Tom has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tease apart the impacts of human visitation, climate change and fishing on Adélie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. Using drone footage, camera data and faecal samples collected in 2020/21 and into 2022, he’s monitoring Antarctica in years with minimal human footprint due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom wants to know whether rising sea temperatures, increasing krill fishing or a growing tourism presence is driving declines of Antarctic Peninsula penguins. By comparing 10 years’ of monitoring data to these data, he hopes to use his findings to inform policy decisions to conserve the Antarctic Peninsula’s penguin colonies.
I grew up in the United Kingdom, where I developed a passion for wildlife and extreme environments. I escape to cold and wild places as often as my research allows me and they are always a great reminder of what I am trying to conserve. I have dedicated my career to protecting the unique polar environments in a rapidly changing world. While my work requires analysis and data to change policy, I love that I can frequently get into the polar regions for field work and, particularly, to South Georgia with my favourite penguin species, the macaroni penguin.
With this project I aim to collect monitoring data in Antarctica and the South Shetland Islands in years when there has been virtually no tourism and very little scientific presence due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The decline of these two factors will help us to determine the effect of human visitation, climate change and fishing on penguin populations.
Penguin numbers have declined on the Antarctic Peninsula, but the drivers of this decline are unclear. By contrast, sea temperatures are rising and krill fishing and tourism are growing rapidly. Because these stressors overlap on the Antarctic Peninsula, it has been difficult to disentangle them to understand the causes of penguin decline. To separate the local threats (like fishing) from wider impacts like climate change, we collect data on a much larger geographical and temporal scale.
Seabird populations are threatened globally by pollution, climate change, fishing and other human disturbances. With my team, I have been monitoring populations across the Scotia Arc since 2009 and have built up a 10-year dataset using time-lapse cameras, drones and counts on the ground, as well as a time series of samples that we use to monitor penguin disease, diet and stress. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a unique natural experiment in which the effective removal of tourism and the temporary closure of many national research programmes means that we are able to unravel some of the threats penguins face in the Southern Ocean.
Using faecal samples and drone/camera data collected from the 2020–2021 and 2021–2022 field seasons, we intend to:
We will use the monitoring data collected over the past 10 years to compare the years with virtually no human presence to historical data. This will help us to disentangle the effect of human visitation, climate change and fishing on wildlife and better inform policy decisions to conserve the Antarctic Peninsula’s penguin colonies.
Anna is collecting genetic information from white shark fin clips to assess this species’ population size in South Africa. Using close-kin mark-recapture analysis instead of traditional methods, she hopes to provide an accurate account of South Africa’s white shark population size. She also aims to develop a monitoring protocol that can use genetic samples collected during shark net and drumline patrols by the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board. This information is needed in South Africa, where the conservation of a protected species is balanced against concerns about bather safety, and where sharks are caught in bather protection gear.
Faqih is filling the gaps in the scant knowledge of giant guitarfish in Java’s Karimunjawa National Park marine protected area (MPA). Karimunjawa is located near Northern Java’s main fishing grounds, but evidence of giant guitarfish caught in some of the use-zones of the MPA hints that the park may be a sanctuary for the species. Managing giant guitarfish in Karimunjawa requires species-specific information.
Faqih’s project is a socio-ecological one to help inform management and draws on new information about relative abundance and distribution, historical occurrence and fishing pressures to paint a contemporary picture of the species in the park.
Cindy wants to know if bonnethead sharks in the Eastern Pacific constitute a third, cryptic species. The Bonnethead complex need clarification in all its distribution range, and Panama is a key country to solve this question since we have the Caribbean sea and the Pacific Ocean. By collecting fin clip samples to compare species at the genetic level and collecting specimens to compare how they look (morphology), Cindy hopes to resolve the taxonomy of Sphyrna tiburo vespertina – that is, whether it’s a cryptic third species for bonnetheads in the region. Her information can help update the IUCN Red List for bonnetheads and improve fisheries policies in Latin America where bonnethead sharks are commonly caught.