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By  Nikki Galovic 8 July 2024 4 min read

Key points

  • Kyah Chewying is a research technician with us working on a National Environmental Science Program (NESP) project.
  • Kyah is also a PhD student at the University of Wollongong, delving deeper into the realm of marine ecosystems.
  • A part of Kyah's research is looking at the challenges Traditional Owners face in restoring Sea Country.

The ocean has been a constant presence in Kyah Chewying’s life – instilling a deep love for the natural world.

Kayh is a proud member of the Walbunja mob from Yuin Country in New South Wales, saltwater people who’ve been connected to the water for generations.

Kyah on a field work trip at Batemans Bay collecting seagrass during her cadetship. ©  Kyah Chewying

Her childhood was filled with adventures along the shores of Moruya. Alongside her father and grandfather, she spent holidays, weekends, and any spare time exploring the wonders of the marine environment.

This connection to Sea Country – and how to care for the water and its inhabitants – was foundational to her journey into science.

Sea Country science to save seagrass

Kyah's passion for science grew further in 2018 during a week of work experience with our Cotton Fibre Quality team in Canberra.

Kyah's graduation from her Bachelor of Science. ©  Kyah Chewying

She pursued a Bachelor of Science degree (Applied Ecology and Sustainability), solidifying her desire to make a positive impact.

This ambition led her to apply for the CSIRO Indigenous Cadetship Program in 2020.

"I was thrilled to be part of the cadetship program with CSIRO where I could bring my culture and scientific knowledge together," Kyah said.

This program proved instrumental. Kyah gained valuable research experience with seagrass species while completing her university studies.

Seagrass meadows are underwater forests that play a crucial role in our oceans' health.

“By identifying the biochemical and structural differences between species, I wanted to raise awareness about its importance,” Kyah said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples deeply understand vital ecosystems, like the role of seagrass meadows.

Kyah wanted to bring this knowledge to her research to gain a more comprehensive picture of these underwater havens.

Learning how to help the kelp

Following her graduation in 2023, Kyah completed her Honours program in Marine Science. This time, it was to focus on the relationship between kelp gardens and urchin barrens.

Kelp gardens usually teem with life, providing food and shelter for fish, invertebrates and other marine creatures.

When there are too many sea urchins and not enough predators to control their population, they can overgraze the kelp. This leaves behind a barren landscape.

Understanding what causes urchin barrens – an area overtaken by urchin with little or no kelp – is crucial for the health of the ocean.

Healthy kelp gardens provide essential habitat for many species. These gardens help to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and protect shorelines from erosion.

When kelp gardens turn into urchin barrens, the entire ecosystem suffers.

This project involved the intersection of scientific methods and oral histories. This allowed Kyah to explore how habitat changes can be understood from diverse perspectives.

During her Honours year, Kyah participated in the CSIRO Indigenous Graduate Program. The program supported her to study full-time while working with us one day a week.

Kyah’s university experience wasn't without its challenges. Disruptions caused by COVID-19 closures made hands-on learning difficult.

Luckily the flexibility the program offered meant she could still gain valuable experience in both the lab and the field.

Kyah presenting her poster at the Australian Marine Science Academy Conference in 2023. ©  Kyah Chewying

Finding the strength in synergy

After completing her Honours program, Kyah transitioned to a full-time research technician role on our National Environmental Science Program (NESP) project.

On this project, Kyah researched the challenges Traditional Owners face in restoring Sea Country. Her combined scientific knowledge and cultural understanding have proved invaluable once again.

"I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on such an important project that benefits the environment and involves working closely with Traditional Owners," Kyah reflected.

By combining collected scientific data with new qualitative information, the project aims to weave Indigenous perspectives into our science.

The ultimate goal is to empower Traditional Owner communities to restore their vital ecosystems.

Kyah is now a PhD student at the University of Wollongong, delving deeper into the realm of marine ecosystems. 

Through the CSIRO Indigenous Fellowship Program, she continues her work on the NESP project, dedicating one day a week to this important initiative.

Championing diverse voices

Recognising the strength that comes from diverse voices, Kyah advocates for the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge in science.

"I also believe that inviting new voices to the table is essential and long overdue," Kyah said.

"I'm committed to making that happen by showcasing the positive impact of Indigenous Peoples' learnings, skills, knowledge, and understanding of modern science."

Kyah has also participated in conferences and events, sharing her inspiring story and valuable insights.

Her journey is a testament to her curiosity, cultural connection, and unwavering commitment to science.

Kyah presenting at the Dynamic Coasts Conference in 2024. ©  Kyah Chewying

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