Biologist - Steve Nicol

At age 13 or so, what did you want to do when you grew up?

When I was about 11, I read a book by zoologist Gerald Durrell which described his childhood on the Greek Island of Corfu. It sounded so appealing that I decided that I too would become a zoologist. I studied zoology at university in Scotland and developed an interest in marine biology which developed into a career which has taken me all over the world over the last 25 years.

What town or city are you from?

I was born in Dublin in Ireland though I moved around quite a bit as a kid, living in England, the US and Scotland before moving to Canada, South Africa and finally Australia.

What were your educational/technical qualifications when you first worked in Antarctica?

I studied zoology at university then went on to do a masters degree in oceanography followed by a doctorate in marine biology. I ended up studying krill in Canada in 1978, then was lucky enough to continue studying this group of animals all the way through until I joined the Antarctic Division in 1987 when I came here to run the krill research team.

What was your work experience before undertaking your position in Antarctica?

I had carried out a variety of research topics on other species of krill in other parts of the world.

Why did you want to go to Antarctica?

Although there are many species of krill around the world - about 85 species - they are really most important in the Antarctic region where they are food for the seals, whales, penguins and other birds. Also, there is a fishery for krill in the Southern Ocean. If you are interested in krill and marine conservation then Antarctica is the place to go and I am lucky enough to be employed to go there.

What is your Antarctic experience?

I have done six trips to Antarctica. The work I do means that I spend most of my time on the ship carrying out research and we rarely get a chance to get ashore. The longest trip I have done is 11 weeks on the ship and although I have now spent about a year in total on ships in Antarctic waters I have only spent about a week on the Antarctic continent and have never slept ashore there.

What did you do in Antarctica?

Most of what we do involves either catching krill so that we can examine their biology or using various techniques to estimate how much krill there is.

What skills did you need to do that work?

I needed a basic training in biology as well as all the skills that you need to work at sea.

What did you like most about living and working in Antarctica?

I like it best when the ship is passing through the pack ice zone where the wildlife is most abundant and the scenery is spectacular with ice floes, icebergs and sunsets that last for hours and merge into sunrises.

What was the scariest thing that happened to you?

The scariest thing was when the ship's gyrocompass (the instrument that tells you which way is north) broke down in the middle of a storm, at night when we were right on top of the south magnetic pole so the ordinary compass just spun around - as did the ship.

What was the greatest challenge for you?

The greatest challenge for me was undertaking a huge survey off the coast of Antarctica when we spent 11 weeks examining the ecosystems of the waters off the little known coast of East Antarctica.

What did you miss most about Australia?

I miss my family, the ability to go for a long walk, a floor that does not constantly throb and air that does not smell of diesel fuel!

What was the most striking thing you noticed when you returned from Antarctica?

When you get up to have a pee in the night, the toilet doesn't sway from side to side!

Do you want to go again?

Yes, there are a large number of important questions that can only be answered by research in Antarctic waters. I would like to play my part in helping to understand the ecosystems of the region better so that we can make sensible decisions about the future of the region.

What do you think should happen to Antarctica in the future?

Antarctica is a unique place but it is difficult to imagine it being immune to the changes that are happening throughout the world. I would hope that we can recognise the unique nature of this region and use the research that we are conducting there to make informed and wise decisions about its development.

This page was last modified on January 23, 2014.