Identifying hotspots of fisheries bycatch risk to marine predators in dynamic seascapes using big data - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Identifying hotspots of fisheries bycatch risk to marine predators in dynamic seascapes using big data

Currently accepting Expression of Interest submissions.

Open to

Newly commencing domestic students

HDR Program


Study area

Engineering, planning and science

Funding type

Living stipend scholarship and *tuition fee scholarship

*Domestic students with an unconditional offer to undertake a higher degree by research program will be offered an RTP Fees Offset Scholarship.

Scholarship value

$28,597 per annum tax free (2021 rate), *indexed annually

*commensurate with current Research Training Scholarship base stipend rate

Scholarship duration

3 years with the possibility of a 6-month extension in approved circumstances.


Incidental bycatch of non-target species is a global barrier to ecological sustainability in marine wild-capture fisheries. This project aims to identify hotspots of fisheries bycatch risk to non-target marine predators on a global scale, and elucidate the underlying drivers of fisheries-wildlife interactions in dynamic seascapes. This project will take a data-driven approach to linking ocean state and variability with the spatio-temporal dynamics of fishing effort and at-sea habitat use of marine predators at a scale and resolution not previously possible.

Working in collaboration with multiple international research partners, including leading researchers in the animal tracking and biologging field who will provide electronic tracking datasets describing the movements of wild animals at sea; Global Fishing Watch (Oceana/Google/SkyTruth) providing Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) data for tracking vessel movements; and the Remote Sensing Group at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK providing physical data from satellite oceanography, the project aims to:

  • Identify areas of overlap between longline fisheries and at-sea habitats of non-target marine predators (seabirds, marine turtles);
  • Quantify associations between hotspots and physical conditions or seascape features such as ocean currents, frontal zones, eddy fields, upwellings and seamount chains;
  • Develop dynamic predictive models that can generate species- and region-specific maps of relative bycatch risk over monthly, seasonal, annual and decadal timescales;
  • Make recommendations for identifying priority areas for mobile marine protected areas (MPAs) in the high seas and in national jurisdictions.

The successful candidate will become a member of a thriving and dynamic research lab led by Dr. Kylie Scales, quantitative marine ecologist in the School of Science, Technology and Engineering at USC. The HDR scholarship is part of a wider project funded by a prestigious Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellowship to Dr. Scales. The successful candidate will join several other students and researchers working on a range of topics in marine ecology, fisheries oceanography, ecological forecasting and dynamic ocean management. The project will present opportunities to publish research findings in leading multi-disciplinary science journals, present at international conferences, travel to partner institutions overseas to work with leading researchers working in the animal tracking, biologging, satellite remote sensing and fisheries oceanography spaces and build international collaborative networks.

Ideal Candidate

The successful applicant will take a collegial and collaborative approach to working as part of a team in a dynamic research environment. They will be adaptable, proactive and committed, and prepared to self-direct and take the lead on the development of their own research skills and outcomes. They will be prepared to seek out solutions beyond the immediate and obvious where necessary. The ideal candidate will have well-developed skills in quantitative ecology, experience with handling large datatsets, knowledge and understanding of physical oceanography, experience with animal tracking data and/or an interest in marine biodiversity and conservation. Diversity and inclusion are central to our lab’s philosophy, and principles of equity will be applied throughout the candidate selection process.


For questions or to submit your Expression of Interest, direct your enquiry to Dr. Kylie Scales.

  • Be accepted into a Higher Degrees by Research program at the University of the Sunshine Coast
  • Not have an equivalent qualification to the one for which they are currently applying
  • Have a First-Class Bachelor Honours Degree, or show equivalent level of achievement with other academic qualifications or professional research experience
  • Applications can only be accepted from Domestic students
Selection criteria
  • Undergraduate degree
  • Research training degree (First Class Honours or equivalent)
  • Research publications
  • Professional research experience
  • Quantitative skills in numerical ecology
  • Proficiency in programming in a language common in numerical ecology e.g. R, Python, MatLab or Julia. R preferred
  • Evidence of proficiency in spatial analysis and/or using Geographic Information Systems
Number available
This will be a two-stage application process: Stage 1 - Expression of Interest:
  • Interested applicants should email a completed Expression of Interest (EOI) form together with any supporting documents to the contact person.
  • The scholarship assessment panel will review the EOI. If shortlisted, you will be invited for interview.
  • The preferred applicant will be invited to formally apply.
Stage 2 - Formal application (only if you have been invited to apply)  *scholarship offer is subject to applicant meeting the eligibility requirements for entry into a higher degree by research program at USC.