President's Report June 2023

Category: Our People

  25 Jun 2023

Dr Kathryn Hassell

SETAC AU President

June 2023

Hello everyone, and welcome to another jam-packed edition of Endpoint. There’s a lot of activity to report on, the biggest of course being planning and preparations for our first in person conference since 2019. Co-chairs, Shelley Templeman and Sarah McDonald have been working exceptionally hard behind the scenes with the help of ASN Events and the local conference committee to put together an awesome conference program (and equally awesome social program!).  There are 5 national and international invited speakers confirmed and we had more than 200 abstracts submitted, which is a new record for SETAC AU and indicates it is shaping up to be the biggest SETAC AU stand-alone conference we have ever had.  Well done to everyone involved in bringing this event together and I look forward to catching up with all of you in Townsville in a few weeks!

After much anticipation the new SETAC membership model will be implemented in late June/early July 2023.  The new model offers different levels of membership and is designed to increase flexibility by offering members more choice in their level of engagement with the Society.  SETAC Global Executive Director, Bart Bosveld recently hosted a SETAC Café webinar, which outlined the new categories of SETAC membership and the benefits of each type.  There is also a recent Globe article that outlines all the details.  There will be three levels of membership available: Free, Explorer and Full, and membership fees will vary based on student and income status (high, low-middle) of the country registered in. For all of us residing in the Asia Pacific region, membership payments will be made in Australian dollars. An important change is that to receive Full member benefits, such as discounted conference registrations and eligibility to join Council, membership needs to be on-going for more than one year.  So do make sure to check your membership and if it has lapsed, please renew immediately to take advantage of the new membership model benefits.

Another major activity within SETAC currently is the organisation-wide governance review.  SETAC World Council are seeking to simplify the relationships between Geographic Units and Regional Chapters and Branches with the parent organisation, by re-writing constitutions and region-specific by-laws.  At this year’s BGM I will be presenting our proposal to change the governance structure of SETAC AU.  This has come about after several conversations with Executive Council about our need to have a better understanding of how best we can run SETAC AU and what our legal responsibilities are.  More details on what is proposed and a timeline for when we expect it to happen will be distributed soon.  On the topic of biennial general meetings, at this year’s BGM (Weds 9th August) we will be taking nominations for all Executive and general Council positions.  I strongly encourage anyone that has an interest in getting more involved in SETAC activities to consider nominating for a position. For more information on the different roles and responsibilities of SETAC Council office bearers, please see the Duties and responsibilities document on the SETAC AU website.

2023 has been another great year for high quality applications for the various awards that SETAC AU offers to members. Congratulations to all of our award winners for 2023. The Early Career Medal is awarded in recognition for excellence in scientific work in Australasia that has involved substantial environmental toxicology and chemistry, or for service to environmental toxicology and chemistry in Australasia, over the past five years. I'm pleased to announce the 2023 winner of that award is Dr Darren Koppel (Australian Institute of Marine Science).  The Mid-Career Medal is awarded for similar recognition of excellence or service to environmental chemistry and toxicology in Australia, over the past 10 years.  The winner for 2023 is Dr Bradley Clarke (University of Melbourne).  The SETAC AU Technical Staff Award aims to recognise the irreplaceable contribution highly skilled and extremely diligent technical staff make to environmental toxicology and chemistry in Australasia. The winner of this award for 2023 is Karen Thompson (NIWA).

Every year we receive several high quality applications for the SETAC AU Postgraduate Research Publication Award and im pleased to announce the winner for 2023 is Gwilym Price (UTS/CSIRO) for his publication in Environmental Pollution titled “Natural organic matter source, concentration, and pH influences the toxicity of zinc to a freshwater microalga”. Thankyou to all the Postgraduate students that submitted entries for this award, it is so great to see such a high standard of publications being produced by our student members. Well done to you all.  We also offer the SETAC AU Thesis Prize for best Honours, Postgraduate Diploma, Master by Coursework or equivalent thesis by student members. Our winners in 2023 are Anthony Evans (LaTrobe University) for his thesis titled ‘Application of bioavailability models to predict the toxicity of zinc to the cladoceran Ceriodaphnia dubia (C. dubia) in Australian natural waters’, and Hannah Faraone (RMIT University) for her thesis titled ‘The impact of pollution on biofilms, zooplankton, and macroinvertebrate communities in stormwater wetlands’.  For Thesis prize winners, in addition to a cash prize, they are also awarded a Student Travel Award to attend a conference. So, do make sure you get along to see their platform presentations at the upcoming conference! And a big thanks to Tom Cresswell for overseeing all the SETAC Awards - It’s a huge job collating all the applications and co-ordinating assessors, and you ensure it happens seamlessly every year.

