Dr Merrick Ekins

Merrick is the Collection Manager of Sessile Marine Invertebrates which include; Porifera (sponges), Cnidaria (hard and soft corals, jellyfish, hydroids, anemones), Ascidians, Zooanthids, Hemichordata, Bryozoans (lace corals) and Brachiopods (lamp shells)

Merick Ekins Merrick on a night dive

He is involved in the collection, identification and preservation of sessile marine invertebrates and some that have a non-sessile phase like jellyfish.  He is responsible for the curation of  over 60 000 specimens; including 5000 species of sponges, 1000 species of ascidians and 600 morpho-species of octocorals. His job also entails field surveys to Moreton Bay, the Great Barrier Reef and most remote locations including Torres Straits.

Recent avenues of research include population dynamics of sponges on deep sea mounts in the Pacific Ocean, and their connectivities between these isalnds. His research interests also include the taxonomy of sponges, gorgonians, ascidians and jellyfish. He has described new species of sponges and jellyfish, and written several papers on invasive species colonizing Australia.
He has also worked in remote locations conducting disease surveillance surveys and extracting coral fossils in order to understand palaeoecological changes in reef structure. For the past eleven years, I have also volunteered with the dugong health and population monitoring research program in Queensland. This involves catching (wrestling), tagging, measuring, in water sampling, satellite tagging of dugongs, as well as airborne population monitoring.

He started at the Queensland Museum on the travelling "Road show" before scoring a job transferring collection records between the databases in the Sessile Marine Invertebrate Collection. He was then offered a research fellowship to conduct research on the lithistid sponges from deep sea mounts off New Caledonia. Since 2005 he has been in charge of the Sessile Marine Invertebrate Collection.

Previously Merrick studied a bachelors science degree at University of Queensland, then an honours research year followed by a PhD in the field of molecular genetics in plant pathology, studying diseases on sunflowers.  After the PhD Merrick  worked in Television at Channel 9 as science communicator  on "“why?" and shooting documentaries. Then he worked for two years as a research scientist in the QUT physics department doing research on natural lighting and solar hot water system design, before taking up a plant pathologist position at DPI in Cairns. He went travelling around Africa for six months before changing fields to Marine Biology and taking a job with Queensland Museum. 

Current research interests are describing new species of sponges from the Indo-Pacific and gorgonian species of the Great Barrier Reef.

Areas of expertise

Taxonomy, population genetics, ecology, biogeography, biodiversity, phylogenetics, biodiscovery and conservation, invasive species, molecular taxonomy, marine ecology and management, reproductive and population biology, biodiversity, sponges, ascidians, cnidarians (hard and soft corals and jellyfish).


Merrick Ekins, Dirk Erpenbeck, Gert Wörheide and John N. A. Hooper. 2015. Staying well connected – Lithistid sponges on seamounts. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 96(2):437-451. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0025315415000831.

Shahan Khokhar, Yunjiang Feng, Anthony R. Carroll, Marc R. Campitelli, Ronald J. Quinn, John N.A. Hooper, Merrick G. Ekins, & Rohan A. Davis. 2015. Dragmacidol A and dragmacidolide A from the Australian marine sponge Dragmacidon australe, Tetrahedron, 71(36):6204-6209. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tet.2015.06.087.

Lisa-Ann Gershwin & Merrick Ekins. 2015. A new pygmy species of box jellyfish (Cubozoa: Chirodropida) from sub-tropical Australia. Marine Biodiversity Records, 8, e111 http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S175526721500086X.

Tran TD, Pham NB, Ekins M, Hooper JN, & Quinn RJ. 2015. Isolation and Total Synthesis of Stolonines A-C, Unique Taurine Amides from the Australian Marine Tunicate Cnemidocarpa stolonifera. Mar Drugs:13(7):4556-4575. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/md13074556.

Dirk Erpenbeck, Merrick Ekins, Nicole Enghuber, John N.A. Hooper, Helmut Lehnert, Angelo Poliseno, Astrid Schuster, Edwin Setiawan, Nicole J. de Voogd, Gert Wörheide, & Rob W.M. van Soest. 2016. Nothing in (sponge) biology makes sense - except when based on holotypes. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 96(2):305-311. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0025315415000521.

