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Walking in two worlds: Young Torres Strait Islander scientist wins national prize

At just 25 years of age, trailblazing Marine Scientist Madeina David has received national recognition for her efforts to connect traditional knowledge and modern science in the northern Australian waters of the Torres Strait.

The young scientist from the remote community of Iama was awarded the Gigari MG Excellence in Sea Country Award at the Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSA) Conference on the Gold Coast on 6 July 2023.

AMSA is Australia’s peak professional body for marine scientists from all disciplines, and this national award recognises the outstanding contribution or leadership potential of an Indigenous marine scientist, ranger, communicator, or educator to the advancement of marine science and knowledge in Australia.

TSRA Chairperson Napau Pedro Stephen AM said Ms David started her TSRA career as a university cadet in 2017 and continues to inspire others.

In her role as a Senior Natural Resource Management Officer in TSRA’s Land and Sea Management Unit, Ms David works on a range of marine projects.

“Madeina David is an exceptional individual and represents the next generation of leaders and change-makers in our region and nation,” Mr Stephen said.

“Her work alongside Traditional Owners, Rangers and world-class researchers is connecting our communities with the best ocean science to inform local decision making and outcomes.

“Connecting Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Western science in the Torres Strait is critical in our custodianship of the northernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef, home to significant turtle and dugong populations.

“The future is bright as more Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal young people chase their dreams, drive change and keep communities at the heart of their careers and achievements.”

The Gold Coast award ceremony was a far cry from the scientist’s home of Iama, which has a population of about 300 people.

At the age of 11, Ms David left her close-knit community for boarding school on Thursday Island and then moved to the large regional city of Townsville to complete a Bachelor of Science at James Cook University (JCU).

Ms David said fond memories of growing up on the islands helped her overcome challenges including homesickness.

“My dad is a cray fisherman and I was out on the family boat from as young as I can remember,” Ms David said.

“For me, looking after our oceans is much more than a job, it is a responsibility and my passion.

“The ocean has and always will be part of my life and who I am.”

The former Tagai State College school captain said she hoped the award would shine a spotlight on the unique Torres Strait region.

“My dream is to see more people from the Torres Strait pursue science careers and excel,” she said.

“Who better to care for the land and sea of the Torres Strait, than the people living on the islands.

“We know the land, the waters and the animals and together with science we can drive real change.

“Thank you to everyone who has guided my journey and everyone who continues to dedicate their time and knowledge in caring for Country.”

Madeina David graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 2021 and received the JCU Early Career Outstanding Alumni, College of Science and Engineering award last year.

This year, she is celebrating a new milestone as she navigates the joys of motherhood and a thriving marine career.

The 57th annual AMSA 2023 Conference (2-6 July 2023) celebrated the theme ‘Science in Sea Country’ to recognise the enduring connection that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have with their Sea Country, and acknowledge the critical role that the ecological and cultural knowledge of Australia’s first scientists plays in maintaining the sustainability of our seas.

Read more about 2023 AMSA award winners at

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Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people are advised this website may contain names, images and recordings of people who have passed.