A long journey in ecology: Profile of Hannah Thomas

I grew up surrounded by the nature of a northern Scottish coastline. Think puffins, seals, orcas and sea cliffs. It was full of adventure, plus very cold and windy most of the time. I have always been passionate about conservation, and as soon as I learnt the word “ecologist” at about eight years old, my career path was set.

My family moved to tropical Cairns when I was a teenager. It was quite the contrast to Scotland. The wildlife was equally as cool, but this time it was bandicoots snuffling around in my backyard and a coral reef on my doorstep.

Christmas Island and Groote Eylandt

After high school I moved down to Brisbane to study ecology. I first learnt about CBCS during my summer break, when I volunteered for a past CBCS PhD student, who was doing her field work on Christmas Island. I was lucky enough to witness the incredible red crab migration and see some amazing wildlife. And yet, I also saw first-hand some of the challenging conservation issues facing the Island, like the piles of plastic pollution that had washed across the ocean to line its beautiful tropical beaches.

Next up was my Honours project, which involved trapping and studying the northern quolls of Groote Eylandt. Some of the highlights of field work on Groote included: countless large green ant nests to run into, large saltwater crocodiles in the ocean preventing an after-work swim (well, the crystal clear water was too tempting, so I did have one swim, but it was quick!) and many, many quolls. The lab work was slightly less fun than the field work, as I now had 150 quoll scats to search through. But, overall, I loved conducting my own research project and knew I would return to university as a postgraduate student at some point.

Conservation in a time of lockdowns

By this time, I was ready for a break from studying and had a year of internships, first with the Conservation Ecology Centre in the Otways and then at Australian Wildlife Conservancy. AWC then employed me as a field ecologist at Mallee Cliffs, which was my dream job to land after graduating. I spent most of my time trapping red-tailed phascogales, radiotracking numbats and microchipping bilbies, and the rest of my time in interstate police checks – as this was the time of lockdowns and I had to drive from Victoria to New South Wales to work every day.

I returned to Brisbane to start my PhD at the beginning of 2021, in the Maron Ecology and Conservation Policy Lab. I’m currently studying deforestation and policy across northern Australia, which I find super interesting, and I enjoy getting to learn new things every day. The policy side of conservation is not something I’d really touched on before, but I’m now realising how important it is. I also work as a Project Officer at Wildlife Queensland, focusing on a few of south-east Queensland’s iconic threatened species, like the Richmond birdwing butterfly and brush-tailed rock-wallaby.

When I’m not studying, I’m pretty much always enjoying the great outdoors, whether it’s hiking, bouldering, camping or beaching. It’s hard to pick a favourite hike around Brisbane as there are heaps to choose from, but I don’t think you can beat Mount Barney. I’ve also done some longer hikes interstate and overseas, with the Rees-Dart track in the South Island of New Zealand as one of my highlights.

It’s been great to be part of the CBCS community since I started my PhD. I’ve really enjoyed being a HDR rep for the Management Committee since June 2022, and would recommend it to any other HDR students considering the position – my role ends soon, and it’s time for someone else to get lots of free Merlo coffee!


Hero image: A koala joey in care, at the Conservation Ecology Centre in the Otways. Photo: Ellie Kirke

Image above: Setting camera traps in the field. Photo: Ellie Kirke

Project members

Hannah Thomas

PhD student
School of the Environment
Maron Lab