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.
Outside the USA, The Bahamas is the only place where Critically Endangered smalltooth sawfish can reliably be found. Tristan wants to ensure that protection measures in The Bahamas are understood and enforced as far as sawfish are concerned to close the current gap between policy and the people. He’ll be using aerial surveys, sonar and BRUVs, combined with interviews that draw on local knowledge, to identify essential sawfish habitats that need protection. Engaging with the community through workshops and by training students and meeting with government, Tristan intends to advocate for smalltooth sawfish protection throughout The Bahamas’ territorial waters.
Steven and Kevin are using genetic techniques to understand how Caribbean reef shark populations are connected across the extent of their range. Populations of this Endangered shark are in decline generally, but where they are managed and there is effective protection, their numbers are stable. With the integration of the correct information, Steven and Kevin are convinced that we can give Caribbean reef sharks a better shot at recovery and population stabilisation. They will also explore any barriers to connectivity, looking to the future recruitment and recovery of these sharks.
With very little information available about Endangered sicklefin devil rays, their seasonal aggregations at sea mounts in the Azores give Sophie an opportunity to learn more about their lives. She will be collecting satellite-tracking data that show how they move in the Azores’ exclusive economic zone. The information she collects will be used to develop maps of how the rays are using the zone and to identify essential areas that multiple species use. With this information at hand, Sophie hopes her work can contribute to a network of marine protected areas.