Scholarship winner tracking terns to protect them

11 March 2021 | Students News

Knowing where the threatened black-fronted tern travels all year round could help protect it, according to Lincoln University researcher Fraser Gurney.

The Master of Science student, majoring in conservation and ecology, is one of the first recipients of the Department of Conservation (DOC) Te Papa Atawhai postgraduate scholarships, which are intended to help build New Zealand’s conservation science capability by contributing to research to tackle the biodiversity crisis and plan for more sustainable tourism.

His research uses GPS trackers on the species for the first time, to discover the seasonal movements of black-fronted terns.

The tern, which only breeds in the South Island, has an estimated population of between 5000 and 10,000.

Fraser says his findings could be used to establish a full predator control and protection network to better guard black-fronted terns all year round.

“I am extremely grateful for the DOC scholarship, and the award will help fund winter field trips to locate terns on the east coast of the South Island and potentially be a starting point for a second round of GPS trackers next breeding season.”

In November and December last year, with the help of DOC staff, Fraser caught 34 terns in the Mackenzie Basin and attached a GPS tracking device to each one.

“My aim is to determine their habitat use and how far they travel from the breeding colony during the breeding season. Then during the non-breeding season, I aim to determine their migration routes between their colonies and their wintering sites along the coast, as well as any significant wintering sites.”

He says he has been interested in conservation and ecology since he was very young.

“I'm a birdwatcher in my spare time and have a great interest in New Zealand's wildlife and its conservation, hence my choice of degree.”