P. Dee Boersma

Photo: Young Lee

P. Dee Boersma

Special Focus on the Environment
15th Heinz Awards - 2009

Dee Boersma was honored as a 15th Heinz Award – Special Focus on the Environment – recipient for her extensive field studies on penguins and other sea birds, research that has led to a greater understanding of the human impact on marine ecosystems and for advocating conservation through education. She is the founder and executive editor of Conservation magazine, an award-winning publication dedicated to conservation science.

Dr. Boersma considers penguins marine sentinels, sounding the alarm on environmental threats to ocean ecosystems. Her research in Argentina has shown that in the last decade, climate-induced change has forced the penguins to swim about 25 miles farther each day in search of food. Working with the Wildlife Conservation Society, she provided the data that resulted in oil tanker routes being moved farther offshore to protect the penguins from the effects of commercial petroleum dumping.

Dr. Boersma, Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, began her scientific career in the Galapagos Islands, where her dissertation research demonstrated how radical changes in ocean productivity, caused by the 1972 El Nino event, dramatically shaped the breeding biology of the Galapagos penguin.

As the impact of global climate change on biodiversity continues to unfold, Dr. Boersma’s research indicates that penguins are at great risk. In the Western Antarctic peninsula, the warming air temperatures, which have risen six degrees over the past 50 years, have led to more rain and less snow. This seemingly subtle change endangers the newborn and very young chicks that have not developed the insulating plumage that would normally keep them dry. From a scientific perspective, she has employed studies of seabirds to improve our understanding of climate-change impact on the environment. Moreover, she has shared her passion and understanding of penguins to attract public attention to environmental issues.

Note: This profile was written at the time of the awards’ presentation.

We are changing the world, the course of evolution, and the species with which we share the planet. Can people change to allow other species to persist and coexist?”

— P. Dee Boersma


P. Dee Boersma, Studies Seabirds as Indicators of Environmental Change - Heinz Awardee

P. Dee Boersma, Heinz Awardee speech, 2009 Heinz Awards presentation, National Portrait Gallery