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The Year In Review: Report from the Chairman

Hon Penelope Wensley AC Photograph of the Hon Penelope Wensley AC

As Chairman of the Council of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, I am pleased to introduce the annual report of the Institute, reviewing AIMS’ activities and achievements for the twelve month period from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020.

For the last four months of the reporting period, as for all government agencies and organisations, management of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was the paramount preoccupation for AIMS. It will necessarily continue to be a major focus in the year ahead, as governments and the community come to terms with the multiple challenges created by the pandemic and address the task of economic recovery.

AIMS’ Management reacted swiftly and decisively to assure the safety of AIMS personnel and to adjust the Institute’s operations to enable essential science functions to continue. The establishment and operation of an Emergency Management Team (EMT) and a Business Continuity Team (BCT), proved very effective in dealing both with immediate demands, and for considering longer-term impacts, risk scenarios and response measures for AIMS. (This work will remain a top priority for Council in the coming months.) Communication with Council and with staff, and the provision of support to staff across all of AIMS’ sites- in Townsville, Perth, Darwin and Canberra- was also handled very effectively. The holding of weekly all-staff webinars proved a particular success, consistently drawing around 200 staff members each week. The shared experience of dealing with COVID-19 has clearly increased the strong sense of community that is one of the hallmarks of AIMS.

The disruption caused by COVID-19 in the last part of the year should not obscure the many real achievements and overall advances made by AIMS in 2019-2020. This annual report shows significant progress in all areas of AIMS’ activity and-pleasingly- a consolidation of its position as one of the world’s most highly regarded- and highest ranked- marine science research agencies.

Foremost among many highlights was AIMS work on the RRAP project.

AIMS deep expertise and leadership in reef science is widely recognised, but over the past year, its work in the emerging research field of reef restoration and adaptation has broken new ground-putting it at the forefront of global efforts to protect coral reefs, in decline world-wide. AIMS played a leading role in the development of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP) and in its agreed role as the Managing Entity for the next, Research and Development phase, of the program, will continue to do so. This bold and complex endeavour is attracting attention around the world.

Another highlight during the year under review was AIMS’ highly successful co-hosting (with GBRMPA and DFAT) of the 34th General meeting of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), in Townsville in December, 2019. This meeting, marking 25 years since ICRI’s establishment, and drawing 80 delegates from 40 countries and organisations around the world to discuss the global challenge of conserving coral reefs and associated ecosystems, offered a perfect opportunity to showcase AIMS research and project its capabilities to an international audience. AIMS active engagement with ICRI and the prominent role AIMS’ scientists are playing in the reactivation of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), (the world’s premier coral reef data network) and production of the
2020 Status of Coral Reefs of the World Report, will assure an ongoing international spotlight on AIMS’ strengths and capabilities.

Among those capabilities, monitoring is another stand-out-deserving special recognition. AIMS monitoring activities are extensive, across Northern Australia, Western Australia and Queensland. AIMS’ long term monitoring program (LTMP) of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is recognised as the global “gold standard” for monitoring reefs all around the world. The knowledge that AIMS’ monitoring delivers is of fundamental importance, not only for AIMS, but for many other organisations and agencies in and beyond Australia. It is the foundation for a wide range of ancillary activities, including the RRAP work and one of the mainstays of AIMS reputation for excellence. Maintaining AIMS’ capacity in this area will be critical for the delivery of a number of programs and plans of national importance, including the National Marine Science Plan, the Integrated Marine Observing System, the Reef Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMReP), the Reef 2050 Plan and the establishment of a national marine baselines and long term monitoring program to develop a comprehensive assessment of Australia’s marine estate.

The areas I have singled out for mention in this Chairman’s Foreword represent only a part of AIMS’ activities and achievements during the year. Many other elements could have been selected-equally illustrative of the excellence of AIMS’ science and of the significant progress the Institute made in 2019-20 towards achieving the ambitious goals set out in its Strategy 2025. Reading the full report will provide ample evidence of this and the value AIMS is delivering to the nation.

On behalf of all members of Council, I compliment CEO Dr Paul Hardisty and the AIMS Leadership Team on their strong leadership of the Institute throughout the year, and thank all staff for the hard work, loyalty and commitment they give to AIMS on a daily basis.

On my own behalf, I thank my fellow Councillors for the support given to me in my role as Chairman and for the careful and conscientious way in which they have sought to fulfil their governance responsibilities and provide strategic direction and guidance to the Institute.

On the matter of Council, I note there were a number of changes of Council membership. Dr Steve Morton and Mr Roy Peterson concluded their five year terms in March, 2020. Both made a substantial contribution to the work of the Council and to AIMS and I thank them most sincerely for their commitment. Mr Peterson will continue his association with AIMS for a period, as Chairman of the Audit Committee (a sub-committee of the Council), appointed in an independent capacity. The two new members, appointed in March, both for five year terms, Dr Erika Techera and Dr Thomas Barlow, attended their first Council meeting in June, 2020.
Dr Techera is an academic, Professor of Law at the University of Western Australia, specialising in environmental law and marine environmental governance. Dr Barlow is a technology and research consultant, a former science adviser within the Australian government and author of several books about innovation and science. In addition to these two new appointments, Professor Sandra Harding, JCU representative on Council, was re-appointed for a further period, to end December, 2021 and I was reappointed as Chairman for two years, to end March, 2022.

The changing of the guard in Council had its parallels within AIMS itself, with the departure, on retirement, of a number of AIMS most senior research scientists and staff members, including Dr Hugh Sweatman, leader of AIMS Long Term Monitoring Program, climate scientist Dr Janice Lough, Business Manager Mr Frank Tirendi, General Counsel, Mr Peter Coumbis, Research Officer, Ms Liz Howlett and Ms Michelle Skuza, Field and Laboratory Coordinator, Marine Monitoring Program. All were long-standing members of AIMS, who will be much missed. I place on record the thanks and appreciation of the entire AIMS community for their dedication to the Institute.

Penelope Wensley AC