With a Masters in science and biosecurity, masters project on foraging and stress physiology of little blue penguins, Kerry Lukies is a passionate advocate for seabird conservation.

Generosity of strangers

Because we live on an island, if we want to travel we have to fly to get most places unless we cruise, but wherever possible when I reach another country, I'll travel by rail or bus.

When I travelled through South America and Asia I always caught buses and trains and only flew if I had to go over the sea, or quite a considerable distance. It's a good way to meet local people and you see so much more.

In India, my friend and I were in a compartment with 12 beds and the people in my compartment were a family. They didn't speak much English and we didn't speak any of their language, and they were so friendly. We had no dinner so they shared theirs with us, and we sat there trying to communicate. That happened a lot in India, strangers being really generous to us.

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Hooked on Asia

I was walking barefoot on a beach in Vietnam when something got under my skin and created a trail up my foot, leaving a big blister in its wake. I went to hospital and saw three different doctors and no one knew what it was.

When I got to Lao, I stayed with a friend who was a nurse with Doctors without Borders. One of the doctors diagnosed hookworm. I took five worm tablets, a super dose, after trying all sorts of other medications that had been prescribed. That got it in the end. It didn't hurt too much, but it looked horrendous and I had to syringe the big blister every day. But it didn't put me off going barefoot.

"It looks like a dream"

For six months I travelled through South America and I learnt quite a bit of Spanish as I went. There was so much beauty and in Bolivia I visited the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, where there's a thin layer of water on top of the salt plains and everything is reflected in it - clouds and mountains - and it looks like a dream.

I took a 3-day tour and we stayed in hotels made of salt, and there were llamas and flamingos and so much crazy wildlife. There were some very cool birds, and I've found my interest in them has developed over the years.

New Zealand is a global seabird hotspot, and because I love the oceans and island ecosystems, it felt obvious to study seabirds. As a result, I go to really amazing places and tell people fascinating things about birds. People don't realise how vital birds are to our ecosystems.

Switching off

As a scientific researcher, we often work at night and sit quietly and still on islands
such as Hauturu (Little Barrier) and we are able to see things like tuatara and giant weta, and there are kiwi running around. The Poor Knights has some really cool reptiles and massive geckos you don't see on the mainland.

New Zealand's Poor Knights Islands. Photo / Supplied
New Zealand's Poor Knights Islands. Photo / Supplied

I'm going back to Hauturu next week to look at different types of lights, like LED and halogen, the sorts of lights boats have, to determine how attractive they are to seabirds. If some lights turn out to be less attractive to seabirds, we'd encourage boats to switch to them.

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Nature's spectacle

I had one of my most extraordinary experiences when I worked as a guide for Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safaris. We were in the Hauraki Gulf in the middle of a massive boil up, gannets were diving and there were loads of common dolphins too. It was amazing to be so close to a spectacular natural event.

There was a period at the end of 2018 when pygmy blue whales were visiting Hauraki Gulf, and we saw 12 on one trip. They do hang around New Zealand waters, but it's unusual for them to be that far in.

That sort of job has pros and cons. It's great being on the water on a calm sunny day and seeing lots of animals but when it's super bumpy and rainy and everyone is throwing up, it's not so great.

Kerrie Lukies, community restoration advisor for the New Zealand Seabird Trust, with a Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin). Photo / Supplied
Kerrie Lukies, community restoration advisor for the New Zealand Seabird Trust, with a Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin). Photo / Supplied

Kerry Lukies' tips for protecting seabirds

• When you take your dog to the beach, make sure it's under control. The biggest threat to penguins and petrels on the mainland is being dug out of their burrow by dogs.

• Don't allow plastic to get into the sea - it's harmful to seabird populations.

• Teach kids about our native seabirds. The more education, the more we increase awareness. The Hoiho (yellow eyed penguin) won Bird of the Year last year - the first seabird to win it - and that helps increase people's knowledge. I do see positive change.

Kerrie Lukies is Community Restoration Advisor for the New Zealand Seabird Trust. nzseabirdtrust.org