Research for my MS thesis occurred in the Gulf of Mexico where there is continuing demand for ecological information that informs conservation planning, particularly for marine reserves. Seabird locations at sea provide valuable information for planning because marine predators often forage in areas that are ecologically important. Also, prey and other predators can benefit from protection provided to species that range widely. My research takes place at Arrecife Alacranes National Park, Yucatan, Mexico, a coral reef with small islands that host the largest Masked Booby breeding colony in the north Atlantic. I am working with GPS tracking data to:
1) determine how individual birds perceive their environment when they are searching for food
2) identify broad patterns in environmental conditions of booby foraging locations
3) assess whether the park protects marine habitat that is important to boobies.
Ultimately, I hope to combine my data with other tracking efforts from a variety of species in the Gulf and Caribbean.
In the field, I work with a team of researchers from El Colegio de la Frontera Sur Unidad Campeche and Bonaire National Park (pictured above in the field). To track the movements of Masked Boobies when they are foraging for fish at sea, we tape lightweight GPS units to their tails. The units are a brand of personal mobile tracking device originally designed for photography and recreational outdoor use. Tags do not download remotely so after 2-4 days, the birds are recaptured, the units are removed, downloaded, and recharged for deployment on a new bird.