Marine eco-surveillance tools for Indigenous landowners and environmental regulators 

May 30th, 2024

Developing omics-based eco-surveillance tools to improve how we detect and respond to contaminants in marine wildlife and ecosystems.
A dugong floats in calm blue waters, with light from the surface reflected on its skin.

Dugong swimming

The Challenge

Project Duration: February 2024 – February 2027

Contaminants such as metals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and PFAS contribute to the degradation of our marine environments. Particularly in north-eastern Australia, where they’re linked to decreasing seagrass cover and declining dugong and turtle numbers.  

But monitoring the health of our marine ecosystems is time-consuming and costly. Current approaches are often limited to specific sites. They typically only target known or regulated contaminants – so we only gather data on those we test for. What’s more, they can’t be used to assess the health of wildlife.   

Over the past decade, these challenges have driven researchers to develop more comprehensive and systematic forms of eco-surveillance.  

Combining chemical assessments with molecular biology, omics-based eco-surveillance tools’ enable scientists to collect, analyse, and interpret a broader range of environmental data. This includes information about ecosystems, and the wildlife that inhabit them.  

Omics-based eco surveillance tools offer a non-invasive way to detect and respond to the effect of contaminants on marine ecosystems and organisms. They can provide more holistic environmental data, including environmental DNA and wildlife metrics.  

But ensuring these tools are fit for purpose, and finding ways to translate and share useful findings with Indigenous landowners and environmental regulators is an ongoing challenge. 

Addressing these issues is crucial to monitoring vulnerable dugong and turtle populations and at-risk seagrass habitats and supporting stakeholders to manage these vital ecosystems.   

A woman with dark curly hair smiles in front of a beautiful coastal landscape.

PhD candidate Sarah Green.

Our response

The Responsible Innovation Future Science Platform is supporting a PhD research project to develop the most appropriate tools for monitoring the health of seagrass, dugongs and turtles.  

Researchers will begin by determining the biochemical reactions among these species to a wide range of contaminants.  

By applying novel scientific approaches like multi-omics techniques and AI-powered models, we will determine how contaminants impact the health of wildlife and ecosystems. From there, we aim to establish biological markers – called ‘biomarkers’ – which can help identify impacted wildlife in other ecosystems of concern.  

We will develop these scientific approaches in consultation with the people most likely to use the findings. Indigenous landowners, regulators and other stakeholders will provide input throughout the project, to ensure that the results and outputs can support ongoing environmental management activities.  


Our research not only aims to develop multi-omics approaches that help determine the adverse effects of contaminants. It will also ensure that this cutting-edge approach translates into useful outputs, that support comprehensive environmental risk assessment and management.  

With this project, we will improve our approaches to eco-surveillance. We will support Indigenous landowners, regulators and other stakeholders with the data they need to monitor and manage these ecosystems. With enhanced and informed approach to environmental management, we hope to see improved conditions in the seagrass meadows, and the animals that feed on them.  


Sarah Green (PhD student), David Beale (CSIRO supervisor), Aleicia Holland (La Trobe University supervisor) 


David J. Beale, Oliver A.H. Jones, Utpal Bose, James A. Broadbent, Thomas K. Walsh, Jodie van de Kamp, Andrew Bissett. 2022. Omics-based ecosurveillance for the assessment of ecosystem function, health, and resilience. Emerging Topics in Life Sciences 6 (2): 185–199. doi: