For the last 20 years, Albany has hosted the UWA regional university campus in Western Australia – tucked away in the iconic Penny Post at the harbourside of town. 

Expanding the University of WA campus precinct, Minister for Regional Development, the Hon. Alannah MacTiernan, officially opened the Great Southern Marine Research Facility (GSMRF, pronounced G-smurf) in the refurbished railway station on 1 November 2019. The group of researchers, postgraduate students and professional staff is managed by Dr Wiebke Ebeling who moved from Perth to Albany to establish headquarters of the new research centre in April 2018. It took several more months until a team joined her and until office and workshop spaces were ready for occupation by the Wave Energy Research Centre.

Wiebke’s background is diverse – with an Honours degree in Biological Cybernetics, a PhD in Visual Neuroscience and a qualification as a workshop facilitator; but her passion for communication, STEM advocacy and community education have provided the right mix to oversee operation of this new knowledge hub in a regional setting. The GSMRF has been the launchpad of countless fieldwork campaigns – to Moodrenup/Sandpatch for the installation of coastal camera systems that monitor the wave run-up on a complex coastline that boasts the world’s best wave energy resource and to Albany marina for the launch of boats to deploy new wave riding ocean monitoring equipment in the Southern Ocean and in Albany’s outer harbour, King George Sound. Funded by the State Government’s Royalties for Regions scheme, the primary major mandate of the research group is cutting-edge science – oceanography, marine renewable energy and fluid mechanics. But the second major mandate has always been community outreach, including schools, general public, regional stakeholders and international marine renewable energy industry.

Coming up to her 4-year mark as an Albany resident, Wiebke can list an impressive number of achievements to put Albany on the international map of ocean renewable energy. Wiebke is the Australian representative in the International Wave and Tidal Energy Research Sites (WaTERS) Network, a member of International Energy Agency (IEA) Ocean Energy Systems – Australia Working Group, an Advisory Committee member of the Australian Ocean Energy Group’s Market Development Project – and a few other group memberships. 

Outside of her “day-job”, she is also a Director on the Board of the Southern Ports Authority and the Chair of the Great Southern Science Council. Just as envisaged by the RfR grant, over the years the new research centre got woven into the fabric of the Great Southern region – with over 1,000 people having attended events at the GSMRF, over 6,000 people have learned out ocean research and STEM innovation through public lectures and community festivals, and around 900 school students having enjoyed hands-on, interactive demonstration on all things ocean. These numbers are set to keep climbing as Wiebke is now leading the Albany hub and first pilot project of the new United Nations Regional Centre of Expertise for Education in Sustainable Development with the activity “Wave Hello to Renewable Energy”.

With a wealth of experience under her belt from these past years of being the self-confessed science geek in the region, Wiebke is psyched for a particularly eventful and impactful year 2022: Minister MacTiernan’s portfolio joined forces with the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre on 20 August 2021 with a new $4 million grant to the Albany team. Named the “M4 Project”, after the technology concept (“Moored MultiModal Multibody”), the group will design, build, deploy, operate and decommission their own wave energy technology, right here in King George Sound. This will not only mark Australia’s second-only wave energy project (currently one commercial demonstrator in Tasmania) but also bridge the vast gap between Australia’s internationally envied wave energy resource and our lack of industry activity. 

In contrast to other projects, the M4 is an academic, non-commercial project and will make all data and lessons learnt publicly available to advance the entire sector. Wiebke will continue to manage the daily operations of the GSMRF and have strategic oversight of activities of the larger group, now named Marine Energy Research Australia. But with the M4 Project lending itself as an example of a small community punching well above its weight, she will increasingly focus on promoting STEM literacy, innovation and positive career role-modelling in a regional context.