Final report of the AUSTRALIA-SPAIN WATER FORUM: An interdisciplinary approach

The report can also be downloaded as PDF.

Please see photo gallery at the end of this post – more photos coming soon!


Sydney 29-31 October 2015
SIMS (Sydney Institute of Marine Science)

Water Forum 2015

The association of Spanish Researchers in Australia-Pacific (SRAP) is a non-for-profit organisation which commenced operation in 2014 and was officially incorporated in April 2015. SRAP’s objectives include: (1) Networking and support for Spanish Researchers in Australia-Pacific; (2) between Australia-Pacific and Spanish research institutes and universities; (3) Participate, influence and help to shape the Spanish Research System. SRAP organises and promotes research-related events and aims to organise one major event per year. The 2015 event was the Australia-Spain Water Forum.

The Australia-Spain Water Forum (ASWF) was an initiative of the SRAP, the Instituto Cervantes Sydney and Macquarie University. The aim was to create a multidisciplinary forum to commemorate the end of the UN Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’. The event consisted of two days based on water scarcity, culture of water, science of the coasts, sustainable water and bridging science and water industry. The third day dedicated to SRAP and links with other European researchers in Australia. In addition SRAP collaborated in the satellite research roundtable  “The Social Implications of water resources management and treatment” organised by the European Centre on Shared Complex Challenges, at the University of Melbourne.  A detailed program of the Forum and the roundtable can be found in Appendix A. The two events have been very  successful with some 100 delegates attending the forum over the three days. The press release is shown in Appendix B. We have received positive feedback through personal comments and by e-mail (Appendix C). The summary of all the activities carried out by SRAP in 2015 appears in Appendix D.

ASWF was productive event where the importance of water was highlighted from a multidisciplinary point of view. The main conclusions of the forum were:

  1. In a planet where the population is growing water remains as a limited resource.
  2. Education is key for water management as water efficiencies can turn into a double-edge sword (i.e., water use increases due to increased efficiencies) .
  3. Water is culturally important. Art raises awareness about water and traditional uses of water should be respected.
  4. Human impacts on water quality can and should be minimised using environmentally friendly technology.
  5. Climate change will change the geography and availability of water and only research can help forecast those scenarios.
  6. Aquaculture will be important for food security. Increasing efficiencies in environmentally friendly aquaculture can be achieved through research.



  • Dr Ana Vila-Concejo (Chair, SRAP, Sydney University)
  • Prof Luis Salvador-Carulla (President SRAP, Sydney University)
  • Mr Victor Ugarte (Director Sydney Instituto Cervantes)
  • Ms Natalia Villena (SRAP, Macquarie University)
  • Dr Ana Rubio-Zuazo (SRAP, Sydney University/ Hornsby Council)
  • Dr Xabier Vazquez-Campos (SRAP, University of New South Wales)
  • Dr Cesar Espada (SRAP, Embassy of Spain in Australia)
  • Dr Sergio Leon-Saval (SRAP, Sydney University)
  • Ms Izaskun de Allende (Instituto Cervantes, Sydney)
  • Mr Juan Ruiz (Instituto Cervantes, Sydney)



DAY 1 (attendance ~30 people)

Acknowledgement of country: Brad Morridge, Murri from the Kamiraloi Nation (NSW DPI Water- Aboriginal Water Initiative) acknowledged the traditional owners of the land where SIMS is located.

The SRAP Chair, Dr Ana VilaConcejo (Sydney University) opened the forum and was followed by an opening statement by Mitchell Isaacs (Office of the NSW Chief Scientist)  Mr Isaacs emphasised the history and importance of water for humanity and the existing parallels between Spain and Australia. His final remarks referred to the possibility of a third world war being fought over water; he then remarked that everyone participating in this forum should reflect on the fact that they are really working towards world’s peace. Mr Victor Ugarte, (Director of Instituto Cervantes in Sydney) then outlined the multidisciplinary program, Mr Manuel Cacho (Ambassador of Spain in Australia) welcomed everyone to the event highlighting the important work that SRAP is doing for the image of Spain in this region. The opening lecture by Prof Sakkie Pretorious, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) from Macquarie University, was a compelling comparison between the wine industry modernisation and the adaptations required to increase water efficiencies.

The keynote address on Water Scarcity, chaired by Ana Vila-Concejo (Sydney University) was delivered by Ms Josefina Maestu (Director of the United Nations Office to Support the International Decade for Action ‘Water for life’, 2005-2015). Her address focussed on the UN’s global achievements and what remains to be done in the future. The address was then discussed by Prof Jennifer McKay (University of South Australia) and Dr Amgad Elmahdi (Bureau of Meteorology) who provided an Australian perspective on water scarcity.

