Dr Emma Ligtermoet

BEnvSc (Hons I, Murdoch), PhD
Honorary Lecturer

I am an honorary lecturer at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, having recently completed my PhD (Human Geography) remotely through Fenner at ANU, while living in Darwin, N.T. I’m interested in people’s connections with aquatic places and how social and environmental legacies shape contemporary responses to environmental change. My research interests span environmental history, social-ecological systems, Indigenous studies, freshwater science and climate change adaptation. I’m currently working in Western Australia.

My PhD research drew on the disciplines of human geography, socio-ecological systems science, Indigenous studies and environmental history to explore adaptation to climate change in freshwater coastal regions. These are places on the margins ecologically, and often provide highly valued freshwater resources for marginalized communities. The coastal freshwater floodplain region of Kakadu National Park and West Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, supports livelihoods and holds significant cultural and ecological values, yet is at risk of transformation through saltwater intrusion with sea level rise. Applying a place-based approach, I identified past and ongoing examples of drivers of change-response, as potential analogues to explore future adaptation. I used semi-structured interviews, trips on country, cultural resource mapping and archival work to understand contemporary patterns of freshwater resource use and Aboriginal people’s perceptions of the major changes influencing freshwater harvesting practices. I provided recommendations for building adaptive capacity to support freshwater customary harvesting practices and the development of locally-informed, sustainable adaptation pathways.

Prior to my PhD I worked as a freshwater scientist 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.

Awards          

  • 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

Affiliations

  • The Institute of Australian Geographers
  • Australian & New Zealand Environmental History Network
  • Society for Conservation Biology
  • Australian Freshwater Sciences Society

Research interests

Thesis Title:

People, place and practice on the margins in a changing climate: Sustaining freshwater customary harvesting practices in coastal floodplain country of the Alligator Rivers Region, Northern Territory of Australia

Thesis description:

Given the growing climate change impacts for coastal freshwater regions around the world, many of which are marginal places with marginalized populations, my research sought Indigenous people’s perceptions of the major drivers of socio-ecological change influencing their abilities to sustain and adapt contemporary freshwater customary harvesting practices. These examples were explored as potential analogues for understanding future adaptation. The coastal freshwater floodplain region of Kakadu National Park and West Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, supports livelihoods and holds significant cultural and ecological values, yet is at risk of transformation through saltwater intrusion with sea level rise. Applying a place-based approach, I used semi-structured interviews, trips on country, cultural resource mapping and archival work to understand contemporary patterns of freshwater resource use and Aboriginal people’s perceptions of the major changes influencing freshwater harvesting practices.

Major changes influencing freshwater customary harvesting included existing threats from introduced and invasive animals (cane toad, feral pigs) and plants (para grass, mimosa, salvinia), altered floodplain fire regimes and the ‘bust then boom’ in the saltwater crocodile population, following their recovery from the era of commercial hunting. Social determinants of adaptive capacity included mobility on country, particularly supported through on-country livelihoods and outstations, strong social networks to facilitate access and inter-generational knowledge sharing, and health and well-being. Historical experiences of salt-water intrusion facilitated by the feral water buffalo, were examined through the lens of social learning and were found to influence contemporary perceptions of risk and adaptive preferences for managing future sea level rise. Qualitative models were used to conceptualise factors influencing an individual’s ability to engage in freshwater customary harvesting and the determinants shaping adaptive capacity for customary harvesting. I provided recommendations for building adaptive capacity to support freshwater customary harvesting practices and the development of locally-informed, sustainable adaptation pathways.

In addition, while investigating Indigenous ecological and phenological knowledge 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.

I am currently engaged in research through the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub, at UWA, where I am investigating diverse stakeholder perspectives on urban greening and the role of the nature strip in providing ecosystem services. 

Ligtermoet E.J. (2018) People, place and practice on the margins in a changing climate: Sustaining freshwater customary harvesting practices in coastal floodplain country of the Alligator Rivers Region, Northern Territory of Australia, PhD Thesis, ANU, Canberra.

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