On a Mission to Protect White-tailed Sea Eagles


Before studying biology, I served my civil service at Schutzstation Wattenmeer, an environmental organization working in the area of the Wadden Sea National Park in Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany. As a ranger, I was responsible for the protection of thousands of birds in the park. One very important field for all employees and volunteers in the Wadden Sea National Park is environmental education. The tasks and duties include guided walks, slide shows, mapping plants and animals, and planning visitor centers.

Influenced and fascinated by the abundance of birds and the tremendous width of this unique landscape, I remained faithful to environmental conservation and science in my work life later on. During my biology studies, I majored in zoology and limnology, and seminars at the Max-Planck-Institute for Limnology in Plön led me to the lakes of Holsteinische Schweiz. We were rowing across the lakes, doing sonar profiles and fishing for plankton. Eventually, this led to further knowledge in ecosystem research and limnology.

Aside from my studies, I was a volunteer for the German section of the World Wildlife Fund, trying to protect cranes. Today, this endangered bird species has returned to many areas where it did not occur 20 years ago. This is the reward after hundreds of hours of volunteer work.

After completing my master's thesis in 1994, I started as scientific and executive employee in the project "Protection of white-tailed sea eagles in Schleswig-Holstein." Since then, I am responsible for the scientific and financial management of a prestigious species conservation project in Germany.

Starting with only four breeding pairs in the late '70s, we were able to constantly increase the population to 31 pairs today. By means of 24/7 surveillance and massive security measures in the nesting areas, disruptions were avoided and the eagles successfully raised their young again. Volunteers from all over Germany participated in these efforts. A major campaign also lead to the recognition of DDT and its still toxic byproducts as food chain toxins. Due to DDT, egg shells were thin and broke apart or embryos died in the eggs at an early stage. For years, the white-tailed sea eagle population remained without any offspring until it was diminished to an alarming state. DDT was eventually banned throughout Europe in 1976. Within a 10-year delay, the eagles' reproduction rate increased considerably.

Today, scientific monitoring of toxins and pollutants ensures the positive development of Germany's white-tailed sea eagle population, it also benefits the environment as a whole, including human health. Parallel to the developments in Germany, the bald eagle was also recognized as a bioindicator in North America. Since then, the bald eagle population is being used as an important indicator for the state of nature in a long-term environmental monitoring program in the Great Lakes area.

To further ensure that the potential risk from chlorocarbons and heavy metals is being investigated, a joint plan to fight all "creeping environmental toxins" was adapted at an international symposium "Sea Eagle 2000" in Stockholm. Toxin monitoring and ecotoxicological assessment as a basis for political lobbying in licensing processes for toxic substances will be the center of attention in the future.

As an eagle conservationist, I am on the road for most of my work time because it is still necessary to create a sense of understanding for the species' habitat needs. Sea eagles only breed in remote forests, preferably in old-growth trees. But these trees also have a high materialistic value because harvesting lumber is one of the forest owners' major economic income. Therefore, we have a situation of rivalry on the same resource between the birds and humans. Without consideration by the latter, the eagles would most likely lose the majority of these battles. In these negotiations, it is sometimes difficult to mediate between the different interests and to create sympathy for the demands of a sensitive species. Knowledge, persistence, and a certain skill to negotiate are important prerequisites to be successful.

One of my tasks also is the distribution of knowledge and creating awareness about the white-tailed sea eagle. With slide shows and guided tours, I am trying to give an insight to the eagles' life and to demonstrate environmental interrelations. In many cases, children show deep interest in these majestic birds. They are curious about biological details, but also question human behavior regarding the environment. One of the children's favorite stories is the adventurous defense of eagles' eggs against egg robbers as recent as in the '60s.

Many environmental and conservation projects suffer from the lack of sufficient funding. Despite its successful history, our project is no exception. The future mainly depends on additional fundraising, such as donations or corporate sponsorships. A part of my work is dedicated to "ecosponsoring." These new paths for eagle protection bring me to a bunch of receptions and waiting rooms of wilderness-affected bank or corporate managers. In many cases, meetings with advertising and public outreach experts, who are always hunting for easy-to-sell "nature events," follow. The white-tailed sea eagle is a symbol of high publicity value. This means I am always in search of additional "sea eagle allies," and I am trying to convince other people to join us. Most important to succeed in this field are the conviction of correctness of personal actions and a major commitment to a "good and common cause."

Follow Science Careers

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers