I often wonder about the impacts our Shorebird Habitat Management Workshops might have on workshop participants, how our time together might influence their work over the long term and the future conservation of shorebird populations. We recently completed teaching a collaborative workshop on shorebird habitat management in Lagoa do Peixe in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil and we caught a hint of just the kind of influence our workshops can have on individuals.
In 1983, Brian Harrington, Senior Scientist with Manomet collaborated with Paulo Antas of CEMAVE (Centro Nacional de Pesquisa para a Conservação das Aves Silvestres), and Martin Sander of the Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos to host a first-of-its-kind international shorebird workshop in South America held at Lagoa do Peixe.
At the time, Maria Virginia Petry was a freshman in her first semester at college with a strong interest in biology. Ornithology, biochemistry, and entomology were all potential focus options but switching majors was on the table as well. She had begun working with a professor, Martin Sander, and was assisting him with multiple and varied research projects including studies of mosquito biology, forest birds, and Antarctic birds when she heard about the shorebird workshop.
As Virginia recalls, this workshop brought together biologists from every country in South America, was only offered to professional biologists, and was definitely somewhere she wanted to be. As an undergraduate, this also meant she was not on the invite list. Determined to participate in the workshop, Virginia offered to help with logistics during the classroom components held at the University – and was thus able to attend the lectures. When it came time to head to the field, she was told she could not attend as she was not an official workshop participant. As the field vehicle transporting the workshop participants broke down and another vehicle from the University prepared to rescue the stranded biologists at Lagoa do Peixe (a 3-4 hour drive), with no one to stop her, Virginia hopped in the car.
The rest is history. With a clear passion for biology, Virginia learned to identify and monitor shorebirds during the workshop. She stayed after the workshop ended to assist Brian and others complete a shorebird survey along the central coast of Rio Grande do Sul. She has continued monitoring the shorebirds and other coastal wildlife on this same stretch of beach on and off over the years ever since.
Today, Virginia is an accomplished research scientist and professor at the Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. She manages and coordinates a research laboratory of marine animals and birds, assists the management of the National Trust for Research and Technology of Antarctic Research, and is on the steering committee for the recently completed Shorebird Conservation Action Plan in Brazil. In fact, a previous manager of Lagoa do Peixe National Park was a student of Virginia’s.
When I asked her how attending the workshop influenced her career trajectory, she said that it inspired her to continue in the study of biology – and ornithology specifically. It helped her develop a passion for coastal birds in particular and to understand the value of long term monitoring.
33 years later, Virginia attended our 2016 workshop at Lagoa do Peixe. She said she came to learn more about technological advances in migratory bird monitoring and to hear more about the status of the shorebird populations that connect us across the hemisphere. But for us, the workshop leaders, meeting and talking with Virginia was like peeking into the future. A small glimpse of the potential impact you can have when you combine personal passion with critical information, and of course, introduce people to the magic of shorebirds. I have high hopes for the future outcomes and long term impacts of our continued shorebird workshops to fostering collaborative conservation and igniting passion for shorebirds for future generations.