In profile: Jordan Gacutan, PhD Student

Marine debris, especially plastic debris, is a significant threat to ocean ecosystems and the coastal communities that they support. Now a permanent part of all ocean ecosystems, from the seafloor in the Arctic to the bottom of the Mariana trench, marine debris impacts the environment, economies, wildlife and people in many ways.

While threats posed by marine debris are understood in principle, Jordan Gacutan, PhD student at UNSW Sydney, says we have a limited understanding of how these threats change spatially and over time. Jordan’s thesis aims to map these threats to inform our decision makers, allowing for optimal management solutions across Australia.

Jordan says that while popular beach clean-ups are important in reducing the amount of plastic that ‘leaks’ into the ocean, they are only one part of a larger solution.

“Unless plastic is reduced ‘upstream’, the problem will continue to deteriorate,” says Jordan.Jordan Gacutan, PhD Student

 “To quote Heidi Taylor, Co-founder of the Tangaroa Blue Foundation, ‘if all we do is clean-up, that's all we'll ever do,’” he says.

Jordan hopes that his work will provide evidence for policy to reduce public dependency on plastic and encourage investment in capturing plastics before they enter our oceans.

With an Erasmus Mundus Master of Science in Marine Environmental Resources from the Universidad del País Vasco, Basque Country; Université de Bordeaux, France; and University of Southampton, UK, Jordan has a strong understanding of massive impact of marine debris on oceans. While working with an environmental consultancy that created management plans for the ocean and coastal space, he then realised the importance of a multi-disciplinary team.

“The project involved intense discussions between economists, physical scientists, decision-makers and the local community, which demonstrated the balancing act needed to get everyone on board and ultimately, achieve realistic positive outcomes,” says Jordan.

“In going into a PhD, I looked for a project that brought together different fields to draw up solutions for complex problems within our oceans.”

Through his PhD, which is supervised by Dr Graeme Clark and Professor Emma Johnston, Jordan works closely with the Tangaroa Blue Foundation. The Foundation coordinates the Australian Marine Debris Initiative database, which contains data on 17000 beach clean-ups from sites across Australia since 2004.

“Using this data, we can increase our understanding of marine debris across Australia,” says Jordan.

After his PhD, Jordan sees himself working in a multi-disciplinary environment, either within academia or industry, in a role where he can continue to seek solutions to the environmental problems threatening our oceans. Part of this vision sees him sharing the lessons from his PhD with neighbours in the region. He also hopes to continue to collaborate with ‘Comuniteer’—a social enterprise that matches skilled volunteers with community projects across Australia.

Jordan says UNSW offers a dynamic environment, perfect for those interested in multi-disciplinary ventures.

“I’ve been able to meet so many so many passionate and hard-working students and academics. It’s been valuable to draw on other expertise and experiences from both within the faculty and beyond to put my work into context and to maximise our engagement with the community,” he says.

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