In 1988 Dr Graham Robertson was part of wintering party at Mawson and spent much of the winter living in a remote field hut enduring very low temperatures studying Emperor penguins at Auster Rookery. In the summer of 1988/89 he spent a further three months based in the field studying the Taylor Glacier Emperor Penguin Rookery. He was originally awarded the Australian Antarctic Medal for his contribution to the scientific knowledge of Emperor penguins in the Antarctic.
Dr Robertson has now been awarded a clasp to the AAM in recognition of his ongoing outstanding work which has seen him acknowledged as a world leader in the development of science-based solutions to the problem of seabird mortality in long line fisheries.
Since the initial award of the medal Dr Robertson has spent several years conducting research related to seabird bycatch in fisheries controlled by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). This has covered many aspects, several of them novel, including:
- research to understand the ‘mechanics’ of setting and hauling fishing lines (e.g. the effects of prop wash and turbulence, how weighted lines behave underwater, measuring line sink rates) as well as studying how different fishers behave and the consequences of both the mechanical and the human factors on fishing practices
- designing, developing and testing innovative mitigation measures to reduce seabird bycatch
- developing observation protocols for fisheries observers to gather data on fishing practices and gears, and the impacts on seabirds
In the process, he has shown great dedication to field work at sea, often under arduous conditions and a rare ability to work collaboratively with a wide variety of people, including fishers of all backgrounds and cultures. In recognition of the critical need to work with Spanish speaking fishers (and scientists), he has even learnt a second language. He has worked at very isolated locations to study Southern Ocean seabirds whilst collaborating with many other scientists in Australia and overseas. He has played an important mentoring role to younger scientists, including those in Chile.
Dr Robertson has been a very influential force in domestic and international fisheries scientific forums, including CCAMLR, in successfully arguing for improved seabird bycatch mitigation measures. Importantly, he has recognised the need for, and delivered, clear scientific advice to policy and other staff so they can in turn press for better fisheries management and compliance arrangements that are an essential complement to effective bycatch mitigation measures.