My first experience with seabirds was in 2009 when I volunteered on Southeast Farallon Island off the coast of California. I was quickly enchanted by the incredible diversity of birds and their quirky characteristics. I was also regaled with tales of other islands: the impressive cliffs of the Pribilofs loaded with kittiwakes and murres and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands with albatrosses and tropical seabirds galore. From then on, all I wanted to do was hop from island to island and did so for several years, working on various seabird projects.
In 2011, I started as a graduate student under the advisement of Dr. Scott Shaffer, with the alluring possibility of studying albatrosses in collaboration with researchers from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in New Zealand. Things fell into place and before I knew it I was sailing off to start my graduate research on Campbell Island (sub-Antarctic). Over the last three breeding seasons, I’ve been studying the foraging ecology and energetics of Campbell and grey-headed albatrosses. These species breed sympatrically on Campbell Island, but employ different foraging strategies to partition resources: Campbell albatrosses forage in nearby waters and grey-headed albatrosses forage over farther, oceanic waters. As part of my dissertation, I plan to examine how differences foraging effort relate to energy expenditure and population-level food requirements. To examine differences in energy expenditure, I deployed GPS loggers on individuals during early chick-rearing to capture behavior while simultaneously measuring field metabolic rates using doubly labeled water.
The main hitch in my plans has been a lack of funds to complete the laboratory analyses for my research. Fortunately, my field expenses were covered by NIWA, my adviser, and research awards, but with each sample collected, the lab expenses piled up beyond the funds available to me. (I have learned a lesson on securing full funding before beginning a project!). Because I didn’t want to wait several months (or longer) to receive what could be another all-too-familiar rejection letter, and because I’m eager to get my samples out of their current state of frozen purgatory, I decided to try an alternative and potentially faster route.
After overcoming some initial hesitation, I launched a campaign to publically fund my research using a crowdfunding platform for science (you can check out the site and more about my research at: https://experiment.com/projects/how-costly-is-flying-and-gathering-food). So far, the experience has been incredibly positive. I have been able to raise awareness about albatrosses, gain public support for my project, and build self-confidence as friends, family, and strangers have shown that they believe in my work. I view crowdfunding as a great opportunity for researchers struggling to fund their projects, especially at a time when funding for science is limited. This alternative approach is helping me complete a project that I am passionate about while providing a venue to share that passion with people that would otherwise not be involved.