PhD Scholar Mae Noble awarded for innovating marine park protection

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has presented ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society PhD researcher Mae Noble with the 2020 John Holliday award, for her work with Marine Protected Areas.

Mae’s PhD, in Applied Geography, tried to find a way to integrate social interactivity and ecological biodiversity into marine spatial planning. Her award-winning project focused on the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park in New South Wales. Mae’s objective was to create an equitable marine spatial plan that represents Aboriginal Traditional Owners, Recreational Fishers, Commercial Fishers, ecotourism business and recreational groups, and water sports groups.

To do this, she interviewed 74 stakeholders across these groups, and also included scientists and managers of the Park, using participatory mapping approaches grounded in social-ecological principles. Then, she took the information and used combinations of methods that had never been applied together before, to develop a set of three papers which demonstrated how spatial modelling could be used to improve the management of the marine protected areas, to protect and enhance the environment, while supporting the social and economic needs and wellbeing of a diversity of stakeholders.

”My hope is that the outcomes of my PhD will help to facilitate discussions in the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park review, and better inclusion of a more balanced and equitable inclusion of social and cultural values in the marine spatial plan.”


Originally from Oregon, USA, Mae worked internationally on a range of marine ecology jobs before starting a Masters at The Fenner School in 2014. She loved it so much she went on to her PhD in 2016. The greatest challenge in her research, she says, is being given the honour of representing stakeholders’ profound Traditional and Ecological Knowledge.

“It’s a huge privilege to be given data that demonstrates 10’s to 10,000’s of years of knowledge of a place! However, to meet my objective of research in creating a balanced representation of social uses in a marine protected area means that not everyone is going to be completely happy with the outcomes. Also, unlike doing ecological surveys, social research participants can provide comments on whether they think you did a good enough job with the data that was provided - yikes! However, so far, the feedback I have received has been positive.”


The John Holiday Award is an annual prize that asks research students to articulate their research outcomes. Winning the award means that Mae successfully demonstrated that her PhD really does propose methods of assessment that consider many stakeholders, in deeper ways than previously measured - and that means different outcomes for Marine Protected Areas.

“I am very honoured and actually really shocked that I won the award! As most PhD students, you get so focused on meeting the milestones and getting things across the line that you can lose focus on the applied outcomes.”

As part of winning the award, Mae attended a ceremony where she had the honour of meet the wife and son of the late Dr. John Holliday, and received a $3,000 cash prize in addition to a certificate of achievement in recognition of her research into protecting social and ecological values within the Port Stephens Great Lakes Marine Park.

Mae says the award money will be used to support the community presentations in Port Stephen of the PhD outcomes, which will happen at the end of the year depending on COVID restrictions.

You can find out more about Mae’s award here.