By Alyssa Soucy, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Maine

Newswise — Julia Gulka tackles emerging environmental issues in an office surrounded by photographs, illustrations, and personal watercolor paintings of the birds she studies and the places she has traveled. Early in her career, a seasonal field position on an island off the coast of Maine sparked her interest in seabirds. Spending several consecutive summers among the open meadows, boulder fields, and granite ledges, she was immersed in the world of seabirds that found their home on the island. While closely watching and handling Arctic and Common Terns, Black Guillemots, Razorbills, Common Murres, and Atlantic Puffins, she became enamored with their resilient nature. Julia’s initial fascination with seabirds remains evident as she describes their lure, “They travel ridiculously long distances, and they are samplers of the marine systems, so you can gain a lot of information about the whole system from them…they’re also just really fun to work on!” Today, Julia works as a marine biologist at BRI. Seabirds continue to be an inspiration, the common thread that connects her to different places, people, and research projects.

That first field job launched a series of diverse experiences for Julia on both coasts of the U.S., to the northeast Newfoundland coast in Canada, and across the globe to Australia, before she joined BRI four years ago. As part of BRI’s Wildlife and Renewable Energy program, Julia saw an opportunity to further explore her interest in seabirds, while continuing to broaden her knowledge of other research areas in her field, such as offshore wind development.

Since starting at BRI, Julia has been engaging with offshore wind energy stakeholders in various efforts to minimize wildlife impacts. Alongside a team of BRI researchers, she works with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to provide critical information that informs renewable energy development and research. Each stakeholder, whether they work for an offshore wind developer, environmental nonprofit, or state or federal agency, brings to the table their own views. Recently, Julia has been helping to synthesize hundreds and hundreds of potential research topics, derived from stakeholder input, into focused priorities that can then be implemented to improve our understanding of the interactions between offshore wind energy development and wildlife. The offshore wind aspect of Julia’s work is relatively new to her; however, she finds the opportunity to learn more about the growing industry both interesting and important. On any given workday, you can find Julia in her office managing multiple screens as she collates information, analyzes data, and organizes stakeholder meetings.

In addition to the offshore wind energy aspect of Julia’s work, she continues to go out into the field to survey birds any chance she gets. “I particularly like the work that includes handling and catching the birds,” says Julia. “It’s just fun to be out somewhere new, travel a bit—and I love being outside.” The information she and other BRI staff collect in the field become part of large datasets integral to data analysis. Whether it is data collected from wildlife contaminant sampling or bird movement patterns discovered through satellite transmitter tags, researchers use the large datasets to explore a variety of questions. While Julia enjoys the data collection aspect of her work, she also loves to revisit that data through analysis. Doing so allows her to answer interesting questions such as: what are the spatial relationships between seabirds and the forage fish that they prey on?

As an integral member of BRI’s research team, Julia is equipped with a diverse skill set and sense of excitement as she continues to look forward to new projects. From working with the stakeholder group for offshore wind energy development to following her passions for seabirds in fieldwork and data analysis, Julia’s career allows her to study her interests in a way that engages others, informs policy, and helps the wildlife she is so passionate about. “Working for BRI,” says Julia, “allows me to carry on a variety of fascinating projects that not only contribute to science, but also conservation and our fight against climate change.”

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