When Dr Maja Folkersen was awarded her PhD in 2019, she already knew that her areas of interest in environmental economics, environmental law and climate change were closely aligned with her research focus.

“Ecologists and natural scientists need to work more closely with resource economists, social scientists and people in the creative arts to improve awareness about the importance of marine ecosystems to the general public.”

Working with the Department of Accounting, Finance and Economicsin Griffith Business School and researching for theGriffith Climate Change Response Program, Dr Folkersen’s PhD focused on vulnerable marine ecosystems of the South Pacific region.

“My PhD research was focused on the vulnerable marine ecosystems of the South Pacific, and how societies rely on these ecosystems for economic, social and environmental reasons,” she said.

“I focused specifically on the ecosystems of coral reefs and the deep sea, as both of these are highly vulnerable to climate change, but also of high interest (especially the deep sea, because of mining potential).

“As such, the greatest contribution of my PhD is that it provides new information and policy advice regarding the resource use of the deep sea and coral reefs in the context of the South Pacific, and also more globally.”

Dr Folkersen was recently acknowledged in The Australian Research Magazine ‘Top 40 Rising Stars’, who are Australia’s best early career researchers destined to be leaders of the future.

Dr Folkersen said the key problem facing policy-makers, legal institutions and decision making in general is that of resource conservation versus resource use and extraction.

“For example, the ecosystems of coral reefs and the deep sea provide tremendous and far-reaching benefits for people, economies and other ecosystems when preserved,” she said.

“However, an increasing global population and demographic changes require resource extraction from marine environments in order to create jobs, develop and prosper, like fisheries, tourism, minerals (the deep sea) . The constant dilemma between ecosystem conservation and ecosystem use is the greatest problem facing environmental policy and decision-making.”

Dr Folkersen credits a fascination with marine environments, particularly coral reefs, in deciding on a research field. Her interest in the deep sea emerged later when she made a startling discovery – we know more about the moon than about the deep sea.

“The big picture I am aiming at achieving is that more multi-disciplinary research is required. That is, ecologists and scientists need to work more closely with resource economists, social scientists and people in the creative arts to increase and improve awareness about these ecosystems to the general public,” she said.

“I am currently working on two big projects on the ecosystems of boreal and tropical forests, respectively. The key aim is to build a large database on all previous literature that has estimated economic values of forests, according to forest biome, forest type, geographical location etc. This will allow us to identify the biggest gaps in the knowledge of the economic value of forest ecosystems, identify the drivers of the economic value of forests, and to inform future policies.

“These projects are collaborations between the Geos Institute, Woods Hole Research Centre and Griffith University.”