Dr Emma Ligtermoet

BEnvSc (Hons I, Murdoch), PhD
Honorary Lecturer

I am a PhD student with the Fenner School of Environment and Society, and a joint ANU, CSIRO PhD scholarship recipient, based at CSIRO in Darwin, Northern Territory. My research interests broadly span the disciplines of human geography, environmental history, aquatic ecology and conservation science. I am interested in applying transdisciplinary approaches to examine the interactions between people and aquatic environments.

My PhD in human geography examines climate change adaptation in marginalised contexts. Given marginalised people in marginal places are those likely to feel the impacts of climate change most heavily, this research aims to build greater equity into the development of climate adaptation strategies, by seeking and incorporating local perceptions of environmental change. I am investigating the drivers of socio-ecological change and adaptation in freshwater customary harvesting practices in the floodplain regions of Kakadu National Park and West Arnhem Land. My primary PhD supervisor is Professor Richard Baker (ANU).

Prior to commencing PhD studies, I worked as a research associate at the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge Research Hub (http://www.nespnorthern.edu.au/track/ ), Charles Darwin University, in the Northern Territory and as an environmental scientist (Department of Water) in Western Australia. I have also undertaken research and field training in Conservation Science through the Tropical Biology Association (http://www.tropical-biology.org/ ) in Sabah, Malaysia and was an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (http://www.scopeglobal.com/programs&capabilities/ayad/), with the Wildlife Conservation Society Laos (https://programs.wcs.org/laos/ ), where I supervised Lao honours students and assisted in analysing data on the illegal wildlife trade.

I completed my undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and Conservation Biology at Murdoch University, Western Australia. My honours research examined the condition of riparian zones in drinking water catchments of Sarawak, Malaysia, through remote sensing and field-based methods.


  • CSIRO Flagship Top-Up Scholarship (Water for a Healthy Country)
  • Australian Post Graduate Award (APA)
  • Australian Society for Limnology (ASL) Travel Scholarship
  • Vice Chancellor’s Commendation for Academic Excellence, Murdoch University
  • ANU Summer Research Scholarship, Research School Biological Sciences
  • Murdoch University Undergraduate Scholarship in Science


  • Society for Conservation Biology
  • Australian Society for Limnology
  • Australian & New Zealand Environmental History Network

Research interests

Thesis title

Marginal socio-ecological systems in a changing climate: Sustaining freshwater customary harvesting practices in coastal floodplain country of northern Australia

Thesis description

My PhD investigates the drivers of change influencing freshwater customary harvesting practices in the context of climate change adaptation. I apply approaches from human geography and environmental history to trace trajectories of socio-ecological change influencing adaption in human-aquatic resource interactions. My thesis draws on the fields of sustainability science, Indigenous knowledge systems, protected area and joint-management, social learning in adaptive environmental management, and sustainable livelihoods.

The freshwater floodplain region of Kakadu National Park and West Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, provides a case study. Here Aboriginal people have engaged with freshwater resources for generations, maintaining a strong identity as ‘freshwater’ people. The low-lying coastal freshwater floodplains are at risk of saltwater transformation with projected sea level rise. This has implications for the maintenance of people’s freshwater customary harvesting practices.

My thesis firstly provides an analysis of contemporary patterns of freshwater harvesting, including customary management institutions, key resources and methods, spatial and temporal patterns, harvesting motivations, factors influencing decision making and cultural indicators of floodplain health. While investigating perceived shifts in phenology of key resources, I facilitated the production of a Kunwinjku seasonal calendar (https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Environment/Land-management/Indigenous/Indigenous-calendars/Kunwinjku ), led by key knowledge collaborators Julie Narndal, Connie Nayinggul and Donna Nadjamerrek. This proved a highly valued research product for the Kunbarlanja community.

Ongoing work examines historical and ongoing drivers influencing people’s ability to sustain their customary practices, as potential analogues for climate adaptation. For example, the responses to an historical period of saltwater intrusion, following prior landscape-scale changes to floodplain country, generated learnings that shaped contemporary attitudes towards future sea level rise. Existing environmental management issues have reduced adaptive capacity in customary practices, and these include introduced animals, invasive weeds, changes to floodplain fire regimes and shifts in saltwater crocodile population. Social changes including stressors on health, well-being and intergenerational knowledge sharing, shifts in mobility, the presence of canteens, and managing multiple floodplain livelihoods are also identified as significant factors influencing adaptive capacity and the maintenance of customary harvesting practices.

Bayliss, P and Ligtermoet, E. (2017) Seasonal habitats, decadal trends in abundance and cultural values of magpie geese (Anseranus semipalmata) on coastal floodplains in the Kakadu Region, northern Australia, Marine and Freshwater Research, https://doi.org/10.1071/MF16118

Dutra L. X. C. Bayliss P. McGregor S., Christophersen P, Scheepers K, Woodward E, Ligtermoet E., Melo L.F.C., (2017) Understanding climate-change adaptation on Kakadu National Park, using a combined diagnostic and modelling framework: a case study at Yellow Water wetland. Marine and Freshwater Research, https://doi.org/10.1071/MF16166

Ligtermoet E. (2016) Maintaining customary harvesting of freshwater resources: sustainable Indigenous livelihoods in floodplains of northern Australia, Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, Special Issue: Indigenous participation and partnerships in research and management of fisheries and aquatic ecosystems; 26 (4) pp 649–678 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11160-016-9429-y

Narndal J., Nadjamerrek D., Nayinggul C., Nadjamerrek J., Nadjamerrek M et al… Ligtermoet E. (2015) Kunwinkju Seasonal Calendar for Kunbarlanja, West Arnhem Land, NT, Australia. CSIRO, ANU, NERP, Darwin. https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Environment/Land-management/Indigenous/Indigenous-calendars/Kunwinjku

Dutra X.C., Bustamante R.H., Sporne I., van Putten I., Dichmont C.M., Ligtermoet E., Sheaves M., Deng R.A. (2015) Organizational drivers that strengthen adaptive capacity in the coastal zone of Australia, Ocean and Coastal Management 109 pp 64-76 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2015.02.008

Dixon I. Dobbs R., Townsend S.,Close P., Ligtermoet E., Dostine., Duncan R., Kennard M.,Turnbridge D. (2010) Field Trial of the Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) in the Wet/Dry Tropics: Daly River and Fitzroy River Catchments. Report to the National Water Commission. Tropical River and Coastal Knowledge research hub, Darwin.

Ligtermoet E., Chambers J. M., Kobryn H. T., Davis J. (2009) Determining the extent and condition of riparian zones in drinking water supply catchments in Sarawak, Malaysia, Water Science and Technology: Water Supply. 9 (5) pp 517-531, http://dx.doi.org/10.2166/ws.2009.580