Dr Kathy Townsend

Research Fellow

School of Biomedical Sciences
Faculty of Medicine


My research focuses on issues such as marine conservation and human impacts on the marine environment. My research programs draw their strength from a multidisciplinary approach and focus on global scale issues, such as the impacts of marine debris and marine pollution. I actively contribute to a greater understanding of the conservation status of marine species identified by the IUCN Red List for threatened species. I take my role as a mentor to young scientists very seriously. I am consistently ranked highly by both students and my peers for my teaching and community engagement techniques. As lead academic of the internationally renown scientific programs “Project Manta” and “Turtles in Trouble”, our research has been featured on multiple international documentaries, including BBC David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef and Nat Geo Wild's "Manta Mystery".

Research Impacts

I have contributed strongly towards the study of conservation biology and human impact on the marine environment. We published a seminal paper confirming that marine debris ingestion by sea turtles within Australian waters is a serious issue and kickstarted a field of research that had been previously under investigated. Through this study we were the first to confirm that sea turtles actively target plastic bags and balloons in the natural environment. Through applied modern analysis of the global status of the impact of ingested marine rubbish on sea turtles, we confirmed that the issue of plastic impacts on sea turtles has increased historically. This was followed up with a global review on the research priorities required to mitigate the biological impacts caused by plastic debris in the marine environment. This research has been heavily cited and is currently used as evidence to illicit changed to waste management practices around the world. Project Manta is the first Australian wide study of the vulnerable Manta sp. Through this research, we recorded the first of long-term movements of Manta alfredi in Australia. We further contributed to the conservation biology of this iconic species by provided previously unknown information on the depth usage and interactions with oceanographic features that influence manta ray distribution and behaviour. This was followed by a timely review of all mobulid and manta rays worldwide and clarified the conservation status and identified threats to the species. Publications generated from this research stream has been cited in multiple papers and has been used in multiple national and international legislative applications since, including Environment protection and biodiversity conservation act 1999, Queensland Fisheries Act, CITES, and IUCN.


  • Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Queensland
  • BSc (Hons), The University of Queensland


View all Publications


Book Chapter

  • Clayton, David and Townsend, Kathy A (2017). Chapter 11: Territoriality and Courtship Behavior. In Zeehan Jaafar and Edward O. Murdy (Ed.), Fishes out of water: biology and ecology of mudskippers (pp. 277-300) Boca Raton, FL, United States: CRC Press. doi:10.1201/9781315119861

  • Townsend, Kathy A (2017). Life in the oceans. In Mary Barram, Sue Ellen Carew and Susan Hill (Ed.), A Nature Guide to North Stradbroke Island, Minjerribah (pp. 105-132) Brisbane, QLD, Australia: Friends of Stradbroke Island .

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Other Outputs