UC marine scientist named Pew Conservation Fellow

23 February 2017

UC Antarctic marine scientist Dr Regina Eisert has been recognised for her work protecting the world's oceans with a prestigious Pew Marine Conservation Fellowship.

  • Regina Eisert penguin sm

University of Canterbury Antarctic marine scientist Dr Regina Eisert has been recognised for her work protecting the world’s oceans with a prestigious Pew Marine Conservation Fellowship.

As part of her international, US$150,000 (NZ$208,500), three-year fellowship project, Dr Eisert will analyse the long-distance movements, diet, preferred habitat, and foraging areas of the Ross Sea’s largest predators – killer and sperm whales.

The first New Zealander to be honoured by Pew, UC research scientist works in the University’s Gateway Antarctica Centre for Antarctic Studies and Research, studies marine mammals, nutritional ecology, and mammalian physiology. She leads a research programme on top Antarctic predators and studies the biological and political factors that shape big-picture marine conservation in Antarctica. Dr Eisert collaborates with scientists at multiple international institutions and government agencies to foster understanding and effective protection of the Southern Ocean’s Ross Sea ecosystem.

The Ross Sea is one of the few marine ecosystems that still has healthy populations of top predators, such as killer whales, sperm whales, penguins and other seabirds, seals, and Antarctic toothfish. In October 2016, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources – the 25-member body that manages fishing activities in the region – established the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA), roughly twice the size of Alaska. The Ross Sea MPA covers 1.55 million square kilometres, of which 1.12 million square kilometres, or 72 per cent, is fully protected (no fishing is permitted).

Fundamental baseline data on fish stocks and predator populations are needed to facilitate measurement of the long-term impacts of this action on fisheries and other marine resources. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources plans to review the scientific evidence in 35 years to decide how well the MPA is meeting its objectives.

Dr Eisert will use her Pew marine fellowship to research and analyse the long-distance movements, diet, preferred habitat, and foraging areas of the Ross Sea’s killer and sperm whales. In collaboration with UC’s College of Engineering, she will design and use new low-impact satellite whale tags to track their movements without risking harm to the animals. She will also determine the whales’ degree of dependence on Antarctic toothfish, one of two commercially valuable species marketed as Chilean sea bass. Dr Eisert’s work will produce essential baseline data that will help make the scientific case for continuation of the MPA after 2051.

Dr Eisert is one of 11 new Pew Marine Conservation Fellows for 2017, part of an international group that will continue important work to protect world’s oceans. The Pew fellows in marine conservation will use their awards to investigate various critical issues including climate change, fisheries management, and the role of genetics in protecting marine species.

Since 1996, the programme has recognised 156 marine experts in 37 countries. Recipients receive US$150,000 each for a three-year project designed to address ocean conservation issues.

For further information please contact:
Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168 | margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
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