Professor Emma Johnston
Dean of Science
Field of Research: 
Estuary Health, anthropogenic impacts on marine and estuarine environments
Contact details:
+61 2 9385 7916
BEES Office
Room 4110, Level 4
Biological Sciences South (E26)

UNSW, Kensington 2052


Faculty Dean's Office

Room 201F, Level 2
Dalton Building (F12)
UNSW, Kensington 2052

Head of the Applied Marine and Estuarine Ecology Lab (AMEE)

For Dean of Science enquiries, please contact ScienceDeanEA@unsw.edu.au

Research & Current Projects

Professor Emma Johnston is Dean of Science at UNSW Sydney.  She is a leading authority in marine ecology and a former Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at UNSW.

Professor Johnston has an exceptional research career. She is head of the Applied Marine and Estuarine Ecology Lab at UNSW, and has led major research projects for industry, government, the Australian Research Council and the Australian Antarctic Science Program. She was the inaugural director of the Sydney Harbour Research Program at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science.

Her UNSW research group investigates the ecology of human impacts in marine systems, combining the diverse disciplines of ecology, microbiology and ecotoxicology to expand fundamental understanding and provide recommendations for management.  Her research is conducted in such diverse field environments as Antarctica, the Great Barrier Reef and temperate Australian estuaries.

Professor Johnston studied science at the University of Melbourne, graduating with a PhD in 2002, and was an Australia Research Fellow from 2010-2014. Her research has been recognised with numerous awards, including the inaugural Australian Academy of Science Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science (2014), the NSW Science and Engineering Award for Excellence in Biological Sciences (2012) and the Hynes Award from the Canadian Rivers Institute (2016).

Professor Johnston is also a high-profile science communicator, winning the 2015 Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research. She is a regular media commentator and, as co-presenter for the Foxtel/BBC television series, Coast Australia, has helped take Australian marine science to an international audience.

As President-Elect of Science and Technology Australia, Professor Johnston is also a public advocate for science and for increasing the participation of women in research. 

Major Research Themes

Estuarine Health
Estuaries are widely considered the most impacted of all marine habitats, and more than half of Australian estuaries are disturbed by anthropogenic activities to some degree. Most are subject to combinations of stressors from industry, agriculture, urbanisation and coastal development. This program aims to identify processes and interactions that drive impacts in an effort to develop targeted and effective management strategies to conserve biodiversity in these systems

Antarctic Marine Communities
Antarctica is no longer considered a pristine environment and the impact of human activity is likely to increase in coming years. This project compares the vulnerability of Antarctic assemblages to those of other regions and provides information on the responses of individuals, populations and communities to environmental stressors.

Marine Biological Invasions
This program aims to determine the major drivers of marine bioinvasions. We investigate whether disturbance facilitates the colonisation, persistence or spread of non-native species and how biological diversity modifies this response.



Go to https://research.unsw.edu.au/people/professor-emma-johnston/publications 


Research in the Media


In her element - Professor Emma Johnston


Professor Johnston is a co-presenter for the Foxtel/BBC television series "Coast Australia". Here she does a story on whale sharks in Ningaloo:


Coast Australia CLIP - Whale Sharks

Q&A - String Theory, Sea Turtles, AI and Pi



Dr Katherine Dafforn
Room 515, Biological Sciences Building
9385 8701


Dr Graeme Clark
Room 566, Biological Science Building
9385 0181


Dr Mark Browne
Room 515, Biological Science Building
9385 8701


Dr Mariana Mayer-Pinto
Room 515, Biological Science Building
9385 8701


Dr Ana Bugnot

Room 515, Biological Science Building
9385 8701



Research Students


Kingsley Griffin (PhD candidate) – Mapping distribution and stress effects in Sydney Harbour marine habitat (with Dr Luke Hedge, UNSW)

Aria Lee (PhD candidate) – Gametogenesis and larval settlement of the invasive fanworm, Sabella spallanzanii (with Dr Katherine Dafforn, UNSW)

Jess Merrett (PhD candidate) – Distribution and impacts of marine debris in a complex, urbanized estuary: Sydney Harbour (with Dr Luke Hedge, UNSW)

Nina Schaefer (PhD candidate) – Thermal stress in rock pool communities (with Dr Katherine Dafforn, UNSW)

Vivian Sim (Masters candidate) – Potential Influences of Anthropogenic Boating Structures on Estuarine Health (with Dr Katherine Dafforn, UNSW)

John Turnbull (PhD candidate)

Shinjiro Ushiama (PhD candidate) (with Dr Katherine Dafforn, UNSW)

Sebastian Vadillo Gonzalez (PhD candidate)



Simone Birrer (PhD 2017) (with Dr Katherine Dafforn, UNSW)

Damon Bolton (PhD 2017) Indirect effects of marine sanctuary zones (with Dr Coleman, Batemans’s Marine Park)

Katelyn Edge (PhD 2013) Do cellular biomarkers in the Sydney Rock Oyster reflect ecological impacts of contaminants within estuaries?

Andrew McKinley (PhD 2012) Assessing and understanding ecological changes to fish communities in highly disturbed estuaries (with Dr Miskiewiecz & Dr Taylor, UNSW).

Luke Hedge (PhD 2012) Propagule pressure and invasion success (with Dr Wayne O’Connor, DPI).

Carol Sukhn (PhD 2011) Bioaccumulation of toxicants from complex effluents (with Imad Saoud, AUB).

Emma Birdsey (PhD 2011) Habitat mediated changes to marine biodiversity (with Professor Poore, UNSW).

Louise McKenzie (PhD 2010) Reaping the benefits of an anthropogenic contaminant: the evolution of copper tolerance in a marine invader (with Professor Brooks, UNSW).

Graeme Clark (PhD 2010) - Disturbance, diversity and invasion in marine systems.

Katherine Dafforn (PhD 2009) Anthropogenic modification of estuaries: disturbance and artificial structures influence marine invasion (with Dr Glasby NSW I&I).

Nicole Hill (PhD 2009) - Contaminated sediments and hard-substrate marine communities (with Dr Simpson, CSIRO).

David Roberts (PhD 2008) - Responses of algal epifauna to pulsed and chronic contamination of temperate algae beds (with Professor Poore, UNSW).

Richard Piola (PhD 2008) - Differential tolerance of introduced and native marine invertebrates to heavy metal pollution.

Mailie Gall (MSc. 2010) Tolerance and the assessment of heavy metal pollution in sessile invertebrates.

Ka-Man Lee (MSc. 2006) - Taxonomy and ecology of predatory marine flatworms (Platyhelminthes: Polycladida) in Botany Bay, New South Wales, Australia.

Jaz Lawes (PhD candidate) - Development of tools for health assessment of estuaries. (with Dr Graeme Clark, UNSW and Professor Alistair Poore, UNSW)

Ceiwen Pease (PhD candidate) - Chemical arms races: the use of pharmacology to explain diet choices and responses to contaminants in marine herbivores (with Professor Poore, UNSW).

Kate Reeds (Masters candidate) - Sydney Offshore Artificial Reef - Benthic Gradient Study (with Professor Iain Suthers, UNSW)

Shinjiro Ushiama (Masters candidate) - Productivity, diversity and predation in rocky reef invertebrate communities (with Professor Iain Suthers, UNSW).

James Lavender (PhD candidate) – Marine bioinvasions in a changing climate (with Dr Dafforn, UNSW and Dr Bishop Macquarie University).

Sally Bracewell (PhD candidate) – Species traits and community dynamics across a latitudinal gradient (with Dr Graeme Clark, UNSW).

Asunta Macolino (Honours candidate)