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August 23, 2004

Biology alum wins Pew Marine Conservation Fellowship for his efforts to protect marine life in Patagonia

By Tim Stephens

The waters of the southwestern Atlantic off the coast of Patagonia in Argentina host a tremendous diversity of marine life: five species of penguins, elephant seals, sea lions, fur seals, dolphins, whales, albatrosses, plus a great abundance of fish and squid. Along the rugged 2,000-mile coastline of Patagonia there are enormous colonies of penguins and other seabirds, the largest mainland breeding colony of the southern elephant seal, and some 70 breeding rookeries of the South American sea lion. In the sheltered waters along the Peninsula Valdes are breeding grounds and nurseries for the highly endangered southern right whale.

Claudio Campagna. Courtesy of C. Campagna

Protecting this remarkable ecosystem has become the mission of Claudio Campagna, a research biologist for the National Research Council of Argentina who earned his Ph.D. in biology at UC Santa Cruz. Campagna was awarded a coveted Pew Marine Conservation Fellowship this year to support his efforts to establish a protected "marine park" encompassing the area known as the Patagonian large marine ecosystem. His project, founded in 2001, is called Sea and Sky ("Mar y Cielo" in Spanish).

"The area is about five times the size of California. It works as an integrated ecosystem and has a spectacular associated fauna," Campagna said. "There is no time to lose if we are to save the Patagonian large marine ecosystem."
Threats to this extraordinarily productive marine environment include overfishing, pollution, coastal degradation, and loss of habitat.

Campagna's conservation work grew out of his research on Patagonia's marine mammals, including studies of South American sea lions as a UCSC graduate student in the 1980s and subsequent research on southern elephant seals as a research associate with UCSC's Institute of Marine Sciences. While studying seals and sea lions along the coast, Campagna realized the important ways in which coastal ecosystems are linked with the open ocean.

"Some of the most extraordinary coastal wildlife spectacles, such as the extended colonies of penguins, sea lions, and elephant seals, are dependent on the productivity of very few localized areas of the ocean away from land. Not surprisingly, these most productive areas of the ocean also attract national and international fisheries of considerable importance," he said.

Those fisheries include the world's largest squid fishery. Campagna is concerned that the fisheries are not being managed in a sustainable way. He is a strong believer in the role of science in guiding and supporting management decisions and also in the need to manage the oceans at the ecosystem level, rather than focusing on individual species or populations.

Campagna will use his Pew Fellowship to strengthen the Sea and Sky project's scientific groundwork and increase collaboration among stakeholders for the purpose of sustainable management. He faces many challenges in pursuing the goals of Sea and Sky, including international tensions and the lack of a strong tradition of conservation in Argentina. But Campagna believes it is possible to build the necessary political will and to inspire new attitudes toward the natural world.

"I believe that we can change the way we think about the ocean and derive from that new thinking decisions and actions compatible with a holistic understanding of nature, one with a less utilitarian view of the world," he said.

Campagna has maintained his connections with UC Santa Cruz over the years, particularly with his thesis adviser, Burney Le Boeuf.

"He's a remarkable guy," said Le Boeuf, research professor of biology and associate vice chancellor for research. "I'll never forget when he first came to Santa Cruz and we met in my office. He's very vivacious and outgoing, and he said he had six papers he wanted to write in the next three weeks. His attitude was if you wanted to do it, it could be done. Well, you can't get publications that quickly, but Claudio always got more out of you than you thought you could give. He's a charmer."

Campagna has also worked with Charles (Leo) Ortiz, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who has been studying southern elephant seals for many years. Ortiz directs UCSC's Minority International Research Training Program, through which many UCSC undergraduates have traveled to Argentina to conduct research with Campagna and other scientists.

Before he began studying marine mammals, Campagna earned a medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires and practiced medicine for a few years. As a physician, he became interested in psychiatry and animal behavior. For his Ph.D. thesis, he focused on the social behavior of the South American sea lion.

"My interest in conservation is linked to my interest in animal and human behavior," Campagna said. "Conservation problems are caused by attitudes translated into behaviors. At the same time, conserving a species is also keeping the diversity of behavioral repertoires alive. Finally, observing behavior requires a close connection with the studied species, and that creates ethical links. Conservation is more about philosophy than about biology."

Campagna argues that part of the value of nature to humanity is aesthetic and that aesthetic concerns are relevant to conservation issues. Speaking of one of his favorite spots on Peninsula Valdes, he said, "Punta Norte is a place in my mind nourished by a place in the world. If the beauty of the latter is gone, I will have more to lose than just a place."

Campagna has been associated with the National Research Council of Argentina since 1981, working at Centro Nacional Patagónico in Puerto Madryn. He has also been affiliated with the Wildlife Conservation Society since the 1980s. In 1989, Campagna helped establish the Fundación Patagonia Natural, a nongovernmental organization for conservation of the Patagonian environment and wildlife. More recently, he cofounded EcoCentro Puerto Madryn, an educational, environmental, and cultural center similar to Long Marine Lab's Seymour Center. EcoCentro's exhibits on the Patagonian large marine ecosystem attract tens of thousands of visitors each year.

The Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation
is a program of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science in partnership with the University of Miami.

The Pew Institute for Ocean Science strives to undertake, sponsor, and promote world-class scientific activity aimed at protecting the world's oceans and the species that inhabit them. The Pew Fellows Program annually awards five fellowships of $150,000 each that contribute to advancing solutions to the oceans' most pressing problems.

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