Women in science doing good things for the SA environment
To mark the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we’re sharing stories of women thriving in science roles in landscape boards across South Australia.
Women in Australia are under-represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.
Girls and women, especially those from minority groups, rural and remote areas and disadvantaged backgrounds, face multiple barriers to STEM participation.
The women featured in this story are all working with science to help care for land, water and nature.
Elisa Sparrow, Senior Community Ecologist for the South Australian Arid Lands Landscape Board
Elisa grew up with a love of animals and the outdoors, so a job that combines both is a perfect fit.
Following her university studies, Elisa completed her PhD on Southern hairy nosed wombats and spent many nights chasing these ‘surprisingly fast mammals across paddocks with giant nets, trying not to fall down their burrows!’
‘Some of my favourite species I’ve been privileged to see up close are the western pygmy possum, crest-tailed mulgara (Ampurta), western quoll (Indya), microbats, square-tailed kite and woma python,’ she said.
‘I love working with so many passionate and like-minded people trying to improve the environment.
'I feel like I am having a positive influence on the environment and constantly learning new things, plus I get to spend a lot of time working outdoors and seeing parts of this country many others do not get a chance to see.’
Tatia Currie, Program Manager for the Alinytjara Wiluṟara Landscape Board
Growing up in South Africa, Tatia spent a lot of time on safari with her family, watching animals and birds in the wild.
‘I’m grateful for that,’ she said. ‘The things we saw, you just don’t get to see them anymore. I always loved it; I’ve always been passionate about the earth.’
After abandoning an unsatisfying university course in the 90s, Tatia returned to study in 2008 earning an Honours degree in sustainable development and planning from Stellenbosch University. At the time, the country was mobilising people to develop a national sustainability framework, which is now in effect.
After moving to Australia, she realised the importance of policy in achieving environmental outcomes in this country and signed up for a master’s degree in public policy, graduating in 2015.
'One thing I treasure about working with AW is when I get the opportunity to go on Country and spend time with Aṉangu,' Tatia said. 'There’s a parallel between their traditional knowledge and culture and the modern approach – that intersect of science and policy has existed in traditional practice for thousands of years. I’d also like to acknowledge the Aṉangu women on our board, who are all science and policy people in their own right. It’s a real privilege to be a part of it.'
Janet Moore, Djulda-wawa Badja project manager for the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board
During her childhood, Janet spent many nights after school and on weekends at the beach near Moonta. Swimming near the jetty and playing around the rocks.
But it wasn’t until she fell in love with hooded plovers that she began to see the beach as more than a recreational space, but also as habitat for endangered plants and animals.
‘That was an eye opener for me,’ she said. ‘We often think of rainforests and exotic faraway places as habitat that needs to be protected, but actually habitat is just down the street.’
As part of her university studies, Janet did an internship on southern Yorke Peninsula, where she was first introduced to hooded plovers, beach-nesting birds that lay their eggs on the sand. She was astounded by their vulnerability.
‘I definitely remember finding my first hoodie nest and I couldn’t believe how exposed they were. That’s what hooked me.’
These days Janet’s career is still tied to the beach. She’s leading the Djulda-wawa Badja project, which aims to protect and conserve Yorke Peninsula’s coastline. This involves coastal revegetation, supporting Eastern osprey recovery and developing a coastal access strategy.
‘One of the things I really enjoy about the Djulda-wawa Badja project is that we’re trying to build resilience, to ensure the coast better withstands pressures from climate change and recreation and to keep it as habitat for the animals and plants that belong there.’
Geraldine Turner, Landscape Officer for the Eyre Peninsula Landscape Board
From growing up helping her parents in their native garden and planting trees on the family farm, to now connecting the community with nature, Geraldine Turner is happiest when she’s outside helping to protect and care for our environment
Geraldine – known as GT to most – has been in her current role based in Tumby Bay for 20 years and has seen plenty of change in that time, both in local landscapes and opportunities for women in science.
‘Threatened species work and on-ground rehabilitation projects take many years to achieve but it is very rewarding once we can actually see change,” said Geraldine.
‘I feel lucky to be able to help landholders and the community look after our environment.
‘I love working with schools, taking on work experience students and showing them what I do, particularly with young women so they can see that there are many great science-based careers out there,” she said.
GT has a Bachelor of Applied Science in Conservation and Park Management and says it’s great to see more women working in this area.
‘I believe women do think differently to men, in my experience we can be more caring and thoughtful and we’re just as capable – we have a lot to offer in the field of science.’
Lauren Nicholson, Senior Water Policy Officer for Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu
Lauren grew up on the Fleurieu Peninsula, spending much of her childhood climbing trees and looking for frogs on her grandparent's farm in Myponga, so it hasn’t been much of a leap to what she considers to be her dream job in the water team at Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu.
In her role, Lauren applies scientific data as well as input from land managers and community to help develop policies to protect and sustain local water resources.
‘It’s amazing just how much data is collected. For example, we learn so much about ecosystem health through native fish or waterbug sampling, which is just fascinating.
‘A really strong priority for us in the water team is to get better at communicating the important scientific data to the broader community, and to do this in a way that is quick, makes sense, sparks curiosity and invites more discussion.
‘Many of the people we speak to want to know more about how the water resources around them are faring and they don’t want to wade through long and complex scientific reports.’
Cassandra Douglas-Hill, Soils Extension Officer for the Kangaroo Island Landscape Board
Cassandra is one of a band of women working in science-related roles for the KI Landscape Board.
Cass moved a lot as a child and while living in the Philippines developed a passion for subsistence systems and the complex world of growing food.
She has a degree in science and in public health and admits to a love affair with worms, because, Cass said, 'it doesn’t matter if you’re working in your backyard veggie garden or involved in a broadacre cropping enterprise, if you find worms you know you’ve got healthy soil.’
‘I love working with people, especially farmers, and get a kick out of finding the reasons why things are the way they are and working with them to find solutions for improving soils for the long term.’
Women working in science at the Kangaroo Island Landscape Board are a force to be reckoned with, working in areas such as:
- soil science
- plant propagation
- marine ecosystems
- fauna ecology and conservation
- invasive species control.
This means they end up doing things like:
- diving in marine ecosystems to survey restored oyster reefs
- climbing trees to install nest boxes and monitor glossy black-cockatoo nestlings
- trekking into isolated wilderness to monitor endangered species
- revegetating biodiverse habitat
- sampling and testing soil to better manage our agricultural landscapes.
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
International Day of Women and Girls in Science is held on 11 February each year. It was established in 2015 following the passing of a UN resolution. It followed years of research in different countries, showing that:
- women are underrepresented in science and technology fields compared to men
- social expectations and barriers mean that girls are less encouraged to study science than boys
- women in science tend to be given smaller research grants and fewer promotion opportunities than their male counterparts
- female scientific researchers tend to have shorter careers than men,
Visit landscape.sa.gov.au to find your local landscape board.