In profile: Rick Leong, PhD Student

For Rick Leong, living and working close to a shoreline has always been important. As a beach-lover and marine biologist, the decision to pursue his PhD at UNSW was easy because of the proximity of the Sydney campus in Kensington to the famous eastern beaches of Bondi, Coogee and Maroubra.

Rick Leong at the remnant Sydney rock oyster reefs in Port Hacking, NSW. Image credit: Rick Leong.Rick has always been interested in understanding marine ecosystems. While completing his Bachelor of Science in Life Sciences (Honours) in Singapore, he investigated species distribution across the surface elevation gradient in mangrove forests. He then began working as a Research Assistant where he investigated coral reef-macroalgae interactions in Singapore before going on to complete his Erasmus Mundus Master of Science in Marine Environment and Resources at the University of the Basque Country in Spain. During his Masters his focus on oysters began, researching sedimentation effects on organisms surrounding oyster reefs in the Netherlands.

When embarking on his PhD, Rick was intrigued by the fact that the Sydney rock oyster is an endemic species in Oceania as well as a Sydney icon with historic and cultural significance. Oyster reefs are temperate equivalents of coral reefs and function as the ‘kidneys of the oceans, and Rick recognises that a better understanding of the oysters and the oyster reef ecosystem is essential to better protect the species into the future.

“With only around 5 per cent of remnant oyster reef in Australia, and limited ecological knowledge on these reefs, my research will provide first-hand information on status of this shellfish ecosystem and inform future restoration guidelines for oyster reefs in New South Wales,” says Rick.

Rick is investigating ecological-spatial configuration relationships on remnant Sydney rock oyster reefs in New South Wales. Specifically, he is exploring spatial components of the ecosystems in terms of reef-size, centre versus edges of the reefs and reef-connectivity—and how these components correlate with oyster abundances, biodiversity of organisms living on the oyster reefs and their reproductive success.

Rick’s research is supervised by Associate Professor Paul Gribben, Professor Alistair Poore, Dr Ezequiel Marzinelli and Dr Ana Bugnot and funded by an Australian Research Council linkage grant with support from a UNSW International Postgraduate Award scholarship (UIPA). He also collaborates with researchers from the NSW Department of Primary Industries and The Nature Conservancy to share research outputs and discuss findings.

When he’s not at the beach, Rick can often be found in the kitchen or hiking in the bush with friends that he has made out of the multicultural community on the UNSW Sydney campus. He wants to explore more of Australia once he’s finished his PhD, planning to swap the beach for the desert and take long road trip through the outback.

After that, he aims to continue to pursue his research on oyster reefs, further advancing knowledge on the topic to provide robust guidelines for conservation and management of all shellfish habitats. He would also like to unravel more knowledge gaps in marine science beyond oyster reefs and in other important marine ecosystems.



Leong C.R, Marzinelli E.M., Low J., Bauman A.G., Lim E.W., Lim C.Y., Steinberg P.D., Guest J.R. 2018. Effect of coral-algal interactions on early life history processes in Pocillopora acuta in a highly disturbed coral reef system. Frontiers in Marine Science. 2018;5:385.

Leong, C. R., Friess, D. A., Crest, B., Lee, W.K., and Webb, E. L. 2018. High-resolution pattern of mangrove species distribution is controlled by surface elevation. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. 202: 185 -192.

Friess, D. A., Phelps, J. Leong, C.R., Lee, W.K., Wee, A.K.S., Sivasothi, N., Oh, R.R.Y. and Webb, E.L. 2012. Mandai mangrove, Singapore: a model for the fate of Southeast Asia’s mangroves. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. Supplement No. 25: 55–65

Friess, D.A., Leong, C.R., Lee, W.K. and Webb, E.L. 2012. High-resolution mapping of mangrove topography and vegetation community structure. In: Dahdouh-Guebas and Satyanarayana (Eds). Proceedings of the International Conference Meeting on Mangrove Ecology, Functioning and Management (MMM3). VLIZ Special Publication 57. ISBN: 978-90-817451-6-1.

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