Sustainability, seaweed, and Australian-first marine projects

Peter Crockett, Managing Scientist

Peter Crockett, RPS Managing Scientist is standing on the Kerferd Road Pier in Albert Park Melbourne with Port Phillip Bay in the background.

Growing up in Central Victoria’s Macedon Ranges, marine science perhaps wasn’t the natural career path for Peter Crockett to follow. But yearly summer holidays to the idyllic coastal hamlet of Point Lonsdale would spark a love for the ocean that now sees him managing offshore environmental studies for Australia’s first offshore wind project, Star of the South. We spoke to Peter about intrepid work adventures off Wilsons Prom, offshore renewables growth, and the future of marine farming.

QTell us about your work as a consulting marine scientist

At the moment, I’m working on the marine ecology survey program for Star of the South – an offshore wind farm development that’s proposed for the Gippsland region.

It’s a massive program of field surveys looking at all kinds of species—marine mammals, fish, birds and benthic environments. I project manage the field work and act as the interface between our client, RPS’ technical specialists, and the sub-contractors we are working with to collect information for the environmental impact assessment.

I keep an eye on what’s happening in the field, communicate back and forth with our technical people, and also keep the client informed on everything that’s happening with the program.

Some of our technical leads are based in other states and I’m actually one of relatively few consultants with a marine science background based in Melbourne (it’s a bit of a small community), so having local knowledge has been useful in shaping some of the survey design processes, and how we tackle study design and delivery.

Quick Q&A

Coffee pick?

Seven Seeds coffee

Fave beach or swimming spot?

Point Lonsdale – it’s pretty special

Sports lover?

Sailing! 

 

QYou actually spend some time offshore doing fieldwork too – what’s that like?

My background is very much as a technical person out in the field, so I’ve been in a good position to step in and help with offshore fieldwork over the last year or so, when movements have been restricted due to the pandemic.

I’ve worked with our Energy team on oceanographic studies for Star of the South—we have had instruments deployed off the coast of Gippsland to measure waves and currents—so I’ve done trips to support servicing of instruments where we download the data, service everything and put instruments back into the water.

I also did two weeks offshore for benthic surveys (seabed ecology) which was a fantastic experience. Gippsland is an incredible part of the world, and we were looking at some really interesting species and biodiversity.

It’s also quite spectacular as it’s close to Wilsons Promontory which is one of the most iconic parts of the Victorian coastline. We were dipping in and out of there quite a bit to shelter from the weather!

QAs a marine ecologist, what are your favourite species to work with?

My main area of interest is actually seaweeds. I majored in marine botany for my undergrad and went back and did a masters in it later on–so that’s my passion….seaweed ecology and biodiversity.

The south coast of Australia has the highest seaweed biodiversity in the world. Over a thousand different species. It’s just such an interesting part of the ecosystem here in Victoria. You go out to sea, snorkeling or diving and you see seaweed everywhere, where if you go to the Barrier Reef it’s a completely different scene dominated by corals and fish. The diversity of seaweeds here can really take your breath away.

One of the things that I love about my work and my career so far is that I’ve gotten to work on all parts of the Victorian coast, and I feel quite privileged that I get to travel and to experience all these different marine environments and ecosystems.

QWhat would your ideal project or job be?

Something I’ve always had a real interest in and wanted to get involved with is marine farming. I think we still have a long way to come in that field and there’s a lot of technology that would need to be developed, but there are people now, in Australia, trialing seaweed farming for example.

There’s a bit of skepticism about how something like that could be commercialised as it’s a low value product and the labour costs would be high (and I share some of that!), but I think that’s the kind of conversations and ideas we will see more of in the future. A branching away from traditional marine products like oysters, mussels, prawns and salmon farming, into a much wider range of marine species being farmed.

QWhat are some of the sustainable development challenges your team is helping Victoria to solve?

Our work in environmental studies, assessment and approvals for offshore wind is all about finding a way to achieve an ecologically sustainable development outcome in a context where we don’t have existing regulation or legislation (although this is changing), and we also don’t have a huge amount of information to inform how projects can be designed and built with low impact. That’s why the studies that we’re doing are so big.

Most people in the community would like to see offshore wind as a renewable energy source. They see the value in it, but they want it done in an environmentally sensitive way. These are new issues for Australia in terms of the type and scale of development, so these are the things we are trying to help investigate and solve.

It’s all about turning huge amounts of data into information that communities can interpret, and be informed on what the likely impacts are going to be, and make decisions about whether those impacts are acceptable.

QYou’re a key part of the renewable energy growth story in Victoria, but what do you think is next? Where should the focus be?

We’re really entering the next phase of human history planning the shift to renewable power generation, and we have lots of information. What we need is a really good plan for how we’re going to do it. That’s particularly true of the marine environment where we need to start planning it out spatially.

The marine environment has nothing like the zoning and planning schemes we see on land. We have the opportunity and need to do some really good marine spatial planning. This would help us map areas where there are good renewable energy resources and where the environmental sensitivities may be lower—the most acceptable places to consider future development.

Victoria is working on it, but marine spatial planning should be a key focus area for all of the states, territories and the federal government. To come together and do the detailed planning that will help us better manage the transition while protecting sensitive environments.

QWhat do you love about Victoria?

I love that we have such an amazing, varied coastline. From the wild and exposed western coast where there are huge waves all year round and big sea cliffs, to central Victoria which is a lot calmer with big coastal communities and great surf, and across to eastern Victoria which is quite remote and a completely different sort of place. Onshore we have everything from rainforests to snow-capped mountains and desert. We’ve really got everything.

Want to know more about our marine biology work? Get in touch!

Peter Crockett

Managing Scientist

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