For their extensive research and work with government to preserve the world’s largest coral reef system, Associate Professor Andrew Brooks and his team at Griffith University were awarded the 2017 NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research. But beyond the recognition, securing a Eureka Prize has created a range of new opportunities, for the team.

In 2010, policy around the Great Barrier Reef water quality was based on the assumption that sediment, a major source of pollution to the Reef, was primarily sourced from erosion off all of the hillslopes within the catchments. But Associate Professor Brooks and his team realised the numbers weren’t stacking up.

Over the next six years, they conducted field tests in the Great Barrier Reef catchment and created a much clearer picture of how sediment entered the Reef, finding that a large proportion came from channels and gullies.

This evidence guided their work with government and shifted the policies on programs aimed at reducing pollution to the Great Barrier Reef.

The team’s achievements impressed the judges and secured Associate Professor Brooks and his colleagues a coveted Eureka Prize – in front of an audience of distinguished guests from the scientific community and government.


Catchment Sediment Budget Research Team, Griffith University
Catchment Sediment Budget Research Team, Griffith University; winner, 2017 NSW Office of Environment & Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research Winner Image: Andrew Brooks
© Australian Museum

“The recognition of all the hard yakka has really given the team a boost,” Brooks said.

Winning a Eureka Prize has created opportunities for the team to work with the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and various Queensland Government water quality programs.

“Certainly, within governments it makes a difference,” he said. “It helps the government department that we work with make the case that they’re on the right track from a policy point of view.” In this area of environmental science, it’s regarded as one of the premier – if not the premier – environmental science award in the country,” said Brooks. “It was a wonderful experience.”

After their Eureka Prizes win, Brooks and his team shifted their focus to rehabilitation and worked with private companies and resource management groups towards a new approach to managing the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef.

As for their $10,000 prize earnings, the scientists ensured that more of their work could be shared with the scientific community by embarking on a writing retreat. “We were sitting on a whole lot of data and research that we hadn't had time to publish,” said Brooks. “We workshopped and started on half a dozen papers – it was a fantastic week!”


Associate Professor Andrew Brooks, John Spencer, Professor Jon Olley and Graeme Curwen of the Catchment Sediment Budget Research Team, Griffith University
Associate Professor Andrew Brooks, John Spencer, Professor Jon Olley and Graeme Curwen of the Catchment Sediment Budget Research Team, Griffith University are presented with the 2017 NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research Image: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
© Australian Museum

About the Eureka Prize for Environmental Research

The Eureka Prize for Environmental Research, sponsored by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, is awarded to an individual or team for an outstanding research project leading to the resolution of an environmental problem.

Entries and nominations to the 2019 program are now open. For full prize information, including the judging criteria and conditions of entry, visit the Eureka Prizes website.

Entries close 7pm AEST Friday 3 May