Environmental consultants provide independent services in the collection, interpretation and application of environmental data. They act as an interface between the scientific community and clients, where clients may be private individuals, companies, statutory authorities or government agencies.
Projects in consulting involve a variety of disciplines, including aquatic biology, fisheries, water quality, coastal engineering, marine chemistry, oceanography, hydraulics, pollution control and environmental planning. Each discipline is specific and concerned with defining practical solutions to complex environmental issues. Consultants therefore usually work in a team with specialists from a range of disciplines outside their own area of expertise. They need to be able to liaise effectively and communicate their results to a broad audience, including laypersons, other scientists, engineers, and mediating and decision-making authorities.
Consultants work on a diverse range of projects including the measurement of an environment's physical and biological attributes, design of structures built for the marine environment, environmental management and planning, effluent discharge strategies, environmental impact studies, rehabilitation projects, environmental audits, and resource inventories. Environmental monitoring is becoming mandatory for developments as diverse as construction works and effluent discharges. Consultants are generally required to design and implement monitoring studies and therefore need the skills to design cost-effective and statistically valid programs.
The role of consultants is changing rapidly as government bodies reduce their staffing levels and contract increasing numbers of projects to consultants. Knowledge of law, conventions and liabilities relating to coastal and offshore areas is therefore becoming increasingly important.
Environmental consulting is an interesting career which involves a wide variety of work and often requires travel to remote areas. It is a field that is growing rapidly as the community demands that greater emphasis be placed on managing development and minimising its effects on the natural environment.
Photo: A private consulting group collects samples from the seabed using divers and a mechanical grab as part of a monitoring program.