Early career researcher with a focus on coral biology, reef ecology, and adaptation to climate change. Using a mixed-methods approach, I investigate the interactions between reef taxa from the cellular to the ecosystem level. My work uses a range of techniques, including molecular biology and genomics, microbial ecology, physiology, macro-ecology, field- and lab-based experiments to understand the relationships between species. Recent work incorporates significant outreach and engagement through citizen science involvement in reef restoration research. 

Most recently, I have been involved in developing and testing local scale reef restoration techniques on the Great Barrier Reef including macroalgae removal (“sea-weeding”) and coral larval enhancement (“coral IVF”) and investigating the ecosystem-wide effects of such techniques. This work is in partnership with Earthwatch Australia and incorporates citizen scientists, which allows a unique opportunity for science education and outreach.

Prior to my science career, I completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts and worked for several years in the arts. In addition to my scientific pursuits, I have a passion for creating conceptual scientific illustrations to bridge the gap between science and art, and to communicate complex scientific ideas with beautifully rendered images.

  • Ecological and biological effects and feasibility of reef restoration techniques
  • Microbial symbioses in marine invertebrates
  • Genomic basis of stress tolerance and adaptation of corals to environmental change
  • Reproductive biology of corals
  • 2022 to present - Senior Research Officer, James Cook University (Townsville)
  • 2017 to 2022 - Research Officer, James Cook University (Townsville)
  • 2017 - Environmental Officer, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (Townsville)
  • 2016 to 2017 - Research Assistant, JCU and ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies (Townsville)
Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 2017 - JCU Academic Medal
  • 2014 to 2015 - American Australian Association Sir Keith Murdoch Fellow

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
Book Chapters
Conference Papers

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 21+ research outputs authored by Hillary Smith from 2017 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Reef HQ Volunteers Association - Grant

Long term benthic dynamics following interventions on macroalgae dominated reefs

Indicative Funding
$4,500 over 1 year
Macroalgae flourish under conditions with high amounts of terrestrial runoff, increased sedimentation and nutrient loading; conditions characteristic of an increasing number of coral reefs globally. These conditions can prompt a shift from coral dominance to an altered, macroalgae-dominated community, with the return of coral dominance rare once fleshy macroalgae have established. By increasing space for growth of existing coral colonies and enhancing available space for coral recruitment, manual removal of macroalgae (?sea-weeding?) has been proposed as one measure to promote reef recovery on macroalgae dominated reefs. This project will monitor the long-term benthic impacts of removing macroalgae from experimental plots on a degraded inshore reef.
Hillary Smith and David Bourne (College of Science & Engineering)
Reef restoration; Macroalgae removal; Benthic dynamics; Coral reefs; Reef management

Women Divers Hall of Fame - Susan L Williams Memorial Fellowships in Coral and Seagrass Rehabilitation

Caught in the canopy: can coral larvae navigate seaweed canopies?

Indicative Funding
$3,616 over 2 years
Hard corals and fleshy macroalgae are two major benthic components of corals reefs, and the competition between these two groups can shape reef trajectories. Where coral reefs have been degraded through anthropogenic influences (climate change and local factors), the competitive interactions between coral and macroalgae are often increased in frequency and intensity. Given the range of known negative effects of macroalgae on corals, and in light of the climate crisis, it has been proposed that manual removal of macroalgae could help boost coral settlement and resilience on a local scale. Indeed, recent research has shown that the physical removal of macroalgae can triple the resulting recruitment of coral juveniles and drastically increase coral cover, and hence is a viable strategy for active reef management. However, it is not yet known what macroalgal mechanism (biochemical or physical) prevents coral juvenile success. It is also not known what level of algal reduction is needed to achieve reef rehabilitation outcomes. In this project, field data and aquarium-based experiments using different densities and heights of macroalgae will determine how macroalgae canopies affect coral recruitment, and will explicitly test the hypothesis that a physical barrier is responsible for preventing coral juveniles access to reef substrate, and could explain wide- scale patterns in recruitment failure on reefs worldwide.
Hillary Smith (College of Science & Engineering)
Macroalgae; Coral larvae; Reef restoration; Sargassum; Coral reef

Reef HQ Volunteers Association - Grant

Ecological implications of macroalgal removal for localised inshore reef restoration

Indicative Funding
$5,010 over 1 year
The growing dominance of fleshy macroalgae in many inshore coral reef ecosystems is recognised as a threat to ecosystem functioning and people dependent on coral reefs for their livelihoods. Physically removing macroalgae is proposed as an approach to free up space for coral recovery on algal-dominated reefs. The current state of knowledge surrounding macroalgal removal (reviewed in 2018) highlighted knowledge gaps related to physical and ecological consequences of macroalgal removal. This project aims to improve understanding of the ecosystem-wide impacts of macroalgal removal and determine its potential as a localised restoration strategy for inshore reefs increasingly impacted by anthropogenic threats.
Stella Fulton, David Bourne and Hillary Smith (College of Science & Engineering)
Microalgae; Coral-Algal Interactions; Reef Restoration; Community Composition; Sedimentation; Magnetic Island

Earthwatch Institute Australia - Contract Research

Recovery of the Great Barrier Reef.

Indicative Funding
$371,000 over 3 years
This project investigates the potential for restoration of reef ecosystems around Magnetic Island. Linked with Earthwatch Australia, it is a citizen science-based project that engages volunteers to help remove macroalgae and monitor changes in coral recruitment, sediment dynamics, community composition, algae regrowth rates, and coral biology, with the hopes that removal of algae leads to an increase in coral cover. The project is an extension of a previous project which accumulated 7 years of base line data on demographic recovery dynamics of corals at Orpheus Island.
David Bourne and Hillary Smith (College of Science & Engineering)
Coral Reefs; Citizen Science; Coral Recovery; reef disturbance; Ecosystem Assessment; Coral Restoration

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.


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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