Chris Drummond

As a WRL Project Engineer & Certified Drone Pilot. Chris has gained experience of over 250 flights

Chris Drummond

Chris Drummond knows he is in the right place. “If you are interested in coastal engineering, then the Water Research Laboratory (WRL) is the place to be. There is incredible variety in the type of projects we undertake, bridging the gap between the technical world, the public, government and industry.”

“Here at WRL, the environment is very relaxing”, says Chris as a water dragon steals his apple. But amidst this leafy vale there exists “a culture with an amazing concentration of knowledge. The people here are driven and intelligent. Easy going on the outside, but we all work really hard. I like being surrounded by people who have a good work ethic.”

This work ethic has always set Chris apart, even in his undergraduate days. He was a student ambassador for CVEN and an active member of CEVSOC, serving as treasurer for a year. His devotion to engineering expanded into a full year of volunteer work in Cambodia, where he assisted in designing and building sanitation systems for floating communities in collaboration with Engineers Without Borders. Whist in Cambodia, he was offered a job as a Project Engineer at WRL, where he has now worked for five years specialising in physical modelling, drone surveying, data collection and analysis, coastal protection and urban water management. 

While his love of unmanned aerial technology could attract a superhero image, “first and foremost I am a coastal engineer and a drone pilot second. For me a drone is just a tool that I apply to understand coastal issues.”

Working at WRL with the commercial Projects Team, Chris does admit that flying sophisticated ‘toys’ is a pretty good gig, but it is not enough to sustain a committed coastal engineer who has a lifelong love of the ocean and Australian beaches. Growing up on the NSW Central Coast provided him with a playground that has now become his passion. “I grew up a surfer and I count myself lucky to be able to apply my passion for the ocean in my everyday job.”

Another area of his unique expertise is physical modelling. While still studying at UNSW Chris visited WRL on a field trip and was completely taken with physical modelling; setting in place his career path. Now he guides year ten work experience students through the processes and applications of model creation, knowing that a hands-on education is vital in keeping budding engineers engaged. Most recently Chris has constructed a scale physical model of a proposed breakwater in QLD. In WRL’s wave flume the scale breakwater rocks are tested with simulated waves, generated by a wave paddle. Along with the year ten students, Chris checks the model for rock displacement to see if the design can withstand the waves, and be an effective protection for a Queensland boat ramp.

Demonstrating physical modelling to conference delegates

In his role as both Coastal Engineer and UAV Pilot, Chris was fortunate enough to be one of the first to film the 2016 storm event that saw extensive damage along the Sydney coastline including the iconic Collaroy swimming pool that fell  into the ocean. “While most of the incoming waves that reach the NSW coast come from a south or south-easterly direction, the June 2016 storm came in from an unusual easterly direction. While these types of storms are not unheard of, climate change is predicted to increase their frequency so we may have to get used to more than just pools falling into the sea.”

“Up and down the coast of Australia, building approvals have been granted for structures that are too close to the ocean, in the naturally active zone of the beach. Councils have inherited difficulties from decisions made generations ago. They get a lot of flack, but their options are limited and expensive.”

For the future, Chris hopes for more coastal data to be collected over time. It is surprising to think that with all the technology at our disposal, Narrabeen is one of the few beaches in Australia that has been continuously monitored for decades. “But what happens around the corner?” Chris believes that it is not only an injection of money that is needed, but one of political will. Councils, industry and researchers need to be proactively using the latest technology such as drones to document the current state of our coastline so that we can effectively protect it into the future.

Setting out a physical model using a dumpy level

Project Engineer Chris Drummond, paddling on the Williams River with his GPS at his side