The second session was about The Culture of Water and was chaired by Dr Cesar Espada (Cultural Delegate at the Spanish Embassy in Australia). There was a talk by Ms Jennifer Turpin, Turpin + Crawford Studio, about her work with water; she showed several of her master pieces and their connection with water. Mr Chris Maxworthy then presented new historical evidence that shows that Spain was planning on invading Australia in 1796. We then had the screening of Isabel Coixet’s documentary about the disappearance of the Aral Sea: “Aral. The lost sea”.

These sessions were followed by cocktails where typical Spanish food was served.


DAY 2 (attendance ~45 people)

SIMS CEO Prof Peter Steinberg welcomed delegates to Day 2.

The first session of the morning was The Science of Coasts, chaired by Dr Ana Rubio-Zuazo. The first speaker outlined how tropical expansion modifies wave climate and therefore coastal evolution.  It was presented by A/Prof Ian Goodwin from Macquarie University. The second talk, by Dr Ana Vila-Concejo ( Sydney University) was about the effects of storms on coral reefs. Prof Bruce Thom (Sydney University) spoke about coastal management issues in Australia. Dr Adriana Verges (University of New South Wales) showed evidence of the links between tropical expansion and herbivore migration being responsible for the disappearance of kelp forests. She also presented her new project on replanting Crayweed in the shores of Sydney, a crowd-funded project that will be launched shortly. Finally, Prof Peter Steinberg presented the World Harbour Project emphasising the role of Australian (Sydney) and Spanish (Vigo) partners.

The second session, chaired by Mr Alberto Cerdan (Senior Trade Commissioner at the Embassy of Spain) was about Bridging the Science and Industry of Water. The first talk by Dr James Hazelton (Macquarie University) showed how national water accounting standards can be set to manage water allocations. Dr Javier Artal gave a talk representing Acciona Australia; he presented an objective account on the efficiencies and impacts of water desalination plants. Mr Peter Brew (Adasa Systems) presented an account on the modernisation and efficiency of agriculture irrigation systems both in Spain and Australia over the last 20 years. Mr Brad Moggridge (Aboriginal Water Initiative from NSW Department of Primary Industry) told a compelling story about the importance of water for the Aboriginal people of Australia, how water is essential to their traditions and how the Aboriginal Water Initiative is working with traditional communities to preserve this. The last talk of this session was given by Dr Amgad Elmahdi (Australian Bureau of Meteorology) who provided extremely useful information about Australian water data sources and web-based systems availableto best manage water resources like irrigation and dam levels.

The third and last session of the day was about Sustainable Water and it was chaired by Dr Adriana Verges (University of New South Wales). There were two talks about aquaculture, with Dr Melanie Bishop (Macquarie University) providing information about a pilot study to re-establish extinct oyster reefs in Australia’s coast. Dr Alvaro Roura (La Trobe University) spoke about the advancement of research in Octopus aquaculture with emphasis on his experiments to establish the feeding mechanisms and patterns of octopus larvae in the wild. Mr Stephen Summehayes and Mr Simon Leyva (Cook River Alliance) provided a summary of their work along the Cook River by harvesting and treating stormwater and implementing sustainable practices in reducing impervious surfaces in urban areas. Finally Dr Ana Rubio-Zuazo (University of Sydney and Hornsby Council) highlighted the connectivity between the processes resulting from people living in the upper areas of a catchment and the downstream users like the oyster industry or even recreational users: boaters and swimmers.

The Water Forum was closed by Dr Ana Vila-Concejo who thanked everyone for their contribution and for attending the forum. She highlighted the value of the multidisciplinary approach for scientific dissemination.

The lunch was a remarkable way of celebrating Spanish culture; all speakers and delegates truly enjoyed the paellas served.


DAY 3 – Special Session on Spanish and European Researchers in Australia (Attendance~20 people)

The day was opened by Prof Luis Salvador-Carulla (President of SRAP, Sydney University). He provided a summary of SRAP activities in 2015 (see Appendix C for a full summary). This was followed by a presentation from Dr Cesar Espada (Spanish Embassy in Australia) who highlighted the importance of SRAP being an independent association of Spanish researchers that worked with the support of the Spanish Embassy.

