Dr Elizabeth (Beth) Fulton has always been someone who liked to know things. Perhaps it’s this natural curiosity that has allowed her career in science to flourish.
Beth is a Fellow with the Australian Academy of Science. This honour recognises Australia’s best and brightest scientists. She is one of our inspiring leaders in science excellence and women in science.
Let’s take a look at her pioneering work in marine ecosystems modelling. And what her research has made possible.
Modelling marine ecosystems
Beth has a background in mathematics, marine biology and ecology. She combined her skills to develop a model called Atlantis. This was one of the world’s first ecosystems models to consider the marine environment, the food web and the people as one.
Marine ecosystems are complex. They form out of intricate relationships and interactions between the physical and biological world. Fishing, pollution, and other uses influence these ecosystems.
Atlantis integrates all of the complex components of our marine ecosystems, including economic and social influences.
Ecosystem-based management of fisheries
Beth’s modelling work has had profound impact on creating sustainable fishing.
For the past two decades, the model has helped fisheries managers to test their decisions before they commit to them in the real world.
“This work has helped provide healthier and more resilient ecosystems, and more sustainable fisheries in Australia and around the world,” Beth said.
The United Nations rated Atlantis as the best ecosystem model in the world for looking at alternative management strategies for fisheries.
Regional versions are now used to evaluate management strategy in more than 50 ecosystems. This covers a wide range of places, from the tropics to the poles.
Adapting to climate change
Beth leads a diverse team of biologists, economists and social scientists to create tools to help people understand how climate change affects different ecosystems.
Her work is helping people consider options to help them adapt to climate change.
“Australia’s marine environment is changing faster than ever. Our science shows many marine species are facing threats due to climate change,” Beth said.
“The changing climate is impacting water temperatures, ocean chemistry and habitat distribution.
“The combined pressures of climate change mean that fisheries are likely to become more variable. This will affect when, where and how many fish can be caught.”
Modelling these changes helps people know what’s coming, and what responses can help.
Working with the fishing industry and managers, her research is helping to create alternate fishing practices and change fisheries management strategies.
Looking at the big picture
Beth uses maths as a way to describe the world. This approach allows a more complete understanding of whole systems. It gives a big picture view.
Her work is now being applied to the ‘blue economy’. The World Bank defines the blue economy as the sustainable use of ocean resources. It enables economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.
Her research is helping to understand the impacts of new industries, including ocean renewable energy. It’s also modelling the effects of noise and light pollution on marine systems.
Beth is leading work investigating adaptation options to mitigate the impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems. This is informing new perspectives that link management across coastlines from land to sea.
And she works to support ‘knowledge corridors’ between First People’s knowledge and Western science. This collaborative approach will help shape future decisions affecting marine and coastal ecosystems.
“I hope my work helps to build a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable future,” Beth said.