Merrick Ekins & Lisa Gershwin. 2014. First record of the Caribbean box jellyfish Tripedalia cystophora in Australian waters. Marine Biodiversity Records, 7, e127 http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1755267214001183.

Mun B, Wang W, Kim H, Hahn D, Yang I, Won DH, Kim EH, Lee J, Han C, Kim H,
Ekins M, Nam SJ, Choi H, & Kang H. 2014. Cytotoxic 5α,8α-epidioxy sterols from the marine
sponge Monanchora sp. Arch Pharm Res. 38(1):18-25. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12272-014-0480-8.

Dongyup Hahn, Jungwook Chin, Hiyoung Kim, Inho Yang, Dong Hwan Won, Merrick Ekins, Hyukjae Choi, Sang-Jip Nam, & Heonjoong Kang. 2014. Sesquiterpenoids with PPARδ agonistic effect from a Korean marine sponge Ircinia sp., Tetrahedron Letters. 55(34):4716-4719. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tetlet.2014.07.019.

Khokhar, S., Feng, Y., Campitelli, M.R., Ekins, M.G. & Hooper, J.N.A. 2014. Isolation, structure determination and cytotoxicity studies of tryptophan alkaloids from an Australian marine sponge Hyrtios sp. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters 24:3329–3332. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bmcl.2014.05.104.

Hall, K.A., Ekins, M.G. & Hooper, J.N.A. 2014. Two new desma-less species of Theonella Gray, 1868 (Demospongiae: Astrophorida: Theonellidae), from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, and a re-evaluation of one species assigned previously to Dercitus Gray, 1867. Zootaxa. 3814(4):451-477. http://dx.doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.3814.4.1.

Bilewitch, J.P., Ekins, M., Hooper, J., & Degnan, S.M. 2014. Molecular and morphological systematics of the Ellisellidae (Coelenterata: Octocorallia): Parallel evolution in a globally distributed family of octocorals. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 73:106-118. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2014.01.023

Lõhelaid H, Teder T, Tõldsepp K, Ekins M, & Samel N. 2014. Up-Regulated Expression of AOS-LOXa and Increased Eicosanoid Synthesis in Response to Coral Wounding. PLoS ONE 9(2): e89215. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0089215

Bilewitch, J.P. Ekins, M., Hooper, J., & Degnan, S. M., 2014. Corrigendum to “Molecular and morphological systematics of the Ellisellidae (Coelenterata: Octocorallia): Parallel evolution in a globally distributed family of octocorals”. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 78:399. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2014.05.025

Ekins, M.G. 2014. In, Field Guide to Queensland Fauna – smart phone app. Publisher: Queensland Museum Network (Google Play Store, Apple App Store). Inspiring Australia

Khokhar, S., Feng, Y., Campitelli, M.R., Quinn, R.J., Hooper, J.N.A., Ekins, M G. & Davis, R.A. 2013. Trikentramides A-D, Indole Alkaloids from the Australian Sponge Trikentrion flabelliforme. Journal of Natural Products. 76:2100-2105. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/np400617h.

Ekins, M. 2013. Ascidians. The Great Barrier Reef: A Queensland Museum Discovery Guide
p 224-229 (Queensland Museum: Brisbane).

J.N.A. Hooper, K.A. Hall, M. Ekins, D. Erpenbeck, G. Wörheide & G. Jolley-Rogers. 2013. Managing and Sharing the Escalating Number of Sponge ‘‘Unknowns’’: The SpongeMaps Project. Integrative and Comparative Biology 53(3):473-481. http://dx.doi: 10.1093/icb/ict038.

Hahn D, Won DH, Mun B, Kim H, Han C, Wang W, Chun T, Park S, Yoon D, Choi H, Nam SJ, Ekins M, Chin J, & Kang H. 2013. Cytotoxic scalarane sesterterpenes from a Korean marine sponge Psammocinia sp. Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters. 23(8):2336-9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bmcl.2013.02.061.

