close look at the seagrass so important to the Torres Strait ecosystem. Credit: TSRA / TropWATER / JCU

“They are very proud and have always been my biggest supporters,” David says.

“Moving from a small island of around 300 people with plenty of family nearby, to Thursday Island for high school and then Townsville for university was hard, but worth it.

“Being able to understand and translate complex science and data in local language is helping bridge the gap between science and traditional ecological knowledge to support a healthy, sustainable future for our oceans and marine species in the Torres Strait.

“I love everything about marine, fisheries and conservation, I just want to do everything.”

David’s work on the islands has included helping scientists understand the reasons behind declines in seagrass habitat.

Read more: Keeping tabs on the seagrass capital of the world.

Islanders’ knowledge of historic weather patterns, herbivore populations and fishery stocks has also proven crucial to understanding the ever-changing Torres Strait ecosystems, and David has been a conduit between islanders and environmental scientists.

Her work spans coral monitoring, turtle tagging, ranger training and mentoring students at her former Waiben (Thursday Island) high school.

“Her work brings together scientists, Traditional Owners, rangers and communities in a way that considers and values the rights, data, knowledge and lived experiences of Torres Strait Islanders.”

Moni Carlisle

TSRA sea project manager Moni Carlisle says the award is not only recognition of David’s achievements, but a win for women in science and conservation in the Torres Strait.

“Women in science are the minority, even more so for young Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal scientists, who often don’t have the same access to science mentors, university pathways and educational support services due to resource allocations in remote communities,” she said.

“Madeina is an outstanding young leader who is driving change to benefit not only the entire Torres Strait region, but also the marine science world as it learns from, shares and incorporates the knowledge systems from our nation’s first scientists.

“Her work brings together scientists, Traditional Owners, rangers and communities in a way that considers and values the rights, data, knowledge and lived experiences of Torres Strait Islanders.”

Madeina david, aaron bon, abbi scott, torres strait
Madeina David (centre) with Aaron Bon from the Torres Strait Regional Authority and Abbi Scott from JCU TropWATER. Credit: TSRA / TropWATER / JCU

TSRA chairperson Napau Pedro Stephen says the TSRA is proud of David’s journey from a cadetship to a permanent role as senior natural resource management officer.

“She’s now an award-winning university alumni who is using her degree to make a significant difference for our communities, our people and our way of life through science,” Stephen says.

“Zenadth Kes is the perfect place for more of our young people surrounded by sand and sea to dive into science and environmental studies.

“The Torres Strait is the northernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef, home to culturally significant and scientifically important seagrasses, marine migratory species like dugong and sea turtle species and abundant fish communities.”

David graduated from JCU with a Bachelor of Science in 2021.

Subscribe to greenlight project from riaus

Are you interested in how science and technology is transforming production, energy, and agriculture? Then our new email newsletter Greenlight Project, launching soon, is for you. Click here to become an inaugural subscriber.

The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.

Please login to favourite this article.