Student Spotlight - Thayanne Barros

Category: Our People

  22 Jun 2022

Name: Thayanne Barros

Degree: PhD (Environmental Science)

Topic: The effects of bushfire disturbance on estuaries

Institution: UNSW

Supervisors: Emma Johnston, Mariana Mayer-Pinto, Stuart Simpson

Est. completion: July 2023


About me

I am an environmental scientist and marine biologist investigating the impacts of the 2019/20 Black Summer fires on estuaries in New South Wales. I have experience in estuarine ecology, ecotoxicology, and zoology, and a special interest in coastal management and the impacts of anthropogenic activities on marine ecosystems.

I did my undergraduate/honours degree in Brazil, during which I worked on projects involving population dynamics, primary productivity, and taxonomy. For my honours, I specifically looked at the larval development of an estuarine polychaeta (worm), which led to my second paper (first paper as a first author). I also had the opportunity to work on several other projects as an intern and then technical and field assistant. During these projects, I got to develop both laboratory and field skills, including sampling and identification of infauna for ecological and taxonomic studies and underwater survey using cameras to identify and quantify marine community.

For my master’s I branched into ecotoxicology. I conducted a multidisciplinary project on biomarker feasibility for monitoring programs. The project was designed to assess, through field experiments, oxidative stress in an estuarine polychaeta from sewage-contaminated areas. It involved laboratories from different universities, and disciplines, including Pharmacology, Zoology, Aquaculture, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. After my master’s, I worked as a researcher on an integrated assessment of oil spill impact and recovery on Brazilian coastal habitats, looking at antioxidant enzymatic activity and how bivalves are impacted by oil spills.

My fascination with marine diversity and worries about increasing marine pollution has led me to study marine sciences to try to understand a bit more of this highly unexplored world.  Since I started my degree in Biological Sciences, I have wanted to work on challenging and interesting projects that would help me to achieve excellence in building a solid career in management and restoration of degraded coastal ecosystems. My main goal is to find the best pathway to conservation and protection of the marine environment. I want my research to have a high tangible impact, e.g., be translated into laws and management strategies.

PhD research

My PhD project’s overarching goal is to understand how bushfires affect estuaries. The occurrence of megafires, such as those that burned through Australia from 2019–20, is escalating worldwide, delivering unlikely and hitherto unseen environmental pollution. But, where air-borne pollution – such as bushfire smoke – results in clear peals of attention and alarm, the pollution of less conspicuous habitats – such as estuaries – receives less attention. Precious habitat for wildlife, source of food, and vital guard against erosion, our estuarine environments are no-less immune to the impact of wildfires.

Although bushfires are expected to increase in frequency, intensity, and scale, there is a markedly lack of knowledge on the effects of bushfires on estuaries. This project will develop the fundamental knowledge of how bushfires alter the sediment characteristics of estuaries and therefore predict its potential to affect the biodiversity and functioning of these systems. Understanding how estuarine systems are affected by bushfires is crucial for conservation strategies and the development of effective management plans that will ensure maintenance of ecosystem functions.

The first paper from my thesis (Wildfires cause rapid changes to estuarine benthic habitat) has just been published. We showed that bushfires change the fundamental characteristics of estuarine benthic habitat and identified the factors (burnt intensity and proximity to water's edge) that influence the consequences of fires on estuaries. We also managed to identified relevant indicators of short-term bushfire impact: metals, nutrients, and pyrogenic carbon.

Where to from here

When I arrived in Australia, I thought 4 years was a long time and I hoped I would like it. I can safely say that I absolutely love being here. So, I have decided that I want to stay. Post-PhD plan is to get a job somewhere here in Australia and work on an exciting project that can be useful to the management of coastal habitats.

Credit: Brie Sherow

Credit: John Turnbull

Credit: John Turnbull

You can find Thayanne on LinkedIn and Twitter and view her UNSW profile.

Cover photo credit: John Turnbull