Trailing Penguins in Patagonia

Expedition Briefing


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The Research

The Magellanic Penguin is one of the most charismatic marine birds in Patagonia, Argentina, and the main attraction for an increasing tourism industry along the coast. These seabirds are considered to be top predators that play a key role in their ecosystems. Studying their foraging behavior and movement patterns is critical to understanding the complex relationships between these species and their environments.

In Patagonia, Magellanic penguins are threatened by commercial and artisanal fishing activities, competition for food with the fisheries, oil pollution, and other contaminants such as lead and organochlorine pesticides. The project will be carried out in the Golfo San Jorge—home to one of the most important fishing industries in the Argentinean Sea. Although most penguin colonies are located within the boundaries of a national park, the park’s protections do not extend to oceanic areas, where these seabirds spend their time foraging.

Researchers and volunteers will use cutting-edge technology (electronic devices that can record the position and behavior of these seabirds during foraging trips) to study how these birds hunt for food at sea, providing key data to understand their foraging behavior, this could help to establish regulations to protect these species and their marine habitats.

Research Aims

The key objectives for this project are as follows:

  1. Determine how penguins use marine spaces during different stages of their life at the ocean.
  2. Study the at-sea behavior of penguins to understand their foraging strategies.
  3. Determine how much energy is consumed during foraging trips.
  4. Measure the reproductive success throughout the years (as a measurement of population health).
  5. Determine the reproductive population size and productivity of the colony.
  6. Study if there is a relationship between the reproductive success and the foraging effort.
  7. Study the marine environment used by the penguins to understand their distribution.
  8. Assess how anthropogenic (human-induced) changes to the environment impact this species.
  9. Measure how “high use areas” overlap with anthropogenic activities.

To achieve the research aims for this expedition, teams will carefully monitor penguin populations and deploy cutting-edge technology. Remote sensing technologies will be used, including GPS loggers that record time, latitude, longitude, and speed, as well as accelerometers to record detailed at-sea behavior and video cameras that will provide a detailed understanding of the seabirds’ while foraging. These devices will be attached to the birds and the data and video footage will be collected and analyzed.

Teams will mostly monitor the nests and colonies of penguins to record the reproductive biology and population size of these birds.

How You Will Help

For this project to be successful, we need your data collection support by carrying out a detailed monitoring of the colony. For this, we need to have a team working daily on site to first map the colony and mark individuals and nests. After that, daily checks of marked nests and breeding pairs must be carried out to monitor the reproductive status and reproductive success of adults, hatchling survival and growth, in addition to determine the duration of the foraging trips of adults. This exhaustive monitoring will allow us to precisely select the individuals that will be deployed, decreasing significantly the probability of losing devices at sea. The activities are very easy to learn and do not require previous knowledge on the topic. Volunteers will be directly involved in the following activities:

  • Mapping the colony, high-density areas within the colony, and the individual nests. Volunteers who participate in mapping will see varied terrain, wildlife and vistas in the beautiful Patagonian landscape.
  • Marking nests selected to monitor throughout the breeding season.
  • Collaborate in marking adults permanently through the use of PIT tags (i.e. notes of numbers, locations, etc.).
  • Perform daily checks on the presence/absence of ID adults in the nest to determine duration of foraging trips previous to deployment of individuals.
  • Perform daily checks (direct observation) of every marked nest (number of eggs, hatchlings).
  • Collaborate in the process of marking eggs from specific nests.
  • Collaborate in the measuring and weighing of chicks from specific nests
  • Collaborate in deployment of adults and recovery of devices.
  • Monitoring the nests of deployed individuals (2 or 3 times a day) to ensure the recovery of devices.
  • Data entry: specifically, data will be updated every day to have access to detailed information on the breeding status of every marked nest and breeding pair.

Life in the Field

The day you arrive to the project, you will have an orientation that includes:

  • Safety on site and during fieldwork (going through our emergency response plan).
  • You will be introduced to the biologist that will be working with you.
  • History of the project
  • Training on how to use field equipment (Scanner for PIT tags, GPS, equipment for marking penguins)
  • Training on how to collect data in the field (fill up field books and data organization).
  • The next day of your arrival will be the first day in the field where you will have onsite training.

Other educational opportunities will happen throughout the expedition, covering topics such as penguin ecology and conservation in Patagonia; methodological theory and practice; basic field skills, Patagonian species identification, and more. On a typical research day, you’ll have a midday break. The team may have a short recreational activity in the middle of the expedition (since you are in a remote area and your expedition is only one week, this may be visiting a nearby lookout, a picnic, or visiting another area of the park for a few hours).


