I work on conserving biodiversity by understanding the impacts of human activities (priority pollutants, plastic debris, urbanization) on biodiversity and rehabilitating affected habitats (ecological engineering).
I collaborate closely with colleagues at a wide range of national and international institutions, enabling a strong multi-disciplinary approach.
I am particularly interested in the scientific basis for biological conservation through managing environmental problems and I advise the United Nations, European Union and governments (Australia, U.K., U.S.A.) on this.
I have lectured (>120 contact-hours), prepared teaching materials, supervised post- and under-graduate students, and I have secured >$1.245M in research funding.
Over the last 11 years, I have shown shores in Oceania, Asia, Africa, Europe, and North and South America are contaminated with microplastic (plastic debris < 1 mm), with more material in densely populated areas.
The source is probably sewage contaminated by synthetic fibres from washing clothes. I have shown that washing a single garment add >1900 fibres to wastewater and using facial scrubbers can add millions of granules of microplastic to wastewater. In estuarine habitats my work demonstrated that the quantity of microplastics can be nearly twice that of larger plastic debris, yet it is a contaminant that has been largely ignored. I have also shown that habitats down-wind accumulate greater quantities of microplastic.
My work has shown for the first time that ingested microplastics accumulate in the gut of filter-feeding invertebrates (mussels) and can translocate into the circulatory system and haemocytes where they persisted for months. Further novel work with polychaete worms showed that ingesting microplastic transfers pollutants and additives into tissues compromising ecophysiological functions that sustain health and biodiversity. I have recently outlined the mechanisms by which debris impacts ecosystems by linking effects at multiple levels of organization (subcellular to ecosystem) and developing new frameworks to assess the ecological risks (e.g. quality of water, biogeochemical cycling, decomposition, maintenance of biodiversity, production of uncontaminated food) due to marine debris. Through this I have showed that policy about plastic debris is scientifically outdated and, if countries classified the most harmful plastics as hazardous, their environmental agencies could conserve greater levels of biodiversity by having the power to restore affected habitats and prevent more dangerous debris from accumulating.
To combat the problems of debris, I developed the Benign by Design programme (http://www.launch.org/innovators/mark-browne) which works with industry and government to determine how to reduce emissions of toxic debris from consumer products (e.g. clothing, packaging, exfoliants).
Priority pollutants & climatic change
I have shown that run-off from boat-yards can add large sources of copper to coastal habitats. Methods I developed to measure how copper affects invertebrates revealed that grazing limpets are more sensitive to copper than are filter-feeding mussels and predatory crabs. To make accurate predictions about the consequences of interactions between pollution and climatic change, I pioneered field-based techniques to manipulate copper and pesticides in marine habitats. Building on earlier work using blocks of plaster, I developed a field-laboratory at a marina with a programmable system of irrigation, which allowed me to control the delivery of contaminants to experimental plots within habitats. This allowed me to expose natural assemblages to complex regimes of chemical disturbance predicted under scenarios of climatic change through urban and agricultural run-off. A key finding from my experimental work was that metals and pesticides reduce the tenacity of limpets (i.e. how well they stick onto a surface).
Ecology of limpets
Through my work investigating the tenacity of limpets, I developed a portable apparatus (Tenaciometer) to measure their force of detachment (parallel and perpendicular) to the substratum) and a staining technique to estimate in situ, the size of the attached area of foot. These techniques were then used to determine how the performance of limpets is influenced by natural (predatory birds, exposure to waves, height and slope of shore) and anthropogenic stressors (metals, biocides, modification of habitats).
Senior Research Associate 2018-2015
University of New South Wales (with EJ Johnston)
Post-doctoral Fellow: NCEAS 2014-2012
National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis, UCSB, Santa Barbara, USA (with SD Gaines & KL Law)
Post-doctoral Fellow: Irish Research Council (equivalent of DECRA) 2012-2009
University College Dublin, Ireland (with TP Crowe)
Postdoctoral Fellow: Centre for Research on Ecological Impacts of Coastal Cities 2009-2008
University of Sydney, Australia (with AJ Underwood, MG Chapman & RA Coleman)
Research Assistant in Ecotoxicology 2004-2000
University of Plymouth, U.K. (with MH Depledge, TS Galloway & MB Jones)
International Research Intern 2000
Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar & Marine Research, Germany (with K Rieser)
As a Research Assistant (with Michael Depledge, Tamara Galloway & Malcolm Jones), I developed assays to measure the ‘health” of organisms, testing the sensitivity of species to contaminants and applying these measures in marine and freshwater habitats across Europe.
