From studying marine biology in Townsville to managing fisheries in the Torres Strait

From studying marine biology in Townsville to managing fisheries in the Torres Strait

Georgia always knew she wanted to study marine biology, but could never have guessed that choice would take her to Townsville, a remote atoll in the Cook Islands, and now the Torres Strait. To celebrate National Science Week, we asked Georgia to tell us more about her passion for the ocean and the role of science in sustainable fisheries management.

  • What first interested you in science and/or marine studies/natural resources?

    For as long as I can remember, I have always been a bit of a science and nature nerd, but mostly marine related, fascinated with the ocean and all of its incredible marine life. Fossicking the reefs and rock pools at low tide is still my favourite thing to do and I was always glued to David Attenborough and marine science documentaries growing up. The ocean is definitely my solace and I knew I always wanted to study marine biology (other than a brief moment where I wanted to join the Navy – still ocean based, none the less!).

    When I was looking at university courses, I remember thinking, why would you go anywhere else but James Cook University!? Why would you study marine biology somewhere down south when JCU is right on the Great Barrier Reef’s doorstep? I don’t think I knew what I wanted to do with that degree at that point, but I knew that’s what I wanted to study.
  • What did you study at university?

    I enrolled at JCU in Townsville, in a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Advanced Marine Biology. Halfway through my first year (and after failing maths) I changed my major to a double major: ‘regular’ Marine Biology, and Aquaculture. I didn’t have a lot of free elective choices in the Advanced major and I really wanted to explore other subjects, so the only way to do that was to change back to ‘regular’ Marine Biology, which then freed up subject space to do subjects in Aquaculture. Interestingly, at the time those majors were considered an odd choice together, and unfortunately some of the subject timetables clashed. Part of what fuelled this change too was people telling me I’d “never get a real job studying marine biology” – but I sure showed them!

    In my third year of Uni I started considering post-graduate options in Aquaculture and was close to starting a Post Graduate Certificate in Research Methods on a black pearl oyster aquaculture project. Around the same time, one of my lecturers forwarded me a job application for a ‘Pearl Biologist’ position based on a remote atoll in the Cook Islands with the Cook Islands Government. (side note, I have Cook Islander heritage). So off I jetted to the Cook Islands to pursue my dream job I didn’t know existed on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific.

    After almost 2 years in that role I got offered a position back on the main island as the Science and Data Manager in the tuna fisheries division. It was in that role I was exposed to some of the work that AFMA does in the Western Central Pacific through the Forum Fisheries Agency. I was lucky enough to work with a number of AFMA staff in that job and always looked at AFMA as a prestigious place I would hope to work at one day.
  • How did you come to work at AFMA?

    In 2016 I decided I’d move back to Australia and try my luck with a job at AFMA, even if that meant leaving my island paradise for Canberra! I was lucky enough to land an APS5 position in the Demersal and Midwater trawl team. Although I had brought with me some great experiences from working in the Pacific, starting work at AFMA was a real eye opener! Although challenging, I knew I was in the right place to learn from the best about best practice fisheries management. I was excited to be working in a highly reputable agency that was full of passionate people, who by and large, all share a common interest in the ocean, or fishing, or fish in general and choose to work at AFMA for that reason – as did I.
  • What is your current role at AFMA?

    After 18 months of being in Canberra and taking on four different roles within the Fisheries Management Branch (including a brief stint back in the world of tuna) I wrangled my way back to an island lifestyle and am now based on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, working with AFMA as a Senior Management Officer tasked with looking after the day to day management of the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery. Who would have thought, that I could score the best of both worlds, working with AFMA and still enjoying a piece of island life.
  • How is science and/or technology important to your day to day work?

    A wise ex-fisherman turned fisheries consultant I know once shared a quote from Professor David Grey with me: “Science without policy, is still science – but policy without science, is gambling” and he couldn’t be more accurate. Science is an integral part of fisheries management and the decision making processes that govern how a fishery is managed. But we can’t make informed decisions on a whim, we need good data and information to help us make good decisions. While I don’t particularly ‘do’ much science myself these days, a lot of the work I do is collecting data and information, sharing this with stakeholders and helping to convert that information into advice that is used to inform decision making to sustainably manage fisheries in the Torres Strait.  As an example in the Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery, AFMA uses the outputs of an independent scientific survey undertaken by CSIRO each year to provide advice on what the sustainable catch limit for the TRL fishery should be the following season.
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