Dr Dirk Welsford — Acting Chief Scientist

Scientists of the Antarctic: Dr Dirk Welsford

Video transcript

Science is the best way to make decisions. It helps us understand the world and it helps us predict what’s going to happen if we do a particular thing.

I lead a group of about 45 scientists that work on all different aspects of conservation and management in the Antarctic; and work out what the next best bit of research to do to make sure that the decisions that are made in the world are actually going to improve conservation and management outcomes.

One of the achievements that I’m proud of is the work that we’ve done at Heard Island and the McDonald Islands. It’s one of the most diverse parts of the sub-Antarctic.

We found more than 300 different species that live on the sea floor there. There’s also a fishery there. So what we wanted to understand is whether the fishery was having any impact on the organisms that live on the sea floor.

We did a project where we built some cameras, put them on the fishing gear and using that we were able to show that the fishing actually wasn’t occurring in a lot of the areas where the highest diversity was. But where there were areas where there was high diversity, we were able to present an argument for them to be included in a no-fishing marine protected area.

The total area of protected area there is 64,000 square kilometres. That’s quite satisfying to know that there’s a few parts of the ocean out there that are better protected as a result of my work.

[end transcript]

Dr Dirk Welsford: BSc (Hons), PhD
Program Leader: Antarctic Conservation and Management

Research interests

I grew up in the western suburbs of Melbourne, and studied a BSc at the University of Melbourne, completing subjects in marine ecology, botany, zoology, marine chemistry and law of the sea in 1994. I then completed a BSc (Hons) program at the University of Melbourne/MAFRI Queenscliff Marine Station, on the behaviour and transport process of post-larval King George whiting in 1996. I worked there for a further year as a research assistant, investigating the early life history ecology of fish in intertidal and subtidal soft sediment habitats.

I moved to Hobart in 1998 to take up a University of Tasmania PhD scholarship, studying the biology and population dynamics of shallow reef wrasse species. In 2003, as a research scientist at the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute, I worked on a range of projects, including assessment of the Small Pelagics Fishery, impacts of recreational fishing, and using video to assess interactions between midwater trawls and marine mammals.

I joined the Australian Antarctic Division as the leader of the Fish and Fisheries group in 2006, and became Leader of the Antarctic Conservation and Management Program in 2016. I am currently involved in a range of projects related to the assessment of fish stocks at Heard Island and McDonald Islands, krill and fish stocks of East Antarctica, and assessing and mitigating human impacts and conservation of biodiversity in Australia’s Antarctic and subantarctic territories.

My interests include:

  • use of science and logic in developing resource use and conservation strategies;
  • effective communication of science for use by policy makers; and
  • the role of human relationships in effective decision making.

Current projects

  • Co-author, Antarctic Science Collaborative Agreement, Theme 3 ‘The Future of Antarctic Sea ice, Krill and Ecosystems’.
  • Co-investigator, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation 2018–133. ‘Impact of environmental variability on the Patagonian Toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) fishery.’
  • Co-Investigator, FRDC project 2017/21. ‘Stock Connectivity of Antarctic Toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni).’
  • Principal Investigator, FRDC project 2013/13. ‘Development of robust assessment methods and harvest strategies for spatially complex, multi-jurisdictional toothfish fisheries in the Southern Ocean.'

International representation/collaborations

  • Member of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s Subantarctic Resource Assessment Group (SARAG)
  • Alternate Commissioner — Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)
  • Australian Representative — Scientific Committee for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (SC-CAMLR)
  • Convener of the SC-CAMLR Working Group on Fish Stock Assessment, 2016–2019.
  • Delegate to SC-CAMLR Working Group for Statistics, Assessments and Modelling, 2007-current
  • Delegate to SC-CAMLR Working Group for Ecosystem Monitoring and Management, 2008-current
  • Co-convener of SC-CAMLR ad hoc group for Technical and At Sea Operations (TASO), 2008–2010

Key outcome areas

  • Efficient research strategies for effective conservation and management of marine resources, ecosystem services and conservation values in the Antarctic Treaty System.

Related links

Selected Publications

Tixier P., Burch P., Richard G., Olsson K., Welsford D., et al. (2019). Commercial fishing patterns influence odontocete whale-longline interactions in the Southern Ocean. Scientific Reports, 9:1–11. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018–36389-x.

Yates P., Ziegler P., Welsford D., McIvor J., Farmer B. and Woodcock E. (2018). Spatio-temporal dynamics in maturation and spawning of Patagonian toothfish Dissostichus eleginoides on the sub-Antarctic Kerguelen Plateau. J. Fish. Biol., 92: 34–54.

Malpress V., Bestley S., Corney S., Welsford D., Labrousse S, Sumner M., Hindell M. (2017) Bio-physical characterisation of polynyas as a key foraging habitat for juvenile male southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) in Prydz Bay, East Antarctica. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0184536. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184536

Hill N.A., Foster S.D., Duhamel G., Welsford D.,Koubbi P., Johnson C.R. (2017). Model-based mapping of assemblages for ecology and conservation management: A case study of demersal fish on the Kerguelen Plateau. Diversity Distrib. 23:12161230. doi: 10.1111/ddi.12613

van den Hoff J., Kilpatrick R., Welsford D. (2017). Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina Linn.) depredate toothfish longlines in the midnight zone. PLoS One 12(2): e0172396. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172396

Nowara G.B., Burch P., Gasco N., Welsford D.C., et al. (2017). Distribution and abundance of skates (Bathyraja spp.) on the Kerguelen Plateau through the lens of the toothfish fisheries. Fisheries Research 186:65–81.

For a full list of Dr Welsford’s publication see Google Scholar.