Interview with Dr Jemina Stuart-Smith

One of my favourite things about working on this book has been getting to chat to the wonderful Dr Jemina Stuart-Smith about all things handfish.

I was lucky enough to be able to ‘catch-up’ (in the virtual sense) with her this week and have a chat about what she likes to do in her spare time and how she became interested in marine biology.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I love running – so spend lots of time doing that, and I started a recreational running organisation a few years ago – so a lot of my free time is spent on that. I also spend a lot of time making sure my dog has a great life, and love camping and travelling whenever possible.

How did you first become interested in marine science?

I’ve always been interested in working with/studying animals – I think my family watched a lot of Attenborough documentaries growing up and spent a lot of time camping/being outside. I did a degree in Zoology at the University of Tasmania, and from there I went on to do a Bachelor of Science and PhD in Zoology (also at UTAS). I did lots of volunteer work along the way – as much and with as many different species/projects as I could – working with frogs, freshwater fish, Tasmanian devils, wallabies, lizards, seals, urchins, marine fish…  Some of it cool (6 weeks in Micronesia diving/snorkelling), some of it a little weird (helping collect milk samples from fur seals). I ended up working with the marine science group as a research assistant while finishing my degree and had started diving a few years before, which both sort of paved my way into the marine realm.

What drew you to the handfish? And what is your favourite thing about working on a project like handfish conservation?

They’re interesting because they’re unique and because we don’t know a lot about them. I think now it’s more a sense of responsibility in working with such a critically endangered species that drives me.

What are your hopes for the red handfish?

That’s a tough one – ultimately I hope it’s not too late, for Red handfish in particular. There are a ton of conservation strategies at work now via UTAS and CSIRO, and I hope we’re on the right track to conserving the species and that are doing enough. And I hope people care about a weird little fish, only found in Tassie, that has no commercial/economic value.

Do you have any advice for other young people who are interested in marine conservation?

Yes – get involved – volunteer in as many things as possible – even if you’re not sure what you want to do (fieldwork, data entry – anything). UTAS has some great volunteer opportunities – tons of variety in different projects and species to work on – it’ll help you build skills and network with like-minded people (and help you figure out the things you like and don’t like doing!).

What has been the most memorable moment from your career thus far?

Getting to do lots of fieldwork overseas as part of work or volunteering for projects has been the most fun and memorable. I spent a lot of time travelling and diving for a UTAS-based volunteer organisation (Reef Life Survey) a few years ago which was a great experience, and I got to dive in some amazing spots. I was also lucky enough to get a trip to Antarctica a couple of years ago to help out on a project there. But that said – launching the Handfish Conservation Project and seeing the first lot of Red handfish eggs hatch in captivity was amazing to be a part of.

Chat soon x