Bianca finds bird call too strong to ignore - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Bianca finds bird call too strong to ignore

3 Nov 2021

USC graduate Bianca Keys was so inspired by the wonders of ornithology she gave up her job in finance to chase a career in animal conservation and research.

“Leaving a full-time job to follow my true dream was the defining moment for me, and I can say for certain it was one of the best decisions of my life,” said Bianca, who was awarded a prestigious University Medal when she graduated recently with a degree in Animal Ecology.

The former mortgage broking assistant from Caloundra received USC’s highest academic honour for a graduating student after achieving a near-perfect grade point average of 6.95 out of 7.

Since completing her USC degree last semester, Bianca has been investigating microplastic ingestion in Australian shearwater species as part of Honours research at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Hobart.

She is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the world’s bird species, and plans to eventually conduct PhD research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, combining oceanography with seabird spatial distributions and foraging ecology.

“Researching and monitoring seabirds from land and sea in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean offers the opportunity to work at the interface of industry, science and policy,” Bianca said.

“My aim is to contribute to implementing global best practice management strategies that are underpinned by robust science to ensure we conserve and protect these incredible birds.

 “We like to think of seabirds as marine canaries. They act as an early warning system or proxy for the state of the oceans ecosystems, as they are top marine predators and provide indications or signals of changes and shifts from further down the marine food chain.

“Because they utilise both land and sea, we can use these signals for future management plans and gain an understanding on the effects of pollution, climate change, and other human impacts.” 

Bianca, who completed high school at Caloundra Christian College, said excellent field work experiences and other research opportunities were among the highlights of her USC studies.

In her final year at USC, Bianca led a team of student observers aboard a research vessel in a month-long expedition with BirdLife Australia, helping to map the abundance and distribution of seabirds in the North Tasman and South Coral seas.

“The expedition provided relevant practical skills and allowed me to build relationships with research scientists and communicate my passion for seabird conservation to a wider audience,” she said.

“I also had the opportunity to contribute to innovative research, such as hatching emu eggs and being a research assistant for a joint Sunshine Coast Council and USC project called ‘Valuing the Sunshine Coast’s Natural Assets’.”  

Bianca said her outstanding grades reflected dedication and a genuine enjoyment for what she was learning.

“Other key highlights of my time at USC would be the amazing lifelong friends I’ve made along the way and having incredibly supportive and instrumental lecturers,” she said.

“USC’s accessibility to a range of resources through student services and the encouraging teaching staff provided me with the support to excel in my studies.” 

Applications are open to study at USC in 2022.

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