"My parents in particular encouraged me to use my Tasmanian ‘uniqueness’ to my advantage. Being Tasmanian is something to be proud of and to be grateful for."

Joanna Smart Profile

Joanna grew up just outside Hobart but spent her summers on the Freycinet Peninsula. From an early age, she knew where she most liked to be.

“Thanks to my parents’ unwavering passion for the Tasmanian marine environment, my childhood was spent underwater,” she says, “watching the kelp swirl in the waves, the fish dart to and fro and the reefs come to life. Each time I put my face in the water, I was transported to another world. It was like being able to watch a busy and bustling hidden city go about its daily business.”

The beauty of underwater Tasmania, and its mysteries, led her to one of the most special places on the planet to study marine life and environments. It happened to be her local school. She graduated from University of Tasmania with a Bachelor of Marine and Antarctic Science with first-class honours.

Though it wasn’t an easy path.

“People often said to me, ‘there’s no jobs in marine science.’” This was discouraging but also entirely untrue. Today, Joanna is part of a growing community of people who share her passions and obsessions. “Tasmania has one of the highest percentages of marine scientists of anywhere on earth and the industry ranges from Antarctica to salmon.”

Today, Joanna does have a job in marine science. And a creative passion that is making her an international star: underwater photography. In 2019, when she was 22 and fresh out of university, she sent a pitch and a portfolio of her work to one of the most prestigious marine study opportunities in the world, the Rolex Scholarship.

The scholarship awards three people, every year, with the opportunity to pursue their underwater studies. Joanna won for Australasia.

“I was fresh out of university,” she says. “I’d never been on a long-haul international flight, never been to Europe or America and never really travelled alone. I then found myself on a plane bound for New York City. The entire experience was terrifying and completely transformative at the same time.”

Her year as a Rolex Scholar took her to underwater places in Fiji, New Guinea, the Faroe Islands, Scotland, Norway, Italy, and North America. She swam with great white sharks and worked with National Geographic photographers on the Great Barrier Reef.

In the meantime, Joanna has won some of the most prestigious marine photographic prizes in the world. And she’s just beginning.

Joanna Smart Inset

“Being surrounded by people who not only believed in what I was capable of but also believed in what Tasmania had to offer was fundamental to where I am now,” she says. “My parents in particular encouraged me to use my Tasmanian ‘uniqueness’ to my advantage. Being Tasmanian is something to be proud of and to be grateful for.”

While some people in their mid-twenties are still finding themselves, Joanna knows what she wants: more diving, more science, more photography. She sees herself as a storyteller, alerting people to the majesty of the underwater world but also to its fragility and possibility – especially Tasmanian kelp forests.

“For me, a goal for the future is to help Tasmanians see that what we have underwater is more than a resource. Our underwater environment has more value than what we can take from it: variety, beauty, and life.”

Listening to Joanna, and looking at her astonishing photographs, you can be drawn into the romance of what she has chosen to do with her life. But like other typically Tasmanian endeavours, it requires grit and determination, an acceptance that extraordinary outcomes come with obstacles.

“I’ve been entangled, sinking, run aground, stranded on an island, lost, hypothermic,” she says. “I’ve destroyed multiple cameras. I’ve been adrift without engines and I’ve dived on more sewage treatment pipelines than I would care to admit. Seaweed and cold-water diving will never be glamorous. It’s cold, wet, dark, and slimy. It doesn’t have the jewelled glamour of a coral reef, glistening in the tropical sunshine, but I hope through my work I can show it is just as important.”

Joanna Smart Footer

Joanna Smart is one of 18 Tasmanians featured in our short film about the Tasmanian story. Joanna's scene was filmed where she learnt to dive as a child at Crescent Bay, Tasman Peninsula.