Ana Carneiro is a seabird ecologist, enthusiast and all-round inspirational #WomanInScience. She has recently returned from a research trip to our very own Bird Island in South Georgia, home to #AlbatrossStories, where she has been collecting data for an exciting new study, which is exploring the potential bycatch risk to wandering albatross from fishing vessels using some pretty nifty bits of kit.
We caught up with Ana and asked her a few questions to learn more about what she got up to on Bird Island. So pop the kettle on, get comfy, and transport your mind to an exposed, isolated bit of grass covered rock in Sub-Antarctica… enticing right? Well along with the few thousand albatrosses that call this slice of seabird paradise home, this is a “dream place” for someone like Ana.
Ana, can you tell us who you are, and what you work on?
I’m a seabird ecologist in the BirdLife International Marine Programme. My main role is to identify priority sites for seabird conservation at-sea to help tackle threats to seabirds, including accidental bycatch in fisheries.
Currently, I am working on a project using novel bird-borne radars that can detect when wandering albatrosses from Bird Island are near fishing vessels. I spent three months on Bird Island collecting data. This project is in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey, and we expect to identify areas and periods when birds are most susceptible to bycatch. This is crucial information for stakeholders and policy makers to improve regulations, target bycatch observer programmes and monitor compliance with recommended bycatch mitigation.
What attracted you to work in seabird conservation?
I have always wanted to work in marine conservation, and seabirds play a key role in oceanic ecosystems. They are also fantastic creatures, with incredible life-histories, so it is impossible not to fall in love with them. Many seabirds, particularly albatrosses and petrels, have undergone rapid population declines, making them one of the most-threatened groups of birds. The work led by the BirdLife International Marine Programme to address these declines has always been inspirational and I am really happy to be part of it.
What were your initial impressions when you set foot on Bird Island for the first time?
I just couldn’t believe I was actually there. Bird Island is a dream place for any seabird ecologist. I just felt extremely privileged to have the opportunity to spend three months with all the magnificent birds that breed on Bird Island.
When working in remote areas, such as Bird Island, what do you do for downtime?
There is not much downtime when you are in the field. When I was not with the wanderers working on our project, I was always trying to join other researchers to help and learn from what they were doing. I had multiple opportunities to join the fantastic Bird Island field assistants in their collection of data for the long-term monitoring of seabirds, as well as Rachael Orben, a visiting scientist working with grey-headed and black-browed albatrosses. I tried to spend most of my time outside, visiting every single corner of Bird Island.
Is there a particularly memorable or special moment working with albatross on Bird Island?
Wandering albatrosses are the most magnificent bird I have ever seen. My favourite time was during the evenings before returning to the station when the immature birds were performing their elaborate dances, including sky-calling, bowing, crazy noises, and other spectacular behaviours. I could spend hours watching them. I also always loved to see them walking – it always seems as though they are trying to go unnoticed, which is quite adorable for a bird of that size!
What do you find most challenging about what you do?
The most challenging part of my work is having to spend long periods without seeing my family.
You have been tracking our new #AlbatrossStories character – a wandering albatross Mum – as part of your project. Can you tell us a bit about what she’s been up to off-camera?
Sitka is one of the project's ocean sentinels. She is helping us understand how albatrosses interact with fishing vessels. We deployed our radar loggers when she was still incubating an egg, which has now developed in an adorable chick. Sitka travelled ca. 2,500 km in approximately 17 days. We haven’t looked into the details of the data yet but Sitka detected vessels both around the Falklands Exclusive Economic Zone as well as on the high seas.
Head over to part two to learn more about the fascinating study Ana is working on to expand our knowledge of seabird by-catch risk.
You can support the work of the Albatross Task Force to protect these extraordinary birds in the areas they need it the most by becoming a Friend of the Albatross and contributing a monthly donation of your choice.
Follow #AlbatrossStories on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
This study is a collaboration between BirdLife International and the British Antarctic Survey and funded by Darwin Plus
Photos: Ana Carneiro and Alex Dodds
Ana, you are to be commended for a beautiful story of the privilege you have had to live as one with the wandering albatrosses. Many years before there was a station at Bird -- about 1991, in fact - a few of us from the Kapitan Klebnikov came into this pristine island by Zodiacs and spent much of a day wondering at will with the albatrosses. I still find it one of the most memorable days of my life. The birds accepted me as I sat next to them, showed off their babies to my delight. I watched the dancing display of the albatrosses, feeling I was intruding on a private ritual. Joan Larsen
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