Meet our Early Career Ocean Professionals: Rachel Kelly (Tasmania)

Dr Rachel Kelly is a knowledge broker for the NESP Climate Systems Hub, where she oversees the Hub’s approach to end-user engagement, research use and research uptake, in the context of informing climate adaptation solutions for Australia.  She is also a marine socioecologist and postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Marine Socioecology in Tasmania. 

Currently based in Hobart, Tasmania, her research focuses on the human dimensions of ocean sustainability, including foresighting, ocean literacy, social licence, and citizen science.  Rachel’s work is largely interdisciplinary, working with diverse teams to develop sustainable solutions to ocean and climate challenges, including in the Future Seas 2030 project. This work has involved collaborative research projects in and with the Centre for Marine Socioecology, the World Maritime University in Sweden, the Australian National University in Canberra, iDiv in Germany, and other international interdisciplinary groups.

As a marine socioecologist, she is working on the interface between people and the ocean – specifically, exploring how society can achieve more at sustainable futures and marine conservation outcomes by engaging people through ocean literacy initiatives including citizen science.  Her work background is marine science and ocean conservation and this has now become increasingly focused on applied outcomes regarding the human dimensions of the ocean.


1. You work as a knowledge broker at the NESP Climate Systems Hub – what do you do exactly?

Knowledge exchange is two- or multi-way sharing and transfer of knowledge, with mutual benefits and learning for collaborators. The aim of knowledge exchange in this context, is to move beyond traditional one-way approaches to science communication – i.e. the ‘deficit model’, where scientists presume communities can learn and achieve impact with science by just receiving information – to more inclusive, iterative, and dynamic ways of sharing information – i.e. the ‘dialogic model’, which recognises the interdependences between the knowledge providers and users.

In the marine and climate space, these collaborators are most often researchers and decision-makers, but also can be communities such as Indigenous groups and/or young people. Knowledge brokers are the people in between who enable the exchange of information between different groups – e.g. scientists and decision-makers. I work as a knowledge broker in the Australian National Environmental Science Program Climate Systems Hub. In my role, I engage with scientists (‘providers’) and stakeholders (‘users’) including climate policy decision-makers and Indigenous groups to help ensure that applied science can be designed and used for climate needs and inform climate policy such as adaptation solutions for Australia. Day to day, for example, I relay information and help stakeholders to understand what science is available, what it means for different groups, and what it can contribute to or inform. I also help user groups such as decision-makers to understand their information needs and what information they can have access to make more effective decisions.

2. What do you think local coastal communities can bring to marine policy processes and how can we engage them within the UN Ocean Decade?

The UN Ocean Decade aims to bring about change in how the ocean is valued, understood, and managed for future generations. This change needs to happen at local to larger scales if it is to be effective over the next 10 years – and beyond  Local coastal communities can and will play a key role in contributing to enhancing ocean knowledge, and also in implementing actions for sustainability.

We can engage them in lots of diverse ways, including through:

  • Citizen science: communities bring invaluable experiential knowledge of ocean places to contribute to scientific understanding. By connecting with communities through citizen science projects, they can provide data and information needed to inform local-scale marine decision-making process (e.g. for conservation), and also increase their own understanding and appreciation of their marine environments.
  • Ocean literacy: local communities can also achieve impact by informing and improving global ocean literacy – as this is most likely to happen at individual and grassroots levels (see ocean literacy toolkit). There are already a huge range of ocean literacy initiatives that are associated with the Decade – including those that the ECOP ocean literacy sub-working group is connecting with.
  • Imagining sustainable futures: Communities should and can have a say in their ocean futures, including youth communities in particular. There are so many of ways this can happen including through foresighting initiatives and immersive activities. The Future Seas 2030, for example, brought together researchers as well as Indigenous groups to identify key ocean challenges and our transition to a ‘more sustainable future’ over this decade. This project also created an immersive, community-focused interactive film – Full Metal Aquatic – to engage other stakeholders in imagining the future, and conceiving how decisions made today will shape the ocean we have in 2030.
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3. What are the biggest challenges for you as an ECOP?

Speaking with other ECOPs across the world, we frequently lament that access is one of our biggest challenges. For me, I’ve experienced this as challenges in accessing research funding as the system can be very competitive, as well as access to how marine decision-making processes play out because ECOPs do not generally sit at these decision-making tables. Another challenge I’ve had is in accessing information – partly because it can be hard to connect with a large global community of other ECOPs and senior professionals and partly because some research information (such as papers) is stored behind paywalls.

That being said, I am very optimistic about how we as ECOPs can work to address these challenges over the next several years  Already, the Decade’s ECOP working group has brought together ECOPs from diverse background and regions of the world to connect on shared projects and shaping agendas for the Decade and beyond. For me, these connections have already led to opportunities to collaborate on research and projects with other ECOPs, including in my home institute with my local peers and collaborators. As ECOPs, we definitely can – and already do – have impact particularly through our shared voice as Ocean Decade ECOPs. I’m excited to see all that we can do and progress together.


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