Kim H, Chin J, Choi H, Baek K, Lee TG, Park SE, Wang W, Hahn D, Yang I, Lee J, Mun B, Ekins M, Nam SJ, & Kang H. 2013. Phosphoiodyns A and B, Unique Phosphorus-Containing Iodinated Polyacetylenes from a Korean Sponge Placospongia sp. Organic Letters. 15 (1):100-103. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ol3031318.

Wang W, Mun B, Lee Y, Venkat Reddy M, Park Y, Lee J, Kim H, Hahn D, Chin J, Ekins M, Nam SJ, & Kang H. 2013. Bioactive Sesterterpenoids from a Korean Sponge Monanchora sp. Journal of Natural Products. 76 (2):170-177. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/np300573m.

Ekins, M.G. 2011. Island Monarch Monarcha cinerascens: First record on an island close to mainland Australia. Australian Field Ornithology 28:162-166.

Ekins, M.G., Hayden, H.L. Aitken, E.A.B. & Goulter, K.C. 2011. Population structure of Sclerotinia sclerotiorum on sunflower in Australia. Australasian Plant Pathology. 40:1-11

Hooper, J.N.A. & Ekins, M.  2009. Collation and validation of museum collection databases related to the distribution of marine sponges in northern Australia. Technical Reports of the Queensland Museum. 2:1-224

Schlachler-Hoenlinger, M.A., Walker, S.J., Johnson, J.W., Schlacher, T.A., Hooper J.N.A., Ekins, M., Banks, I.W. & Sutcliffe, P.R. 2009. Biological  Monitoring of the ex-HMAS Brisbane Artificial Reef: Phase II – Habitat Values. Technical Reports of the Queensland Museum. 3:1-105

Peter J. Smith, P. J., Page, M., Handley, S. J., Mcveagh, S. M. and Ekins, M. 2007. First record of the Australian ascidian Eudistoma elongatum in northern New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 41:347–355. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00288330709509924

Ekins, M.G.,  E.A.B. Aitken & K.C. Goulter. 2007. Aggressiveness amongst isolates of Sclerotinia sclerotiorum from sunflower. Australasian Plant Pathology CSIRO. 36:580-586

Ekins, M.G.,  Aitken A.B. & Goulter K.C. 2006. Homothallism in Sclerotinia species.  Mycological Research. 110:1193-1199.

Hooper, J.N.A. & Ekins, M. 2005. Sponges. P. 30. In Heap, A.D., Harris, P.T., Hinde, A. & Woods, M. Benthic marine bioregionalisation of Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.  (Geosciences Australia: Canberra).

Ekins M.G., Aitken A.B. & Goulter K.C. 2005. Identification of Sclerotinia Species. Australasian Plant Pathology CSIRO. 34:549-555

Hooper, J.N.A. & Ekins, M. G. 2004. Collation and validation of museum collection databases related to the distribution of marine sponges in Northern Australia. National Oceans Office Report.

Ekins, M. G., Aitken A. B. & Goulter K. C. 2002. Carpogenic germination and demonstration of pathogenicity of ascospores of Sclerotinia minor Jagger and prediction of potential distribution in Australia.  Australasian Plant Pathology Society. 31:259-265.


Collation and validation of museum collection databases related to the distribution of marine sponges in northern Australia

Hooper, J.N.A. & Ekins, M. 2004 (published online 2009). Technical Reports of the Queensland Museum Number 002. ISBN 978-0-9805692-5-4. Written for: National Oceans Office C2004/020 (2004)

Biological monitoring of the ex-HMAS Brisbane artifical reef: Phase II - Habitat values

Schlacher-Hoenlinger, M.A., Walker, S.J., Johnson, J., Schlacher, T., Hooper, J.N.A., Ekins, M., Banks, I.W., Sutcliffe, P.R. 2009. Technical Reports of the Queensland Museum Number 003. ISBN 978-0-9805692-8-5. Written for: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM).


Collection Manager of Sessile Marine Invertebrates, Biodiversity Program


B Sc (Hons 1), PhD

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