PHILLIP Island marine scientist Dr Andre Chiaradia has been working with little penguins since 1994. He started his career as an Oceanographer and has been to Antarctica several times. Andre has worked for Phillip Island Nature Parks for the last 20 years, investigating life of penguins at sea, their diet and foraging behaviour using electronic gadgets.
Why did you want to become a marine scientist and what was your journey to becoming one?
I was born in the mountains in central Brazil, as far as you can be from the ocean. But I was fascinated by the sea thanks to Jacques Costeaux’s documentaries. My Italian ancestry goes back to the Normans when they conquered the south of Italy. So I like to think my attraction to the sea is a mild version of my piratical Viking ancestors. I came to Australia to study at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Hobart working on Antarctic penguins. Still, destiny brought me to the penguins at Phillip Island. After completing my study in Australia, I returned briefly to Brazil before coming back to Phillip Island, where I have been working at the Nature Parks ever since.
What do you enjoy about your job?
Collaboration with other scientists. I enjoy the borderless connections with scientists from different countries but working together for the same goals. Unless you can manage to produce incredible science by working alone in a patent office in Switzerland, collaboration is the key to create synergy and sustain the momentum in science over the years. And a sure way to progress, it is to collaborate with scientist and students smarter than you are!
What is the hardest part about your job?
Bad collaboration! A good partnership involves a lot of giving and sharing workload among the group, so work progresses at a fast pace. But some scientists may see collaboration as an opportunity to increase their publication output with a minimal workload. By taking but not giving; the synergy is not present.
Where do you see yourself and the industry in the future?
Penguins are definitely high on the list in the popular culture. Ironically, despite their public appeal, penguin populations worldwide face a wide range of threats. Penguins evolved over 60 million years ago, and yet perhaps the biggest challenge will be for some of them to survive the next 50 years. Successful conservation stories of penguin species across the globe have occurred where there has been a concerted effort on conservation. And Phillip Island is one of these success stories where the penguin population is doing very well. Penguins can tell us about the health of the oceans as they are sentinels of changes occurring at lower levels in the food chain. By protecting penguins, we protect their ecosystems. As the coronavirus pandemic has shown us, policymakers working with scientists can bring about the changes needed in times of crisis. The future is about ensuring policymakers and ecosystem managers have the most up-to-date scientific basis for making vital conservation decisions is vital.