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Q&A with AMC Alumnus, Toby Roe from Subcon

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AMC Alumnus Toby Roe

Bachelor of Engineering (Ocean Engineering) with Honours 2007

Why did you choose to move to Launceston, Tasmania, to study at the Australian Maritime College (AMC)?

I had a strong affinity to the water growing up in the Northern Territory and I was always swimming, fishing or snorkelling. I am also very practically minded and enjoy understanding how things work.

I knew of the maritime college through my Dad who had studied there in the 80s and so decided to look at available training opportunities for marine crew.  When I saw the description for the Naval Architect course it looked so interesting that I had to apply and was lucky enough to be accepted.

I started Naval Architecture in 2004 and thoroughly enjoyed the course.  Part way through my second year I realised that I would like to pursue a career in offshore oil and gas construction and so requested a change to the Ocean Engineering degree.

Studying at the AMC was a fantastic experience. Although the University was small, the excellent lecturers and solid industry focus results in a degree that is highly sought after by industry.

What makes a good engineer?

Curiosity and attention to detail.

When you left university you began working with Subcon, a company founded by a University of Tasmania alumnus Mat Allen. Tell us about its pioneering engineering approach to reef restoration.

We are making some exciting advances in the engineered reef space.  Subcon apply oil and gas project management and engineering techniques to significantly improve the professionalism of the engineered reef industry.

Some specific examples include: performing hydrodynamic stability assessments of reef modules to ensure reefs remain in place for the design conditions and employing diverless installation techniques to increase construction safety.

We have also designed and built many of our concrete reef structures using fibre reinforced concrete, to reduce or eliminate the requirement for traditional steel re-bar.  This improves safety during construction, allows for more complex reef shapes and dramatically increases the reef module design life.

One of the interesting aspects of your work involves building artificial reefs, what role do you think they will play in helping us address some of the impacts of changing climate on marine life?

Engineered reefs have the potential to support marine life and coastal infrastructure in several ways.

The reefs restore habitat complexity into degraded and habitat limited ecosystems and could even be used to relocate coral to deeper water if bleaching events reduce the viability of shallow natural reefs.

In addition, engineered reefs can be used as wave attenuators to protect coastal infrastructure from extreme storm events, while maintaining the aesthetics of an area and providing habitat for marine life.

I understand you have been involved in building more than 20 engineered reefs, are there any that stand out?

One of the most recent and exciting projects underway is the artificial reef dive site on the Gold Coast, featuring eight buoyant sculptural reef floats individually tethered to the seafloor. The unique structure is designed to attract marine life and tourists alike.

Tell us about the work you have done in repurposing materials to become reefs.

I was part of creating Australia’s first integrated rigs to reef (IR2R) project in King Reef in Exmouth.  The project involved taking six decommissioned mid depth buoys (MDB’s) that were destined for the scrap yard and augmenting them to provide habitat for marine life.  They were then installed in the Exmouth Gulf, along with several engineered reefs to create a substantial artificial reef for the local community.

Earlier this year you moved to the Netherlands to take up the role of General Manager for the company’s European Office. What has the experience been like and how has your career changed during COVID-19?

My wife, Jen, was heavily pregnant when we left and so with a small child and one on the way we were nervous but excited to embark on our adventure.  Working and living in a foreign country is a fantastic experience and one I would recommend to anybody.  You will notice a lot of difference with Australia but also a lot of similarities and overall gain an appreciation of how your work fits into a global context.

Like everybody COVID-19 has had a big impact on my career.  Subcon no longer needed a General Manager for the European office.  Luckily, Subcon have allowed me to resume my previous Operations and Engineering Manager role remotely while we make plans to repatriate to Australia.

Finally, if you could solve one problem in the world, what would it be?

Providing food from the ocean in an ethical and sustainable way.

Published on: 26 Aug 2020