Sophie Kalkowski-Pope, 21, grew up in the beautiful coastal region of Cairns, Far North Queensland. Surrounded by reefs and rainforests, her childhood consisted of outdoor adventures and regular trips to the Great Barrier Reef on their family boat. As a child, Sophie took part in Scouts, and later obtained her Certificate II in Outdoor recreation to explore outdoor pursuits like whitewater kayaking and rock climbing. Having started snorkeling at age 5 and diving at age 13, Sophie has long had a passion for the underwater world.
Witnessing the 2017 mass coral bleaching event on her local reefs was a pivotal moment in her life. Catalyzed by what she witnessed, Sophie was compelled to take action, documenting the event to present at her school and Local Marine Advisory Committee. Not solely concerned with the tropical realm, Sophie also created a film about the Disappearing Kelp Forests of Tasmania and received a UTAS Marine Discovery Scholarship to experience temperate marine biology. These experiences were a foundational moment in terms of realizing her passion for science communication, and the initiative required to take action as a leader.
Determined to further her skillset to tackle these global challenges, she undertook a Bachelor of Science/Arts at the University of Queensland. Here she majors in Marine Science and Geography, with minors in Political science, and Media and Digital Cultures, which she believes provides her with a transdisciplinary skillset to be an effective advocate for our oceans. During this time, Sophie pursued her diving ambitions, obtaining her PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, Rescue Diver, and Enriched Air (Nitrox) Diver Certifications. During her undergraduate degree, Sophie also served as President of the UQ Marine Society, leading her committee to offer a myriad of field, social, and employability events for their ~240 members. Concurrently, Sophie began working part time at CoralWatch at the University of Queensland, a coral reef conservation organization and global reef monitoring program. In this role, she educates communities about citizen science, climate change, and how we can protect reefs into the future.
Sophie has volunteered and worked for a wide variety of projects, including benthic data analysis for Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, social media for the Nemo Hotel Project, seagrass sampling for Science Under Sail Sailing for Seagrass, and presenting at the Australian Coral Reef Society 2022 Conference. Sophie also participated in the Mooloolaba Ecological Assessment and Mapping Project where she undertook Reef Check Training and assisted to co-author her first research report. Aware of the importance of political institutions to create societal change, Sophie spent two years in the YMCA Queensland Youth Parliament. In her first year she received an award for the Best Speaker on opposition and in her second year was elected Leader of the Opposition to lead a group of 80 of her peers.
Sophie is honored to be the 2023 Australasian Scholar, fulfilling a lifelong dream that will transform her ability to make a positive impact in the world, for the protection of our oceans and planet.