University of Tasmania

My passion for sustainability is to promote understanding, knowledge, and appreciation of the natural world at the University of Tasmania at multiple levels of engagement. I co-founded two environmental groups (UTAS Avian Club and UTAS Biological Sciences Club) that connect the University community to each other and the natural values of our island while building capacity for people to engage in citizen science that contributes to the conservation of the natural world.

As a student, I have regularly organised field trips and events to help equip the community with tools and knowledge that they can use in their own capacity. I also designed the state-wide Natural Values Scavenger Game to raise awareness about local natural values and palawa kani (Tasmanian Aboriginal words) for them. I researched and wrote a Water Management Discussion Paper and Natural Space Discussion Paper, which have led to the development of the University’s first Natural Environment Action Plan.

>  A closer look

I strongly believe that we cannot simply live without contributing to the greater good, towards a more sustainable world. My passion towards sustainability action stemmed from my love for the natural world and also the frustration that I felt in learning about sustainability issues growing up. I believe that it is no longer enough to passively support the cause for sustainability, we need to be proactive in driving that change that we want to see. Coming from the Majority World (formerly but commonly regarded as developing countries), I have experienced poverty, racism and species extinction firsthand. It used to outrage me, but with optimism and the knowledge that I have gained over the years, I turned rage into compassion and actions for change. For that reason, I spend my spare time volunteering for diverse groups such as Queers in Science and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and work for the Specialist Peer Mentoring, a program that brings forth equity for neurodiverse students at the University by providing extra social and administrative guidance and advice to students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. While I care deeply for sustainability in general, my core passion is in environmental conservation. Hence, I am currently pursuing a Higher Degree in Research as a PhD candidate in the field of wildlife conservation and interning with the Sustainability Team.

As a student of the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and through a Sustainability Integration Program for Students (SIPS) internship in 2019, I developed a discussion paper in relation to water management at the four main campuses of the University of Tasmania. To deliver a comprehensive and meaningful paper, I used a holistic approach that envisaged to engage diverse key stakeholders within the governmental, business and community sectors through extensive research of relevant stakeholders with policies and initiatives related to water management. I went above and beyond by not only delivering a rigorous background context on water management challenges and potential solutions within the University, but also provided framework for engaging with key stakeholders (e.g., academics with expertise in the field), providing potential timeframes for implementation of solutions based on prioritisation, and developing a communication strategy and a plan to engage the different stakeholders identified.

Following my SIPS internship, I undertook a SIPS fellowship in 2020, with projects focussing on biodiversity. For my fellowship, I aimed to (1) promote the intrinsic values of the natural environment and biodiversity found at the University and within Tasmania to contribute towards scientific research through citizen science, (2) improve the wellbeing of the University community through exposure to the natural world, and (3) facilitate the University community to become better stewards of the natural values found on all of its properties. To achieve the first two aims, I set up a student club, the UTAS Biological Sciences Club, with the vision to empower the University community by increasing ecological literacy and building capacity in citizen science through hands-on experiences. I regularly run educational fieldtrips for the club to teach the community about local natural values and how they can do the same in their own time. This way, I create a ripple effect by giving them knowledge and tools  so the participants leave the fieldtrips empowered to engage in citizen science at their time of leisure with friends and family. The tools highlighted in these fieldtrips include including free and easy-to-access resources such as online field guides of fauna and flora and demonstrations on how to use citizen science mobile applications such as iNaturalist and eBird. The Club, where I am still one of the core members, also engages in national and state-wide projects such as Birdlife Australia’s Aussie Backyard Bird Count and Nature Tracker’s Where, Where, Wedgie!? citizen science projects.

Further, I developed a game, in collaboration with the UTAS Biological Sciences Club, that promotes education of local natural values found in each region of Tasmania while engaging both staff and students. The game is called the Natural Values Scavenger Game, and it continues to be run by the Sustainability Team in two consecutive Orientation Weeks after the completion of my fellowship. I designed a series of posters showcasing natural values (e.g., a native species and local geological features) of the regions where UTAS campuses are located in Tasmania. Posters included the common and scientific name of the species, as well as a photo, description, and ‘little known facts’. Through collaboration with the Aboriginal community (Riawunna Centre) at the University, approval was given by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) for relevant natural values to be presented in palawa kani (one of Aboriginal languages in Tasmania). Each major building and location in each campus was assigned a local natural value of that region. We then engaged staff members across the state to put up the posters of natural values in selected buildings so that students and staff could explore the campuses and familiarise themselves with the University while learning about local natural values found in the region that their campus is located. Participants of the game were handed an information sheet on how to join local environmental conservation groups and were given the entire Orientation Week to complete the game. Participant who completed the game were awarded field guides of local Tasmanian flora and fauna, which were donated by the UTAS School of Natural Sciences.

During my fellowship, I also developed the University’s Natural Space Discussion Paper (2020). The Paper examined challenges that the University faces regarding environmental assets (i.e., native flora, fauna and communities, protected areas, and geoconservation elements) and their associated threats (i.e., impacts of invasive and introduced species, sea-level rise, bushfire, and land use change). I went beyond the project requirements by establishing a benchmarking scheme for which the University’s properties should be prioritised given the environmental assets and threats present. The Discussion Paper was well received at the University governmental level and is the basis, together with the University’s Strategic Framework for Sustainability (2019), for the development of the University’s first draft Natural Environmental Action Plan (2022-2026).

>  Impact and benefits

My efforts had direct impact for the University as an organisation and its communities.