This was followed by a round table chaired by Dr Ren Yi (Director of Research Training and International Research Training Partnerships, Cotutelle and Joint PhD Programs, Macquarie University). Dr Yi opened the round table highlighting the importance that partnerships with European researchers have for Macquarie University and Australian research in general. The participants of the round table then each introduced themselves and did a short presentation. Mr Thomas Biedermann (Office of Attache for Science and Technology of the French Embassy in Australia) presented the case of the network of French researchers and how the embassy plays a key role in that network. Dr Dimitri Perrin, a French researcher from the Queensland University of Technology and former president of the French Research Association in Japan, presented an account of the French association in Japan; he highlighted that the French association in Japan did not only include French researchers but was open to all French—speaking researchers of all nationalities. Dr Sergio Leon-Saval (Vice-President of SRAP, Sydney University) presented the case for SRAP to join an Australian Network of European Researchers and how this would lead to having one voice in Europe and thus increasing the possibilities of being heard and lobbying European Research to be more open to Australian research. Ms Helen O’Neill (Director of the Australia British Council and President of the EUNIC cluster in Australia) spoke of the opportunities that a European network of researchers would bring. She highlighted the fact that this is to happen in a very good moment since the British Council is seeking to work more in science and the British researchers are looking to SRAP and beginning to think about forming their own association. She also pointed out that the Australian Federal Government will soon make an announcement on innovation where she hopes that links with European research will be highlighted. This was followed by an interesting discussion moderated by Dr Ren Yi. The main conclusions were that Australia should participate more actively in European Research (and vice-versa) and that the associations of researchers should start working towards the formation of a Network of European Researchers in Australia.

The second session of the day was about the development of SRAP, with delegates from different parts of Australia-Pacific providing a summary of their progress to date:

  • Dr Alvaro Roura (La Trobe University) provided an update of how they are starting to get organised and how they plan to have their first Research Bites event in December 2015.
  • Dr Waldo Nuez (University of Tasmania) reported on how they are starting to get organised. Their first Research Bites event is planned for December 2015.
  • There is a large group in Camberra. Dr Marina Trigueros  (Cariboo Design) reported on first research bites for March 2016. They are also starting to get organised in collaboration with Cesar Espada from the Spanish Embassy.
  • Regional NSW. Dr Sergio Ruiz-Halpern from Southern Cross University, spoke of his time in Lismore
  • Dr Oscar Perez-Concha (Cancer Institute NSW) provided an account of the history of SRAP, how it started and how in a very short time it has achieved so much. He highlighted the enthusiasm and dedication of every SRAP member.

Dr Ana Vila-Concejo officially closed the Water Forum, thanking all speakers and delegates and recalling the remarks of Mr Mitchell Isaacs (Office of the NSW Chief Scientist) about how working with water is working towards peace. She also highlighted the achievements of SRAP and the fact that we are now starting something new: a Network of European Researchers in Australia.

Spanish culture was again celebrated through a lunch which included a selection of Spanish tapas and pinchos.



An event by: Spanish Researchers in Australia Pacific (SRAP), Catedra Instituto Cervantes and Macquarie University.

Sponsors: New South Wales Trade and Investment, The Spain-Australia Council Foundation, FECYT (Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology), BBVA and Emirates.

Endorsement: The United Nations Office to Support the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ 2005-2015 and the Embassies of Spain in Australia and in New Zealand.

Collaboration: The University of Sydney.


The report can also be downloaded as PDF.

Ana Vila-Concejo

About Ana Vila-Concejo

My career started in Spain, where I did my undergraduate and MSc studying urban beaches at the University of Vigo; and Portugal, where I completed my PhD at the University of Algarve investigating the short and medium term evolution of tidal inlets in a barrier island system. Then I moved to Australia and started looking into the morphodynamics of flood-tide deltas in wave-dominated coasts within the framework of an ARC funded linkage project which was based in Port Stephens. In 2010 I started researching the morphodynamics of sand aprons in reef platforms. In 2011 I was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship to continue the studies in the dynamics of coral sands. Since 2012, I am the Director of One Tree Island Research Station. I am interested in the contemporary processes and morphodynamics of coastal systems. I started with siliciclastic temperate environments and I am now also interested in the dynamics of carbonate (coral) sand. My present studies on coral sand are mostly based on fieldwork campaigns undertaken in While I am presently dedicating most of my time to carbonate sand I remain insterested in low energy beaches, tidal inlets, overwash, coastal erosion, hazards and coastal management. I am a keen fieldworker and have experience in acquiring and processing hydrodynamic, topographic and bathymetric data. I have also worked with fluorescent tracers for studying sediment transport processes. At present, I am also using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a tool to analyse recent and present data. While I am presently dedicating most of my time to carbonate sand I remain insterested in low energy beaches, tidal inlets, overwash, coastal erosion, hazards and coastal management. I am a keen fieldworker and have experience in acquiring and processing hydrodynamic, topographic and bathymetric data.