Gemma Dickson is a PhD student studying the involvement of marine bacteria in decomposition of human and animal remains in coastal marine environments.
In New Zealand an unusually high number of accidental and suspicious deaths occur in the sea. Human remains in seawater are subject to a large number of decompositional factors, dependent upon the remains themselves and the specific marine environment. Marine bacteria appear to play an integral role in marine decomposition, though we know almost nothing about this process. Gemma’s aim is to establish whether marine bacteria can serve as a postmortem ‘clock’, enabling determination of the length of time a body has been submerged in the sea, a critical factor that must be determined in any death investigation. This new avenue of research is as exciting as it is challenging! Gemma is also working closely with the New Zealand Police Dive Squad, in auditing decompositional changes in deceased divers and drowning cases.