Dr Alastair Birtles grew up in the UK, studied Zoology at Oxford University (MA Oxon) and obtained a PhD in Marine Biology at James Cook University. He has over fifty years of experience in tropical research and teaching including over a decade of teaching at JCU in marine biology & zoology in Great Barrier Reef environments including coastal mangroves, continental shelf soft sediment communities, coral reefs and the deep sea - with a particular focus on echinoderms.

Following a period as a conservation officer/planner with the Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service, he spent nearly 30 years teaching & researching on ecotourism, environmental management, wildlife management, integrated coastal zone management and ecologically sustainable tourism.

He is Chief Investigator and Team Leader of the 30-year Minke Whale Project (conducting field studies since 1996) which is now his main research focus in his role as Adjunct Professor in Marine Biology.  He has also led many other other marine wildlife tourism research projects (featuring sharks, whales, dolphins, turtles, dugongs, groupers and scuba diving); also tourism in protected areas (especially World Heritage Wet Tropics Rainforest and the GBR), visitor management, interpretation and Aboriginal tourism – all aimed at enhancing tourist experiences, minimising impacts and developing more ecologically sustainable management practices.

He has worked extensively in developing countries, supervised over 100 Honours and postgraduates from 25 countries and has produced many publications and natural history films.

  • Biology and behaviour of dwarf minke whales. Sustainable management of swim-with-whales tourism.
  • Sustainable management of tourism in high biodiversity tropical environments. Application of science and social science to sustainable management of tourism.
  • Management of marine wildlife tourism (e.g. sharks, whales, dolphins, turtles, dugongs and large fish [e.g. serranids and labrids]).
  • SCUBA diving tourism, Ecotourism, Ecologically sustainable tourism, Aboriginal cultural tourism.
  • Visitor management and interpretation of natural environments.
  • Indigenous involvement in protected area management, natural resource management and 'Caring for Country'.
  • Management of tourism in protected areas, especially national parks and the World Heritage Areas of the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Management of tourism impacts at freshwater sites in Wet Tropics streams.
  • 2022 to present - Adjunct Professor of Marine Biology, CSE, JCU (Townsville)
  • 2016 to 2022 - Adjunct Associate Professor of Marine Biology, CSE, JCU (Townsville)
  • 1994 to 2016 - Senior Lecturer in Environmental Management & Ecotourism, Tourism Program, CBLG, JCU (Townsville)
  • 2011 to 2013 - Associate Dean of Research, CBLG, JCU (Townsville)
  • 1991 to 1994 - Lecturer in Environmental Management & Ecotourism, Tourism Department, JCU (Townsville)
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 1990 - Honorary Research Fellow at the Museum of Tropical Queensland
  • 2006 - Member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas
  • 2009 to 2013 - Deputy Chair of the Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee
  • 2007 to 2013 - Chair of the WTMA Tourism Industry Liaison Group (now Tourism Industry Network)
  • 2007 to 2013 - Director and Deputy Chair of the Board of the Wet Tropics Management Authority
  • 2004 to 2008 - National Chair, Marine and Coastal Community Network (MCCN)
  • 1991 to 1995 - Founder Member of Ecotourism Association of Australia (now Ecotourism Australia)

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles
Conference Papers

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 50+ research outputs authored by Prof Alastair Birtles from 1996 onwards.


Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • Dwarf Minke Whale Morphometrics, Growth Rates and Long-term Behaviour Responses to Human Interactions in the Great Barrier Reef. (PhD , Secondary Advisor)

The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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  • 34.205, Earth & Environmental Sciences (Townsville campus)
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