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Musselling in – Water Chat with Michelle Hobbs

It has been a minute since our last Queensland Water Modelling Network, online Water Chat so we decided while Piet was away, to give it another breath of life. At lunchtime on Wednesday 24 May, the Queensland Water Modelling Network engagement team held an hour long, online Water Chat with Michelle Hobbs, Associate Lecturer and PhD candidate with Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University. Hosted by me (Sarah Cochrane), and supported by Brian McIntosh we welcomed, Michelle along with 35 registered participants from across local and state governments, consultants, researchers and utilities.

As a first-time online host, my nerves took a few moments to calm but, Michelle, made life easy, breezing through the interview questions, answering with wonderful stories of her fascination and adoration for Australian freshwater mussels. We flowed through a rich conversation about freshwater mussels, how they fit into the greater context of waterway health, people, and place, what it’s like to move back to academia after years working in the sector and what Michelle plans to do with the opportunity awarded to her by the Australian Academy of Sciences.

Not just a tasty treat

On Country, the relationship between people and freshwater mussels began millennia ago. Indigenous communities around the country have relied on freshwater mussels as a seasonal food source for generations, with some remote communities still consuming them today. Local knowledge about when and where to collect freshwater mussels is often held by the women in Indigenous communities. Michelle is working with some of these communities to explore and understand the local ecology of mussels, helping to translate the use of traditional and local knowledge through her research.

Like true water-warriors, these molluscs can scrub huge proportions of sediment, algae and pollutants from waterways and also offer a biogeochemical indication of the overall health of a catchment. Freshwater mussels can indicate not just the health of a waterway, but also its history, storing the memories of the waterway in trace elements in their hard calcite shells.

The broader context for freshwater mussels

Over the past few years, the QWMN “Water Modelling Pipeline” has helped us contextualise how individuals “fit” within the ecosystem of the water sector. It is multidisciplinary research like Michelle’s that branch across sectors and supporting communities, scientists and decision makers alike, has QWMN rethinking “the pipeline”. Bringing together “modern science” with rich, long-held local and Indigenous knowledge, we are collectively developing a more holistic tale about our waterways, their history and how they have changed over time. Precious information, especially for unmonitored catchments.


Michelle brings over a decade of experience as a consulting ecologist to her freshwater mussel research. It was this experience that had her interested in returning to academia, wanting to improve understanding of the value of freshwater mussels and how Indigenous knowledge could be better incorporated with ecological research. Michelle brings a passion to freshwater science that shows up in her career and in her art.

An experience of a lifetime, Michelle’s opportunity with the Australian Academy of Science will see her travelling to learn from the experiences of other collaborations between scientific research and Traditional Owners in Canada. Michelle’s passion and ethics show up in all her interactions and more and more, live on stage as she holds the torch firm, not just for Indigenous women, or women in STEM but for all her people, serving as interpreter, storyteller, and speaker for people and mussels alike.

You can catch Michelle speaking at this year’s Splendour in the Grass Event, at the Science Tent https://lnkd.in/g5zh5yik


Recorded Session Link: https://watercentre.zoom.us/rec/share/Wj8gUpMFQbPYTajifSMpr7r1R29uV7XsDulXxVNV8DLeJsYM8mB-d7OGm5L2TFga.yBVA2l4hZ9sajEJh

Passcode: =fR5GPe6


Michelle was recently interviewed by Queensland Museum Network for their Cool Jobs series: https://lnkd.in/gsDdNy-j and spoke on Radio National about mussels and the role of our First Peoples cultures in environmental sciences: https://lnkd.in/gBQzxhWB

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