Member Spotlight - Melanie Trenfield

Category: Our People

  22 Nov 2021


My introduction to Ecotoxicology began in 1998 (been in the game for a while ????). There were two offers for Honours – 1) Earth Science at Adelaide Uni, and 2) Aquatic Toxicology at Uni of SA with supervisors Anu Kumar and Joe Bidwell. Boy, am I glad I didn’t choose rocks! Instead, I ended up studying the effects of an organophosphorus pesticide on freshwater fish.

After my Hons with Anu and Joe, I moved first to Sydney, then to Darwin (I blame a boy in the army). Once in Darwin I was drawn back to the water and after studying Aquaculture, I worked as an Aquaculture trainer at Northern Territory University. This job introduced me to some of the remote indigenous communities in the NT and the challenges of setting up sustainable Aquaculture ventures, such as redclaw pond farms in Nhulunbuy, or breeding turtles for the ornamental trade in Maningrida. As much as I loved teaching, I realised I needed research in the mix. A Science and Innovation grant from AFFA settled my fix for a year, with a project investigating the feasibility of inland saline aquaculture of mudcrabs.

Serendipity then struck again when I was running an Orientation Day information stall at the university. Alicia Hogan (former Ecotoxicologist at Environmental Research Institute of Supervising Scientist- eriss) happened to visit the stall and by chance we got talking about my background including Hons in Ecotox. We exchanged contact details and later when an Ecotox position became available at eriss I got a call from Rick van Dam, and things just fell into place from there.

Since 2005 at eriss, I have been fortunate enough to blend my interests in culturing aquatic organisms and toxicological research. I’ve been able to study the influence of dissolved organic carbon on the toxicity of uranium mining contaminants to local species in the unique waters of Kakadu (PhD with UQ) and develop marine toxicity tests to assess the toxicity of alumina refinery contaminants in Gove (Post Doc with AIMS). In addition to helping develop site specific water quality guidelines for metal contaminants, I have been able to study the toxicity of contaminant mixtures and interactions. As the Ranger (uranium) mine site now moves into closure and rehabilitation, we are also monitoring other environmental risks such as turbidity, eutrophication, and groundwater impacts.

And so, here I am 23 years later and still loving what I do. Pretty lucky. It helps being in such a beautiful part of the world, but it has also been the amazing people along the way that have kept me where I am. SETAC has been invaluable in providing support and a sense of belonging. We’re like one big family of nerds and I can’t wait to see everybody face-to face again. (I blame mat-leave for the one meeting I’ve missed!)

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Water quality team at our Jabiru Field station (except for me - the Darwin-based visitor)

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Grab sampling amongst Ranbow fish