Elise Pitt Elise Pitt


PhD student Jess Holan is on a mission to protect the sub-Antarctic marine life of Macquarie Island.

Wading out in icy water and battling snow and wind chills in negative degrees isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for UOW Biology PhD student and nature lover Jess Holan (pictured above and below), it’s all in a day’s work.

Jess has recently returned from her third trip to the World Heritage Listed Macquarie Island, 1500km southeast of Hobart, where she has been collecting sub-Antarctic marine creatures, such as snails, starfish and sea cucumbers, for a world-class research aquarium at the Australian Antarctic Division in Tasmania.

Based at the Australian Antarctic Division headquarters just south of Hobart, Jess has been examining the sensitivities of marine invertebrates to contaminants; heavy metals such as copper and zinc.

“There have been a lot of studies on penguins and seals but sub-Antarctic invertebrates have not had much attention,” she told the Hobart Mercury.

So far, Jess and her co-supervisor, ecotoxicologist Dr Catherine King of the Australian Antarctic Division, have found surprising differences in the amount of contaminants invertebrates can tolerate.

"Some species are a lot more sensitive than others. For example, one species of copepod [a small crustacean] can tolerate 50 times more copper than another copepod species of the same family. Knowing which species are more susceptible to contamination will really help us in the future if there is a major contamination event.”

The Australian Antarctic Division hope to breed the animals that Jess and her team have collected to allow more scientists and students in the future to study their secrets and determine how they will be affected in the face of climate change and potentially increasing human activities including shipping activities in the region.

“I have always been interested in human impacts on the environment and how we are influencing the world in drastic ways. I want to have a part in helping to preserve the pristine environments we have left.”

The 27-year-old, who completed her undergraduate degree and honours at UOW, and is now in her final year of a PhD under the co-supervision of marine biologist Professor Andy Davis, said she has long been drawn to the sea and the great white desert of the south.

“I’ve always been really curious about everything in the ocean. It’s a completely different world under there and so understudied compared to terrestrial systems. The animals look really awesome under the microscope and nothing like what you see in your everyday life.”

“I’d love to go to Antarctica one day. To continue my research there would be the ultimate goal. The untouched wilderness, the wildlife, working with unique species while doing research that will help protect such a delicate yet beautiful ecosystem – I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my career.”

Photos: Jason Edwards courtesy of News Corp.


  • PhD student Jess Holan has been collecting sub-Antarctic marine creatures at Macquarie Island for a research aquarium.