Being our first face to face conference since 2019, we want to encourage as much participation as we can, and with support from AINSE (The Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering) we are pleased to have been able to offer an additional 8 Student Travel Awards for students to attend the conference and give oral or poster presentations.  We are also very excited to be offering the inaugural SETAC AU Indigenous Travel Grants for this year’s conference, to assist with travel and accommodation for Indigenous presenters and co-authors at the SETAC AU Conference.

The UN environmental assembly (UNEA) has recently established an independent Intergovernmental Science-Policy Panel (SPP) on chemicals, waste and pollution.  The Panel is an international network of academic scientists from all regions of the world supporting environmental and human-health protection from chemical pollution. We are excited to have Michelle Bloor (Immediate Past-President, SETAC Europe) as one of our international speakers at the Townsville conference to talk about the Science-Policy Panel and her talk will be followed by a special discussion panel on the topic.  SETAC is an accredited stakeholder and involved in the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) Science-Policy Panel, of which some of our SETAC members are involved in.

SETAC AU sent three delegates to Science meets Parliament in March 2023: Shelley Templeman,  Sarah McDonald and Chris Lee Steere. As always, SmP provides our delegates a great opportunity to learn about effective communication with parliamentarians, as well as the opportunity to interact with lots of other scientists. You can read more about their experiences here.

SETAC member participation in government roundtable meetings

I recently attended a CDC Expert Roundtable - One Health meeting, representing SETAC AU Member expertise in the area of environmental health. The meeting was co-chaired by Prof Paul Kelly (Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health and Aged Care), Dr Mark Schipp (Chief Veterinary Officer, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry), and Dean Knudson (Deputy Secretary of First Nations Heritage, Wildlife and Planning, representing the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water). This meeting was organised as part of the consultation process for the establishment of the Australian Centre for Disease Control (CDC). SETAC AU were invited to join discussions at this Roundtable to inform strategic planning for an integrated One Health Approach across animal, human and environmental health into the CDC structure, policy and programs, and to seek to understand gaps in our current approach. There were 42 attendees at the meeting, including representatives from lots of different organisations that focus on animal/veterinary health, human/public health, infectious and emerging diseases and organisations involved with understanding antimicrobial resistance. Two documents have already been published on the development of the ACDC, and much of the discussion in the Roundtable focused on those two key documents – the CDC discussion paper and the stakeholder consultation report. See the Australian CDC website for further details. I provided written feedback after the meeting, outlining that SETAC is a global organisation with expertise in multiple areas of relevance to One Health approaches.

SETAC AU Strategic Directions Officer (Aleicia Holland) was invited to a meeting on ‘Revitalising Australia’s vision for science and research’, representing La Trobe University and SETAC AU. The meeting was chaired by Dr Cathy Foley (Australia’s Chief Scientist). This meeting was organised as the Government has launched a national conversation to support the revitalisation of Australia’s vision for science and research. The meeting focussed on the first phase of the national conversation on national challenges and associated opportunities. Two documents outlining big picture trends were also provided for consideration before the roundtable

The roundtable in Albury included other academics from Charles Sturt University and Albury TAFE, local government agencies, indigenous groups, forestry and land care groups with a total of 12 attendees. The conversation touched on areas such as how do we feed the global population sustainably and ethically, how do we address the biodiversity crisis, invasives in Australia and how we should also include a socio-economic angle to all topics.

It is great to see SETAC AU being invited to participate in meetings with the Australian Government on matters relevant to environmental toxicology and chemistry in Australia and I hope we can continue to strengthen this engagement through programs such as Science Meets Parliament.

So, thanks everyone and enjoy reading this edition of Endpoint, and I'm really looking forward to seeing you all in person in a few weeks in Townsville!