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Dr. Hardesty is a senior principal research scientist with CSIRO Environment. She has developed a significant international profile on plastics pollution based on high-quality, innovative science. She has a strong commitment to engagement, with colleagues in the academic community, with policy makers and environmental advocates, with industry and with the public at large.

For the past several years she has been leading a portfolio of marine debris projects which has resulted in global recognition of Australia’s role in cutting-edge plastics pollution work of high value and impact. Her work has focused on understanding plastic pollution and is increasingly turning to technology approaches, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as smart sensors to help shift the dial on the plastics pollution issue. Denise often provides expert opinion on marine debris related matters to the federal government, to non-government organizations, to industry stakeholders and NGOs within Australia and internationally, and to other audiences focused on marine debris impacts. Her work crosses a multitude of spatio-temporal scales, with a view to reducing the trans-boundary marine plastics issue, including focusing research on derelict fishing nets or 'ghost gear'.

After completion of a major national project on plastic pollution impacts on marine species in Australia, she's been working internationally to support capacity building on plastics related science within the Asia Pacific, the Americas and Africa. In the last few years alone, Denise has given more than 50 professional and public presentations, more than 2/3 of which have been as an invited speaker at professional and public meetings and/or workshops.

Denise has also served as a scientific expert for working groups and panels including the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs of the UK (DEFRA), The Australian Federal Government (including the first national Plastics Summit in early 2020), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Group of Experts on Scientific Aspects of Marine Protection (GESAMP), United Nations Environment (UNE), the US National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Kloster’s Forum and numerous state and regional panels within Australia.

Her other major body of work focuses on monitoring, control and surveillance analytics for illegal, unreported and unlicensed (IUU) fishing, particularly in International waters. This portfolio of projects works with international partners to improve our understanding of activities of fishing vessels and to improve the use of fisheries monitoring data.

Following from her research on the effects of abandoned fishing gear she has become a key player at national and international workshops with government, industry, fisheries and other stakeholders aiming to reduce this transboundary issue. Her recent grant funding reflects this recognition, with projects funded by the United Nations Environment, the Australian Packaging Covenant, the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Ocean Conservancy, and numerous Philanthropic organizations.

Also during her years at CSIRO, Denise has been internationally recognized as a leader in movement ecology, participating in international fora and sharing innovations on applying biogeochemical and genetic markers to understand movement in complex systems, which developed from an extension of her molecular ecology research. She has a diverse background in ecology and has worked around the world from the tropics of Africa, Asia and South America to Midway Atoll, the deserts of Mexico and the chilly wilds of the Antarctic.

Other Interests

Beach volleyball, mountain biking, bushwalking, surfing, reading, cooking and traveling to remote places.

Academic Qualifications

  • 2005

    University of Georgia

  • 1999

    MSc Biology
    San Francisco State University

  • 1990

    The George Washington University

Achievements and Awards

  • 2020-2020

    Finalist, Tasmanian of the Year
    National Australia Day Council

  • 2016-2016

    Eureka Prize for Environmental Research
    Australian Museum

  • 2016-2016

    Homeward Bound Leadership Program
    Homeward Bound

  • 2014-2017

    Julius Early Career Research Award


  • 2022-2024

    Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, IPOI Knowledge Partnership for marine litter (2022-2024)

  • 2022-2025

    DAWE, National plastic pollution monitoring program and stormwater project

  • 2022-2025

    Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Supporting the ASEAN Regional Action Plan for Combatting Marine Debris in the ASEAN Member States

  • 2020-2023

    Phase II, Quantifying plastic leakage to the Ocean

  • 2019-2022

    Improving efforts to reduce IUU fishing through expanding human capacity and implementing new tools to improve maritime surveillance

  • 2019-2019

    Implementation of UNEA resolutions on marine litter

  • 2018-2019

    Food and Agricultural Organization Global Fishing Gear Loss Estimates

  • 2017-2020

    Quantifying flows of plastic from land to the sea

  • 2016-2017

    Assessing the effectiveness of waste management in reducing levels of plastic entering Australia’s marine environment

  • 2016-2017

    Policy and practices analysis to reduce littering Phase II

  • 2015-2016

    Modelling and monitoring marine litter movement, transportation and accumulation

  • 2015-2016

    Policy and practices analysis to reduce littering and identify source point losses

  • 2015-2019

    Enabling Enforcement and improving fisheries statistics through better use of monitoring, control and surveillance data

  • 2015-2017

    Global litter analysis

  • 2011-2014

    Identifying the risks and assessing the impacts of marine debris on sea turtles in Australian Waters

  • 2011-2014

    National Marine Debris Project

  • 2009-2010

    Marine Debris National Assessment project

  • 2009-2013

    Ghost Nets Australia project

Community and Corporate Citizenship

  • 2015-2019

    Team Leader

  • 2018-current

    Laboratory Mgr

  • 2018-current

    SETAC microplastics steering committee

  • 2006-current

    Scientists in Schools

  • 2017-current

    Homeward Bound Leadership Team