Q&A with Honours Fellow Lauren Macrae

SEI welcomes Honours Researcher Lauren Macrae from the School of Geosciences, where she is studying the management of mangrove forests in Fiji.

Image by Alec Douglas, via Unplash

What are you researching for Honours?

My research project centres on the opportunities and challenges related to the management of mangrove forests in the Ba catchment, Fiji, for carbon sequestration. In this area a traditional lifestyle and strong cultural values results in a strong reliance on the landscape and related ecosystem services. In particular, livelihoods such as agriculture, forestry, livestock and fishing are reliant on mangrove ecosystems and thus are likely to be impacted by any carbon management strategies. It is crucial to consider the livelihood uses as well as biophysical influences of carbon storage potential in the development of management strategies so as not to disrupt synergies between various ecosystem services and land use.

The research will involve the use of remotely sensed and field data to determine the potential carbon storage capacity of the mangroves, as well as any spatial variation in carbon distribution. Whilst general ecosystem service surveys have been conducted within Fiji to prioritise areas of mangrove protection, studies at a local scale utilising finer resolution data are limited. Detailed spatial distribution patterns of carbon storage potential can be combined with social land-use data to guide policy and decision making. Ideally, management strategies that optimise carbon storage (presenting global benefits) whilst avoiding negative impacts on local livelihoods can be identified. A consideration of trade-offs across different scales and ecosystem services are essential for the construction of just climate policy and mitigation efforts.

What are the key environmental issues your research aims to address?

This research aims to address physical mitigation strategies to climate change, whilst considering the just management of natural resources. Carbon sequestration in mangroves allows for the long-term storage of carbon dioxide, and can potentially be used as a method of slowing the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and marine environments. Equally, the destruction of these forests can release large amounts of carbon dioxide, and thus must be carefully managed. Issues of environmental and climate justice often arise in resource management, particularly where areas of land are traditionally used and relied upon for livelihoods, as is the case for the Ba catchment of Fiji.

What led you to your research topic? 

My passion for climate justice, particularly in the South Pacific, began after participating in an immersion program in Kiribati where the impacts of climate change are visibly affecting the land and culture of the I-Kiribati, despite their low contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, I have had the opportunity to further my understanding of the physical and social influences of climate change through my university studies, and have maintained a close connection to Pacific Island activism through volunteer work with the Pacific Calling Partnership.

Despite studying a science degree, it has become clear to me that issues of climate change stretch beyond the purely scientific, presenting one of the most pressing social justice and human rights issues of our time and necessitating a multi-disciplinary approach that bridges the void between science and humanity. I hope that through my honours research I can convey the inextricable connection between communities and landscapes, exploring my passion for sustainable management and communicating the urgency with which measures need to be taken to ensure the sustainability of environment and livelihoods.

Apart from research, what are your passions & interests?

When I’m not researching I love to be outdoors and staying active – sport has been a great way to get to know people since moving to Sydney and I’ve been playing hockey for over 15 years and this takes up a lot of my time on the weekends. When I get a weekend free I love bushwalking, camping or anything with a beach! I love to cook and am obsessed with Italian food so I also spend a lot of my free time in the kitchen.

What about SEI made you interested in an Honours Fellowship with us?

I was drawn to the Honours Fellowship primarily because of the supportive environment and multidisciplinary nature of SEI – I love to be surrounded by people who think in different ways and to have the opportunity to share knowledge from different areas to form more comprehensive viewpoints. The public presence of the institute and commitment to informing all members of the public of environment issues in an easily accessible way is also something that I think is extremely important. Climate change is an issue that is affecting all people, and so all people should be aware of the issues, impacts and how they can help!

Lauren MacRae is an Honours Research Fellow with the Sydney Environment Institute. She has a Bachelor of Science majoring in Environmental Studies and Chemistry from the University of Sydney and is currently undertaking Honours with the school of Geosciences. Lauren’s research interests combine elements of physical and human geography to examine how climate change and management strategies impact Pacific Island nations, particularly Small Island Developing States.