Ecological, physiological and toxicological skills developed during this time led to my Ph.D. (supervised by Richard Thompson & Tamara Galloway), unraveling the environmental and biological consequences of microplastic. Through this I was invited to a EICC Post-doctoral Fellowship in Australia (with Tony Underwood, Gee Chapman & Ross Coleman) investigating the ecological impacts of urbanization, climatic change and microplastic.
Skills I developed in experimental design, statistics, quantitative ecology and conservation developed my interest in the ecological basis by which habitats can be sustainably managed. To pursue this I secured an IRCSET Post-doctoral Fellowship in Ireland (with Tasman Crowe), testing the ecological relevance of biomarkers in predicting the impacts of pollution on the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems.
This led to an invitation to a NCEAS Post-doctoral Fellowship in the US to assemble and co-lead a working group investigating the sources, fate, risks and impacts of debris in marine habitats (with Steve Gaines and Kara Lavender Law).
Teaching, thesis examination & supervision
Lecturer: development & teaching of curriculum 20 contact-hrs
B.Sc. EEMB 94 Issues in Marine Conservation, UC Santa Barbara
B.Sc. ENVB 30010 Systems Ecology, UC Dublin
B.Sc. BIOL 2018 Effects of fishing, University of Sydney
M.Sc. ENVI 5904 Experimental design & environmental uncertainty, University of Sydney
Assistant lecturer: experimental design & ANOVA courses 104 contact-hrs
Postgraduate course, San Diego State University, USA
Postgraduate course, National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco, Argentina
Undergraduate examiner of honours projects
B.Sc. Environmental Biology, University College Dublin 2011
B.Sc. Marine Biology Honours project, University of Sydney 2009
Jennifer Halstead B.Sc. (Hons) Environmental Science, UNSW 2015
Whitney Reyes B.Sc. (Hons) Environmental Science, UCSB 2012
Meabh MacMahon B.Sc. (Hons) Environmental Biology, UC Dublin 2011
Phillip Crump B.Sc. (Hons) Environmental Science, Plymouth Uni. 2007
Steve Cartwright B.Sc. (Hons) Marine Biology, Plymouth Uni. 2006
Daniel Stone B.Sc. (Hons) Marine Biology, Plymouth Uni. 2006
Martin Dibley B.Sc. (Hons) Geography, Plymouth Uni 2006
Fabiana T. Moreira Ph.D. University of Sydney 2011-2007
Niamh O’Neill M.Sc. University College Dublin 2011-2010
Jessica Midbus M.Sc. University California, Santa Barbara 2014-2013
Michael Mori M.Sc. University California, Santa Barbara 2014-2013
Paula Ritcher M.Sc. University California, Santa Barbara 2014-2013
Professional affiliations & industrial engagement
Invitations to review manuscripts for journals
Biological Conservation, Environmental Science & Technology, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biofouling, Marine Ecology Progress Series, Marine Environmental Research, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Ecotoxicology, Science of Total Environment, Biology Letters, PNAS, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.
Reviewer of grants
NOAA, Research Grants Council of Hong Kong, Ecological Society of Australia, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, Macquarie University (Australia) Research Fellowships
Member of professional bodies
NCEAS Marine debris working group (co-leader), NCEAS Coastal defenses working group, North Sea Plastic Marine Litter Scientific Advisory Board (Chairman), British Ecological Society, Ecological Society of Australia, Unitas Malacologica, Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, North American & European Society of Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry
Scientific advisor on ecological management
United Nations and Inter-governmental
Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection, International Whaling Commission
European Union, Member of Parliament (U.K.), Department for Fisheries, Food & Rural Affairs (U.K.), Environment Agency (U.K.), Natural England (U.K.), Fingal County Council (Ireland)
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, US Army Core of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, US AID, US State Dept.
Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Environment & Climate Change, North Sydney Council, Marrickville Council, Mosman Council, Hornsby Shire Council, Sydney Metropolitan Catchment Management Authority, Kogarah Council, Noosa Council
Industry & non-profit
Parley for the Oceans, G-star, Patagonia, American Association of Textile Chemists & Colorists, Blue Circle, Boral, Coca Cola, Ocean Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, World Conservation Society, Nike, Eileen Fisher.
1. SETAC North America, U.S.A. 2012
2. International Marine Debris Conference, Hawaii 2011
3. International Temperate Reef Symposium, U.K. 2011
Sydney Morning Herald