Dr Frederique Olivier: French explorer, Tasmanian at heart
Frederique has spent her life exploring extraordinary environments all over the world, but she still calls Tasmania home
It’s difficult to find the right title for French woman Frederique Olivier. Freelance wildlife and expedition camerawoman? Research Associate? Yacht skipper? Field logistics pro? Polar guide? Or an expert in capturing rare wildlife for BBC viewers, via a pseudo otter or robot wallaby with a high-tech camera for an eye? In fact, Frederique is all these things and more.
Frederique has travelled far and wide. She has gone from monitoring tropical reef waters to educating people about establishing marine protected areas in the Western Solomon Islands to leading expeditions to Antarctica. Frederique’s diverse skill set and knowledge has taken her across the globe, but the one place she loves returning to is her home base of Tasmania.
“An Antarctic scholarship first drew me to Tasmania as a student,” smiles Frederique. “I was living in Queensland in 2001 and there was an opportunity to do my PhD at the University of Tasmania as a non-Australian resident, so I made the move.”
Frederique has a French degree in environmental engineering and a PhD in Antarctic Ecology from the University of Tasmania, coupled with a strong media and communication background. Her PhD research focused on climate change effects on the breeding habitats of Antarctic seabirds. Currently an Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) Research Associate, her career has taken her into remote field-based work.
Merging her love of media and science communications, Frederique also got involved in documentary production. While still completing her PhD in Antarctic Ecology, Frederique was offered the chance to work with BBC Planet Earth in Antarctica, with logistics support from the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD). She also spent a year at Dumont d’Urville, the French Antarctic base filming Emperor penguins for the BBC series Spy in the Huddle. The project involved researching the use of robots to study penguins and experimenting with ways to minimise the disturbance to them while collecting valuable data. This was the ideal merging of Frederique’s science and art worlds.
“I wondered how I could combine science and media – offering far wider impact to education than a science paper,” explained Frederique. “I believe that if you want to educate people about conservation it’s vital to create media that emotionally engages the audience. I felt that the broadcast option seemed a logical path for this.”
Frederique’s work with the BBC includes stints in Florida and Western Australia, filming dolphins for the Spy in the Pod series, and mixing with sea otters, bowerbirds and more dolphins for Spy in the Wild. She always returns to Tasmania after trips aboard, and is proud that a robot wallaby atop Ben Lomond in northern Tasmania also features in a BBC series.
“It’s fascinating to watch the behaviour of wildlife around the high-tech robots,” explains Frederique. “Some animals are very territorial and hesitant to engage while others are very welcoming. I made a penguin chick from a fluffy microphone casing – robots are so high-tech now they’re made by engineers – but the other penguins took my chick under their wing and accepted it as one of their own!”
Frederique also worked with Disney on a film featuring Adelie penguins, followed by a crossing of the Greenland icecap for a National Geographic production. In between, she has worked for the AAD on logistics coordination for Antarctic ship voyages.
Where will her adventures take her next? She does not know and cannot divulge an exciting film project on the horizon. For now Frederique’s enjoying having both feet back on Tasmanian turf, sitting in the sunshine and enjoying real coffee after weeks at sea.
History suggests that it could be a long time between good lattes into the future. Take a peek at some of Frederique’s work here.
Are you interested in making a move? Make it Tasmania.