“Honestly, I can't get enough of it. Everyone else goes and sleeps in their bunks and I sleep out on the fish box. It's my favorite place.“


Giulia Anderson spends up to 50 days a year on the ocean studying tuna as a Fisheries Molecular Geneticist with SPC’s FAME division. This blog is part of a series dedicated to the collaboration between the Pacific Community (SPC) and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

I grew up in Hawaii, so I’ve always been around the ocean. My Dad was a Marine Biologist. He did a fair amount of work in the US territories and around the Pacific and I was his deckhand from the time I was about 10 years old. I laminated his maps and digitizing data for him. I loved being out on the water in the zodiac and was never afraid. It was exciting, I’d be rummaging through equipment and moving it and handing it to them when it was needed. Zodiacs are only about 2.5 meters long so when you've got two adults onboard already, you don't need a third adult, so having a little one like me on board instead was much more useful.

So, you could say I was primed for what I do now.

I’m a Fisheries Molecular Geneticist at SPC studying tuna. Tuna is a massive fishery that feeds the Pacific region both economically and literally and studying them is also a really useful way to measure the health of the larger ecosystem around them.

When I was a kid, Dad took a yearlong position in the Cook Islands, so we lived there, and I loved it. And now I’m working at SPC and am based in New Caledonia - it’s a little like coming home to the region for me.

I went to the University of Washington in Seattle for my undergraduate degree. That’s as close as you can get to Hawaii within the US. I did environmental studies there and being in Seattle they had a lot of marine fisheries so studying them helped me develop some of the environmental awareness and fisheries awareness that I needed.

It also told me I don't belong above about 30 degrees north – it was cold in Seattle, especially the winters!

After my undergraduate degree I came running back to the Pacific and did some volunteer work in Fiji and applied to do my graduate work at the University of the South Pacific in Suva. Originally, I’d intended to work on aquaculture, sea cucumbers specifically, but I walked out of there with a PhD in the population genetics of tuna. I'm not sure quite what happened there but I’m glad it did.

When I say I work with tuna, what I’m really saying is I work with tuna guts. Part of my work involves processing population tuna structure data that's useful for establishing or confirming stock delineations and boundaries. To do this we need to head out to the tuna grounds so since I started working with SPC a year and a half ago I’ve been on two tuna tagging cruises. They are called cruises even though it is not a four-star hotel on the ocean, but it might as well be for me, it's a lot of fun.

GiuliaWe head out on the ‘Gutsy Lady’, she’s a modified longliner and we spend weeks out on the ocean studying tuna. Last year’s trip was 50 days, and this year it was 40 days.

There are no ordinary days out there.

Generally, the day starts at about 2am and we'll tag tuna through to dawn or until the fish stop cooperating, whichever comes second. Out there I’m bio sampling. The majority of the tuna we catch, tag and release but with some I collect stomach samples and tissue samples for the WCPFC Tuna Tissue Bank that's based here in New Caledonia.

Out on the ocean I never get sick of the clear, empty horizon. The water is the most beautiful colour blue and no matter where you are there's flying fish jumping and all these gelatinous things that nobody thinks are cool until they start glowing and then they are really cool! You get some pretty spectacular sunsets and sunrises out there too. It is truly beautiful.

When we’ve finished tagging and data entry and the sun is high, everyone else goes and sleeps in their bunks and I sleep out on the fish box. lt's my favorite place. I just love being outside with the wind and the smell of the ocean. I'll just be out there with a book and fall asleep off and on all afternoon. It's just paradise for me.

There’s a very fun puzzle element to my work, to working in science in general, that I really enjoy. We have our original assumptions and then I get to design experiments to prove or disprove them. There are just all these different moving parts and it's a very strange sort of pleasure to slowly nail things down, piece by piece, until the picture becomes fairly clear.

Quite often I’ll make decisions with what seems to be a pretty good understanding of the larger picture, and then it'll all fall apart because something changed. And then all of a sudden, I have to write a paper on why we need a new algorithm, because our assumptions don't match and we need to redesign the whole system.

And that's what I find most interesting about my work - to be both building things and tearing things down at the same time.

Blog Category
Blog Post
Fisheries, Aquaculture & Marine Ecosystems


Giulia Anderson

Fish Molecular Geneticist, Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems Division, SPC