Q&A with ornithologist Santiago Imberti

Santiago Imberti has been an integral part of the Antarctic expedition team since SOI’s inception. As a Patagonia native, Antarctica is closer to home for Santiago than most expedition members, and he has been using his degrees in tourism and ornithology to guide trips to Antarctica (and around his home country) for over 25 years.


How did you get involved with SOI?


I meet Geoff by chance on a bus traveling in southern Patagonia before SOI even existed. Somehow I persuaded him to take me to the ice with one of the companies he was working with at the time and then, when SOI was a reality I guess he kept on liking me since I was invited to be a part of the team ever since. And may be I know a bit about birds and that was helpful too…


Tell me a bit about your research.


During the Antarctic 2013 expedition. Photo (c) Mike Beedell.

During the Antarctic 2013 expedition. Photo (c) Mike Beedell.

I participate in several conservation projects, the main one being the Hooded Grebe project.  This is an endemic bird from southern Patagonia that is critically endangered and of which there are only 800 individuals left. It is a very localized species that only lives in the province where I was born and was only discovered for science in 1974 so I feel very attached to it in many ways. We are doing some basic science that the species still lacks, education and outreach to the communities, creating a national park (for which we fundraised to buy land and donate to the state) and doing all the management control that the grebes require to continue existing.


We don’t often talk about the first and last few days of the expedition in Argentina, but what can students look forward to during their time there?


I think they can look forward to get at least glimpses of a different culture and country and its landscapes and realities, a different way of seeing things and certainly another way of living. Argentina is probably one of the most european countries in latin america yet is a has a different flavor due to its mix of cultures and idiosyncrasies. And definitely, some of the best barbecues they will ever have in their lives!
During one of Santiago's workshops on the Antarctic 2011 expedition. Photo (c) Mike Beedell.

During one of Santiago’s workshops on the Antarctic 2011 expedition. Photo (c) Mike Beedell.


What makes Antarctica special to you?


It is the only place in the planet were I have the feeling that no one else has been there before. There are no tangible signs that humans visit those places, nothing to remind you that we even exist. Even when visiting the most remotes areas of the world you may  see signs of humans, a trail, an introduced species, litter, a sign for something, but in Antarctica there is none of that. The place is mostly as it has been for the last several million years and the sensation and feeling of being in such place is unique.


What are some of your favourite memories from SOI expeditions?


Some of the most incredible people I have ever met was on these trips. With many we only shared a few very intense days in the ice with others we remain in contact after years. I think life is about the people you share something with and SOI opens this window to alike souls that we may have never come across otherwise.


An albatross seen during the Antarctic 2013 expedition.

An albatross seen during the Antarctic 2013 expedition.

What are some of the birds students can expect to see during the expedition and what makes them unique?


Some of the seabirds we will be enjoying in our way to Antarctica include the largest flying bird that exists today (the wandering albatross) and many species that you never see unless you venture in the rough southern oceans. Once in the peninsula, species like the Adelie penguin are unique as they never leave Antarctica and hence cannot be seen anywhere else. They are unique because only these few have been able to adapt to this incredible harsh world in which they live and that is in many ways under threat. For some this is the only place they can live and we don’t know nearly enough about them!


Tell me a bit about your role in the education program and what students can expect from your workshop?


I will be trying to help observe, identify and enjoy wildlife and explain what their adaptations to this harsh environment are. Also share ideas about how to help protect the environment, run conservation projects and environmental issues in general. During workshops we will learn techniques on how to do bird and marine mammal surveys from a vessel and how to identify (or at least try to!) some of the critters we will be seeing.


Any advice to students interested in ornithology? 


Like with other things in life, pursue your passion. This goes not only for ornithology students but for everyone I guess…  Go out in the field as much as you can, observe and learn. How to be a scientist, you learn in school but how to be a naturalist and understand critters and systems you learn by observing and being out in nature as much as you can. If you master that and later you  learn the science in school you will not only have tools to be a good scientist but also the understanding on how to be good in the field.

Follow the 2014 Antarctic Expedition!


The Students on Ice Antarctic Expedition is taking place December 26th, 2014 to January 8th, 2015. To learn more and follow the expedition through photos, videos and student journals visit the expedition website and follow journey updates on Facebook and Twitter.

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