Leading Antarctic Marine Biologist, Dr Stephen Nicol, and a Master of Australia’s Antarctic research and resupply vessel, Captain Murray Doyle, have been awarded the 2011 Antarctic Medal.

The awards were announced today by the Governor-General, Her Excellency, Ms Quentin Bryce AC.

Environment Minister Tony Burke congratulated Dr Nicol and Captain Doyle for their outstanding contributions to Australia’s Antarctic program.

“Research in Antarctica is critical to understanding and addressing climate change,” Mr Burke said.

“This year marks the 100th anniversary of the departure of the first Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Douglas Mawson, who established Australia’s first base for scientific and geographical discovery at Cape Denison in Antarctica.

“Today, Australia is responsible for 42 per cent of Antarctica and the Federal Government is committed to building knowledge and promoting our nation’s environmental and economic interests in the region.

“Dr Nicol is the world’s foremost Antarctic krill scientist and the Program Leader of the Southern Ocean Ecosystem Change Program at the Australian Antarctic Division. He has worked in the field for 33 years, transforming the world’s understanding of the biology, conservation and management of krill and their role in feeding other Southern Ocean animals.”

Dr Nicol has been a member of Australia’s scientific delegation to the international Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the body responsible for the conservation of the marine ecosystems of the Southern Ocean where his research has involved setting precautionary catch limits for the krill fishery off most of the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Krill is one of the major consumer of photosynthetic organisms in the Southern Ocean and the key food source for most predators including whales, penguins, fish and seals.

Dr Nicol has also spent long periods in the Southern Ocean, leading and participating in nine Marine Science Voyages between 1987 and 2006 and his scientific research has appeared in over 100 peer-reviewed publications, including the prestigious journal Nature.

Captain Murray Doyle has been Master of the RSV Aurora Australis for 16 years, supporting the scientific and logistical operations of Australia in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions.

“During his time as Master, Captain Doyle has developed an exceptional level of experience and skill to safely guide the vessel, crew and expeditioners through the stormy Southern Ocean and challenging ice conditions of the Antarctic,” Mr Burke said.

“Captain Doyle clearly goes above and beyond as ship’s Master, and the ongoing success of Australia’s activities in Antarctica is testament to his efforts.”

Captain Doyle has also been a Master of the MV Oceanic Viking for two years, playing a pivotal role in protecting the Southern Ocean from Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing.

The Australian Antarctic Medal was established in 1987 and is an award in the Meritorious Service Awards category of the Australian Honours System.

It replaced the (British) Imperial Polar Medal and its variations which date back to 1857 for service in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.