Lagoon entrance Muri_Matt Blacka WRL

WRL Principal Engineer to provide leadership in the Pacific Islands

Congratulations to UNSW Water Research Laboratory Principal Engineer Matt Blacka, who has just been awarded a prestigious 2019 Endeavour Executive Leadership Award.

More than 7000 applications were received by the Endeavour Program for 2019, and just 30 individuals were awarded in the outbound 'Executive Leadership Award' category.

The award will enable Matt to undertake a range of leadership activities in the Pacific Islands this year, focused on researching and implementing professional development opportunities for practitioners in coastal engineering and related climate change resilience.  

Matt Blacka working at a wave gauging station on the outer reef at Rarotonga, 2018

Matt has been working in the Pacific Islands for the past decade. Over this period, he has developed strong connections while working on projects in the fields of coastal management, coastal protection and evaluating coastal hazards to island communities. A fundamental priority for this year’s activities will be to help strengthen relationships and enable collaboration.

“Building networks between grass roots practitioners in the Pacific and scientists across the region will help support this initiative,” says Matt.

Matt will first be based in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, where he will hosted by the Cook Islands Government’s Office of the Prime Minister (Climate Change Cook Islands division).

The Cook Islands have recently launched several large-scale climate change adaptation projects, many with a focus on some of the nation’s extremely remote island communities. Matt says that working with the climate change division will provide the opportunity to experience the ‘front line’ of climate change adaptation in the Pacific.

“I will work alongside teams from several areas of government linked by the common thread of climate change, such as disaster risk management, environment, infrastructure and finance,” says Matt.

“What better way is there to learn about the training, professional development and education needs, and, looking forward, how these needs can be supported?”

After his time in the Cook Islands, Matt will then move to Suva, Fiji, where he will be hosted by the Geoscience, Energy, and Maritime Division of the Pacific Community (SPC)—the principal scientific and technical organisation in the Pacific region. The SPC includes a cluster of scientific experts who lead on-ground projects across nearly all countries of the Pacific in the space of coastal processes and coastal hazards.

“I’ve collaborated with these local experts through technical conferences and meetings for many years, and it will now be great to strengthen this professional relationship through this placement,” says Matt.

“I will provide support to a number of relevant technical training programmes that they are preparing this year for several countries of the Pacific, and explore opportunities to grow and expand these kinds of activities through scientific partnerships across the region.”

Integrated management of coastal areas, underpinned by traditional knowledge, science and engineering is essential for island communities

WRL Principal Engineer, Matt Blacka

Matt says that the Endeavour Executive Leadership Award provides an exciting and unique opportunity to work more directly with people in the Pacific and with an important end goal in mind.

“Integrated management of coastal areas, underpinned by traditional knowledge, science and engineering is essential for island communities,” says Matt.

“Through this award, I’ll be able to better understand what training is required and map out the pathways that will enable practitioners in the Pacific to meet their own unique coastal management challenges in the face of climate change.”

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