Australian Antarctic Division scientists will add a new dimension to Antarctic seabird research this summer, deploying trackers on Antarctic snow petrels.

Very little is known about where the small white snow petrels forage and how they survive outside the breeding season.

Antarctic Division Ecologist, Dr Colin Southwell, said researchers will attach tracking devices to snow petrels at Australia’s Casey, Davis and Mawson stations.

“The trackers will be attached to bands around the petrels’ legs while they are at their breeding colonies and will log the birds’ positions over the next ten months,” Dr Southwell said.

“This information will tell us where the birds go and which marine habitats they use during the long winter months.”

Scientists will retrieve the trackers to obtain the location data when the birds return to the colony next breeding season.

“The devices were specially designed to have no impact on the birds, and are only the size of a five cent coin, weighing just 1.5 grams,” he said.

The project is part of a wider long term collaborative study of Antarctic predators, including Adélie and Emperor penguins, using a variety of methods including tracking, population surveys and automated cameras to monitor breeding colonies in East Antarctica.

“This summer the cameras will be deployed at new locations along the coast, allowing us to monitor breeding populations without needing to visit the sites each year,” Dr Southwell said.

“We are already gathering valuable information from cameras stationed at breeding colonies on three islands near Mawson station and two islands near Davis station.”

This research will provide valuable information on long-term change in the Southern Ocean ecosystem and will feed into the Integrated Marine Observing System.

The Mawson and Davis station researchers will sail on the Aurora Australis on the first voyage of the season today and the Casey station team will fly south in early February.