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Source: University of Waikato

Dr Shari Gallop, a marine environmental scientist and University of Waikato Senior Lecturer based in Tauranga, has been awarded the New Zealand 2020 L’Oréal/UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship for her research on the science of restoring estuaries and how they will stand up to climate change.

The fellowship programme recognises the achievements of exceptional early-career women scientists in Australia and New Zealand. Only five awards are made annually and this year, for the first time, the programme is dedicated to scientists investigating climate change. Dr Gallop is the sole recipient from New Zealand to be awarded this year’s fellowship, and the first ever from the University of Waikato.

Dr Gallop will receive $25,000 to assist her ground-breaking studies into how estuaries, which support food supply and local economies across the country, can be successfully restored by returning water flows via engineering. Her work will answer important questions about how estuarine restoration projects should account for climate change.

An independent panel of science and research representatives selected Dr Gallop and she joins four Australian-based fellows, all working towards finding solutions to combat climate-change.

L’Oréal New Zealand’s Country Manager, Aurelie de Cremiers, says: “Dr Gallop’s work is answering important questions about such a significant issue for New Zealand communities – healthy waterways – while helping contribute to global climate action. We are proud to be able to award the 2020 L’Oréal/UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship to Dr Gallop.”

New Zealand has more than 300 estuaries, with many cities and towns built around them such as Auckland, Tauranga and Christchurch. They provide an important resource for communities but poor decisions and management have led to degradation of these important environments. Estuaries are also vulnerable to climate change because they are relatively shallow bodies of water that are exposed to the changes of land, river and sea.

“Estuaries are unique biodiversity hotspots,” says Dr Gallop. “They are a food source, an important transport link, and a space for capturing blue carbon in their mangroves, saltmarsh, seagrass and sediments. They also provide storm protection, support the aquaculture industry, and connect with deeply embedded cultural values, which is particularly important for many hapū and iwi. The ultimate goal is to successfully restore estuaries, to restore the environment for the people.”

Dr Gallop’s drive to preserve and protect our coastal environment comes from a natural affinity with the oceans and lakes of the Eastern Bay of Plenty region where she grew up. Born in Whakatāne and raised in Kawerau and Manawahe, her favourite childhood pastime was collecting sticks, shells and rocks, and jumping off the rocks into Lake Rotoma with her sisters.

“As a child I spent a lot of time at the beach and lakes with my whānau,” she says. “I’ve always felt a connection with water and that, coupled with an inquisitive nature and desire to figure out how things work, is what drew me into marine science.”

Encouraged by her Edgecumbe College science teachers, she embarked on a study path at the University of Waikato in Hamilton. She completed a Bachelor of Science followed by a Master of Science, with a research project focused on detecting rip currents from video images at Tairua Beach in the Coromandel. A scholarship then enticed her across the ditch, where she did her PhD looking at how rocky reefs affect coastal erosion and stability at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

Dr Gallop went on to teach and research at both the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom and Macquarie University in Sydney. She spent 10 years abroad before the urge to “come home” kicked in. Last year, she returned to the Bay of Plenty with her husband and two young children and took up a Senior Lecturer role in marine science at the newly-built University of Waikato campus in Tauranga.

“The Bay is where my heart is,” she says. “Having the new campus in Tauranga is really exciting, especially with the strong marine science focus. There are big things happening here with aquaculture and connecting Western science with mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge). I enjoy doing research on my home turf and sharing what I do with my students and our local communities.”

Returning home has also helped Dr Gallop reconnect with her Māori heritage. She has iwi affiliations to Ngāti Maru in Hauraki on her dad’s side and Te Rarawa in Northland on her mum’s, but has only recently started to research her whakapapa and learn more about mātauranga Māori and how it relates to her science.

“It’s a personal journey and one I’m excited to be on to learn more that I can share with my kids.”

Alongside her family, work and research commitments, Dr Gallop is also proudly stepping out into spaces that sit outside her comfort zone. As founding member and co-chair of the global network Women in Coastal and Geoscience Engineering, her goal is to promote gender equality in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Being awarded the L’Oréal/UNESCO Women in Science fellowship gives her another platform to encourage more women into the field she is so passionate about.

“I feel really grateful,” she says. “This is a huge opportunity for me to communicate the urgency of climate change action to a broad audience and to highlight the importance of taking care of our estuaries.”

Dr Gallop’s message to young women who are thinking of pursuing a career in science is simple – do it!

“Our people and planet need you. It’s a challenging but rewarding career path with scope to follow your passion and room to innovate. We need more diversity in science.”

Learn more about Dr Gallop’s research by watching this short clip (credit: L’Oréal/UNESCO).

MIL OSI