We work in all latitudes from the far North to the far South, with a special interest for the Punta San Juan area of the Peruvian coast.
As a collective, we work from the north to the south pole, in tropical areas and at temperate latitudes. Polar areas currently face some of the most rapid and intense warmings on the planet, which can impact not only plants, animals and humans alike, but also all other ecosystems through strong current exchanges connecting all ecosystems. Tropical ecosystems also face challenges of stronger and more frequent El Nino events, while temperate areas show some of the strongest anthropogenic pressures. All over the planet, conservation of marine ecosystems is key to survival and thriving of biodiversity, as well as social and economical well being of our societies. The field site of Punta San Juan in Peru embodies much of the challenges coastal marine ecosytems face, and is one of the main Wings and Dives field sites under the direction of Susana Cardenas-Alayza. Because it is so special, we detail it a bit more than our other field sites below!
PUNTA SAN JUAN.
Punta San Juan (PSJ) is an amazingly beautiful area in Peru, full of life and biodiversity, under the dedicated direction of Susana Cardenas-Alayza. It is our common field research ground, and a very special place. If you want to know more, check out the Punta San Juan website (or read more below!) :
PSJ is a 54 hectare peninsula located on the southern coast of Peru protected by a wall, and part of the “Reserva Nacional Sistema de Islas, Islotes y Puntas Guaneras”. It protects marine biodiversity and stands on the shoulders of the 150+ year old management system of seabird guano promoted by the Peruvian government. Punta San Juan supports important populations of emblematic seabirds of the Humboldt Current, such as Humboldt Penguins, Guanay Cormorants, Inca Terns, Peruvian Boobies and Peruvian Pelicans. As well as pinnipeds, such as South American fur seals and South American sea lions. All these species breed and rear their chicks and pups in PSJ, and feed in areas close to the reserve that have nutrient-rich waters due to the upwelling ecosystem of the Humboldt Current System. These species are indicators and help us understand the variation of ecological factors over time. The population, behavior and reproduction of these species reflect what is happening in the marine ecosystem. They are considered sentinels of their marine ecosystem's health.
Safe heaven for top marine predators
PSJ is home to home to large colonies of South American fur seals and sea lions. Close to 3,000 fur seals and 10,000+ sea lions breed and haul out here. Long term time series of fur seals at this site have made it an important source of information on the ecology of this species. Sea lions, make up a large part of the pinniped biomass in Peru and in PSJ. PSJ is also home to Peru’s largest colony of Humboldt penguins, its colony reaching a maximum of 7,000+ birds in the past 10 years. Here Humboldt penguins nest on the guano layer that has not been harvested since 1987.
This substrate is ideal for Humboldt penguins providing important properties that enhance breeding success (thermal regulation, independence in burrow, protection from predators, amongst others). The proximate location of this protected area to cold, nutrient rich waters where penguins feed, provide a suite of conditions that are preferred by Humboldt penguin populations. Meet all these amazing animals in these videos!
Research and conservation in PSJ
The Punta San Juan Program is a long term field research program based in the Punta San Juan reserve. For more than 30 years, the Punta San Juan program has carried out research and monitoring of the resident populations in PSJ. We operate on site year round at PSJ and do monitoring, research, environmental education, capacity building and community engagement.
Since 1980s researchers working in collaboration with the Punta San Juan Program investigate how top predators adapt and respond to the dynamic conditions of the marine environment off the coast of Peru. We have contributed with 80+ published scientific articles on the biology, ecology, behavior and health of resident wildlife species. PSJ Program staff serve on various national and international conservation committees to update the status and include recommend key threat mitigation in species management plans to help conserve these species along the Peruvian coastline.
Capacity building and environmental education
Since its foundation, capacity building has been at the forefront for PSJ Program. For many years, research assistants, interns and volunteers have been an important part of our teams helping us collect information and samples in the field while being trained. In the past 7 years, we have trained 58 people in the field as volunteers and interns. Although Covid-19 restrictions have slowed these activities down, we will reactivate them when restrictions permit.
Counts, sample collection, following marked individuals, collection information on reproductive behavior are some of the main activities that the on-site personal for the Punta San Juan Program do on a daily basis. This information is analyzed to understand the population dynamics, trophic ecology, population health and breeding success of resident marine mammals and seabirds.
PSJ Program has implemented different projects that involve the local community of Marcona to learn about the biodiversity in their “backyard” Punta San Juan reserve so that they can be local care takers of it. Educational guided tours, events at the community level and activities with schools have all been a part of this between 2013-2018.