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Griffith Magazine

Hearing new insights

Griffith Magazine

Third Edition February 2019

Dr Leah Barclay, the research fellow at the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre and Griffith Climate Change Response Program, lives in surround sound, tuning in to the cacophonies of acoustic ecology and climate action.

Leah is focused on how the emerging science of eco-acoustics can complement and enhance scientific knowledge, potentially leading to knowledge that supports the wellbeing of waterways the world over, including the Great Barrier Reef.

“By listening to and recording the changing soundscapes beneath the surface, we have access to the ways of water we never had before,” Leah said. “We now have the tools to connect with ecosystems in exciting and completely different ways.”

Armed with a bagful of hydrophones, Leah brings an artist’s ear to the river’s edge.

“The sounds provide real-time climate data. We can put a hydrophone in the water and start listening to climate change and drawing interpretations and new understandings. Fish use sound to navigate the Reef.

“This information allows me to rethink our relationship with the environment and use my creativity to draw on emerging sciences and digital technologies to learn more. It is a new and emerging field of environmental monitoring which is leveraging non-invasive online technology to generate global awareness.”

Among the projects on her aural radar are sound maps of migrating humpback whales, freshwater eco-acoustics in global river systems, the changing soundscapes of remote wetlands and sonic activism on the Great Barrier Reef.

She is also director of the Biosphere Soundscapes’ core team in Australia, a team that includes Dr Simon Linke from Griffith’s Australian Rivers Institute.

“We’re also using art to shift public perception around misunderstood or underappreciated events of nature like swamps and wetlands,” Leah said. “It’s important to realise that the ways wetlands are managed in Queensland have a bearing on the health of the Reef because of the interconnected nature of it our ecosystems.”