Both the Water Management Discussion Paper (2019) and Natural Space Discussion Paper (2020) provided the evidence and supported the case for the development of the University’s first Natural Environment Action Plan and directly informed useful approaches and potential initiatives to be included in the Plan. My efforts developing both Discussion Papers were recognised by the offer of a fixed-term contract to work within the Sustainability Team, with one of my main tasks being the development of the draft Action Plan.

The Natural Values Scavenger Game provides a backbone for an easy and replicable activity for students that could be used not only during Orientation Week, but also other events. Each participant received an information sheet with the instructions for the game as well as information about volunteering opportunities and environmental conservation. It effectively brings the University community closer to the natural values through the intrinsic connection to the natural values found at the campuses. By learning about the natural values that exist in their region, participants (particularly those who recently moved to Tasmania) feel a sense of place when they recognise these natural values in their surroundings. Places said to have a sense of place have a strong identity that is deeply felt by the residents. When one has recently moved to a new place, they have not established a sense of place and long for the former ghome, this yearning for connection can have negative impacts on one’s mental health (i.e., feeling homesick). Learning about natural values in the new location can help them to mentally integrate, adapt, and build a sense of connection in the foreign environment. Additionally, the game also links participants who may be interested in joining any local environmental groups that engage in hands-on activities in conservation. It is a win-win situation for both the environment and the University community.

The UTAS Biological Sciences Club continues to create impact and provide benefits for the University, the community, and the environment. The Club has been running successfully for a year and a half since I started it in 2020. Since then, while still contributing to the Club as one of the executive members, I have been mentoring the newer members to take on leadership roles to ensure it is sustainable. In addition to regularly conducting citizen science initiatives, which directly contributes to the protection of natural values, we regularly organise social events for students with passion for environmental appreciation and protection to connect them with peers. I recognise that engaging in environmental protection can be anxiety inducing and physically and mentally draining (i.e., effects of eco-anxiety). The Club mitigates this impact by bringing a community of passionate people together and create a sense of solidarity. For example, one of the field trips I ran was at Zoodoo, a zoo in southern Tasmania, to conduct general biological surveys of invertebrates, plants, and birds at their newly established ecosanctuary. The ecosanctuary is a core habitat in the highly altered agricultural landscape in the Coal River Valley, Tasmania.

>  Leadership and engagement

My actions – namely my engagement with students, staff, and key stakeholders to achieve the aims of the mentioned projects – are distinctive as they impacted how the University and its community perceive and treat natural values. Firstly, the Water Management Discussion Paper and the Natural Space Discussion Paper directly informed and ensured that the University would develop a Natural Environment Action Plan. This work seeks to enhance how the University operates to enhance the environmental assets found on all of the University’s properties and increase the ecological literacy of the University community and engagement in environmental protection.

Secondly, the Natural Values Scavenger Game was very impactful to me personally because of the intersectionality of the project. It doesn’t only showcase the beautiful and incredibly diverse natural values that Tasmania provides, but by collaborating with the Aboriginal community, it raises awareness for those new to the state of the on-going existence of palawa peoples within lutruwita/Tasmania. For those who are aware of the Aboriginal communities within the state, it also acts as a reminder that palawa kani was never lost, especially given the past history of cultural genocide on the island.

Finally, I feel that I have built a strong and lovely community of people who care deeply about the environment and created a supporting venue for continual community engagement in conservation. The UTAS Biological Sciences Club has the potential to collaborate with other groups at local, state and national level.

Ultimately, my actions felt distinctive and impactful because of all the collaborators with whom I was privileged to worked. I would like to acknowledge Riawunna Centre who kindly took my project under their wings, the Sustainability Team for their on-going support and guidance, and the University community that were open and receptive of these initiatives.

>  Wider societal impact

My efforts to engage the University in environmental protection in a holistic way will have wider impacts.

As part of the United Nation’s declaration of the Decade of Restoration, the results from the efforts that I put in at multiple levels of engagement will contribute to this global initiative in preventing, halting and reversing the degradation of ecosystems. The draft UTAS Natural Environment Action Plan (2022-2026), to which my Discussion Papers directly contributed, will ensure that the University can implement initiatives to prevent further degradation of the environment and create and restore ecosystems when opportunities arrive within its properties. By prevention of habitat degradation and restoration of ecosystems, we can reduce the amount of atmospheric carbon through sequestration within the carbon sinks while also mitigating the impacts of climate change.

I believe that the Natural Values Scavenger Game had a tremendously important societal impact by showcasing the palawa kani words of the natural values and displaying them throughout the University campuses across the state. This is of social importance because it consensually helped spread the knowledge of Aboriginal communities. The game promotes Riawunna’s presence throughout the University, in solidarity against the long history of colonisation in Tasmania.

The UTAS Biological Sciences Club engaged with environmental groups to participate in restoration projects throughout Tasmania. We have helped Zoodoo build an inventory list of natural values found at their newly bought conservation land that will safeguard crucial habitats for many threatened species, such as eastern-barred bandicoots and Tasmanian devil, within a highly degraded agricultural landscape. With the Club’s contribution to conservation of species, we are able to help slow down the rate of global mass extinction. The Club acts as a supporting venue to build the future generations of citizen scientists in the field of conservation to come.

I hope that, if I win this award, the efforts that myself and all others who supported these projects can be used as an inspiration to other institutions and future generations and as proof that there is hope against the race of species extinction. There are still actions that we can do that are meaningful and rewarding to individuals, communities and institutions.

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