Women and Girls in Science: Emerald islands and soaring seabirds.

Department of Conservation —  12/02/2022

This week we celebrate women and girls in science whose work is helping to restore the mauri/well-being of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park/Ko te Pātaka kai o Tīkapa Moana. Today we focus on the scientists who help protect the Gulf islands as well as the seabird species that connect these terrestrial systems to the sea.

A marine park conjures up vast swathes of blue ocean. However, scattered like emeralds in our 1.2-hectare park is 30 island groups and more than 400 individual islets. Of these, 93 islands are large – more than 5 hectares – and 47 of these are predator-free havens. These island sanctuaries provide a safe place for some of our most endangered and vulnerable species, where they survive and thrive without the threat of predators like rats, feral cats, stoats, possums, weasels and ferrets.

Flying between these islands and the sea are our taonga seabird species. The Park is considered a global seabird hotspot, with 26 different seabird species (20% of all seabird species) calling it home, some of which only breed in the Park. These seabirds perform a vital role between the islands and the sea as nutrient cyclers.

Looking out into the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, from Tiritiri Matangi.
📷: DOC

Why did you choose marine environment science?

Rebecca Bray has a BSc Science in Marine Biology and Zoology and is currently working towards a PhD in Evolutionary Ecology. She works for the Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira as Senior Collection Manager in Natural Sciences.

RB: I grew up by the ocean in Sydney and also in museums (my Mum is a Fish Collection Manager). At times I’ve deviated from the marine path and would now call myself an evolutionary ecologist as I’m interested in island biogeography – how species got where they are and the relationships between them.

Edin Whitehead has an MSc in Biosecurity and Conservation and is currently working towards a PhD on seabird ecophysiology and conservation at the University of Auckland. She works for the Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust.

EW: I’m an ocean person – I love being out on or in the water and am fascinated by the lives of all the creatures that make this ecosystem their home – particularly seabirds. Their dual existence between ocean and land is remarkable, their role as nutrient cyclers from marine to terrestrial systems is so important for the environment, and I’m continually amazed at their abilities, evolved for spending their lives in the pelagic realm.

Edin Whitehead holding a fluffy shearwater chick.
📷: Edin Whitehead

Julia Watson has an MSc in Systematics and Biodiversity Science and works at Auckland Botanic Gardens as the Education and Partnerships co-ordinator.

JW: While I’m not directly in a marine science role, my work has an influence on what flows into our streams and rivers and hence into our marine environment. I take a holistic ecological approach in my role and believe that all our actions contribute to the health of our world.

Julia Watson portrait.
📷: Auckland Botanic Gardens

What is the best thing about your job / the work you do?

Bec Stanley has a degree in botany and is a curator at Auckland Botanic Gardens. She began her career at DOC and has also worked for Auckland Council.

BS: The best thing about my job is going to amazing places of high biodiversity values so close to the city. Seeing the glow of the city at night from Motukino islands, standing next to Nau – or Cooks Scurvy grass – which was last on the mainland probably a hundred years ago, is a bit like time travel!

Bec Stanley collecting seed of threatened plants for ex-situ cultivation.
📷: Auckland Botanic Gardens.

Joanne Aley has a MSc in the Social Science of Biosecurity and Conservation and works for DOC as a senior advisor in social research.

JA: My work in the Gulf is focused on predator management of inhabited islands and giving advice around the social complexities all this entails. Waiheke and Kawau islands are in the planning phase of exploring pest eradication programmes, and it’s exciting to help them on their journey.

Jo Aley looking towards the islands.
📷: Jo Aley

Kerry Lukies has a BSc in Ecology and a MSc in Conservation and Biosecurity and works for the Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust.

KL: The best part of my job is getting to work with many of our taonga seabirds and visiting the pest-free offshore islands of the wider Hauraki Gulf. I get to work on a range of projects from attaching GPS trackers to Australasian gannets to see where the go once they leave land, sampling zooplankton to determine what different seabirds are foraging on, to working with community groups to restore seabirds to islands and coastal areas of the Hauraki Gulf.

Kerry ready to start the Tongariro crossing.
📷: Kerry Lukies

RB: I’m really lucky in my job, not only do I get to be part of the museum community looking after and documenting our biodiversity, but I also get to head out into the field and experience the marine and terrestrial environments first-hand.

What is your proudest moment / greatest achievement?

BS: Contributing to the awareness of the threatened plant values in Auckland and the Gulf by bringing the story of plants to life, alongside those of the more glamorous species such as seabirds and lizards.

EW: Last year I authored a review of Threats to Seabirds in Northern New Zealand, which has been a big wake-up call for a lot of people about the multitude of threats that these species face. It was a huge effort from a group of seabird experts working in this region, and I’m extremely proud of the result. 

Buller’s Shearwater.
📷: DOC

JW: My proudest moment has been seeing lives transformed as people learn more about how wonderful our natural world is, and how each of us can make a difference to it. I’ve seen people choose new career paths after becoming immersed in the wonder of nature and the exciting world of plants, which is very fulfilling.

Gaia Dell’Ariccia has PhD in animal behaviour and works for Auckland Council as a Seabird Scientist.

GD: My proudest moment is getting my current position at Auckland Council, where I am in charge of a new monitoring and research programme aimed to assess the population status and potential threats of all the seabird species breeding in the Hauraki Gulf and the Auckland Region. After many years doing fundamental research, I finally feel that I’m using my competences for the greater good, doing something useful and with a positive impact.

Gaia Dell-Ariccia monitoring nest occupancy of flutter shearwaters and white-faced storm petrels on Maria Island.
📷: Eilish Robinson

What would you say to girls and young women about working in marine science/ marine environment?

RS: Get involved with everything that relates to your field outside of work. Societies like Auckland Botanical Society were essential for me to learn about Auckland’s natural history. You also get noticed by the professionals in these groups as someone who is keen and committed which is a great way to get work and earn respect in the industry.

EW: If you get to follow your passions and work in a field you love, it’s not like work at all. That’s not to say it’s not hard work! But the satisfaction I get from doing it keeps me passionate through the tough parts of the job (and the days in the office). 

JA: Take opportunities as they come along even if they don’t 100% align with your end goal; the pathway is often not a straight line, but you will get there. Tomorrow we will take a closer look at the women whose love of the sea has led them to specialise in a wide range of fields within marine science.

Tomorrow we will take a closer look at the women whose love of the sea has led them to specialise in a wide range of fields within marine science.