Weather and research needs can lead to changes in the daily schedule. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

Project activities will also vary seasonally. Below is an outline of what is likely to happen on each team, but the exact schedule will depend on the project’s current needs and will be set at the start of each expedition. The nesting season is also variable year to year, so some activities may shift forward or back based on when the egg-laying season begins.

During October the research tasks focus mainly on the setup of the project, activities may vary depending on the timing of the animals. You will help in mapping the colony, marking and mapping individual nests. During that time we also identify individuals that were tagged in previous years and mark new individuals. In addition we search for “lost” penguins (animals that did not arrive to their nests from previous years). In October, egg laying begins so you will help to measure and mark those eggs. This added to the fact that the experimental nests have to be checked every day in order to record lay dates (or egg loss). At the end of October/beginning of November the census of the colony takes place.

During November egg hatching begins and we will check nests every day, record hatching dates and measure and weight chicks. This includes long days in the field.

During December when chicks are older than 10 days deployment and recovery of monitoring devices, starts. We will continue with the monitoring of nests also measuring and weighing chicks of experimental nests.

Data entry is an important part of our work. At the end of the day, all teams will enter data collected that day.

  • Day 1: Meet and travel to Camarones, lunch with team, introduction and orientation, field training in methodology and safety while in the field.
  • Days 2–5: On-site training and fieldwork: Depending on team, colony mapping, marking of nests, nests monitoring, chick monitoring and device deployment and recovery.
  • Day 6: Fieldwork, final team dinner, pack
  • Day 7: Breakfast, departure from field site to airport

Accommodations and Food

During the expedition, your team will be based in the town of Camarones, a small, remote town on the edge of the park.

* Please note that not every expedition has couples’ or single's accommodations available. Please call or email Earthwatch to check for availability prior to reserving your space(s) on the team.


The team will be staying in rented cabins. Rooms will be shared by 2–5 people, depending on the number of team members and the total number of males and females on your team. Each cabin has a small kitchen, and a bathroom with flushable toilets, showers, and sinks. Beds, pillows, blankets, and sheets are provided. Single rooms are not possible and couples rooms can be difficult to accommodate so are not guaranteed.

* Earthwatch will honor each person’s assertion of gender identity, respectfully and without judgement. For both teen and adult teams, where logistics dictate single-sex accommodations or other facilities, participant placements will be made in accordance with the gender identity the participant specified on their Earthwatch Participant form and/or preferences indicated in discussions with Earthwatch.


Bathroom facilities include hot showers and flush toilets.


The cabins have electricity and plugs for charging camera batteries etc. Please bring the appropriate converters and adapters for Argentine electrical outlets (220-240v, 50 Hz.). You will find both “Type I” IRAM-2073 and “Type C” Euro plug type in Argentina.


The cellphone reception in the town of Camarones is spotty and will vary depending on your cell phone service provider. There is cell phone service at the field site, which is mainly used for emergencies or coordinating the research teams. There is NO INTERNET at the accommodations. Although some places in town may have Internet occasionally (i.e. restaurant, coffee shop) the connection is very poor, therefore we strongly recommend making sure you communicate with relatives at home from Trelew upon arrival in the airport. The Airport has free Internet you may use on arrival day. You may not be able to communicate via the Internet while in Camarones, which is very remote.

The research team recommends you and your relatives back home to download the application for cell phones “Whatsapp”. This app allows you to send text messages, voice messages, pictures and short videos (to other phones with the app) with a very scattered Internet connection and with no cell reception.


The field site is about a 30-minute drive from the town of Camarones. The journey is on a dirt road.


Volunteers will help themselves to a continental style breakfast in the cabins. A local cook will prepare local Argentinean food for packed lunches in the field, and a nearby restaurant (pre- arranged by field staff) will provide dinner. Argentine cuisine consists of a lot of meat and in the remote, small town of Camarones fresh fruits and vegetables can be hard to come by. Please note that dinner in Argentina is usually very late, between 8:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m. You will generally eat at 8:30 p.m. for Earthwatch teams. There will be opportunities to buy snacks in Camarones, and some will be provided to tide you over until the late dinner. Eating and drinking is an important cultural activity in Argentina, and the team will enjoy social, group meals.

Below are examples of the foods you might expect in the field. Please bear in mind that variety depends on availability. You may want to bring supplemental snacks if you have any particular food preferences. This list is intended to provide a general idea of food types, but it is very important that volunteers be flexible and keep in mind that vegetables and fruits in a remote area of Patagonia are very difficult to come by

The following are examples of foods you may find in the field. Variety depends on availability. We appreciate your flexibility.

  • Breakfast: Cereal, fruit, toast/bread, jam, tea, coffee, hot breakfast, such as eggs
  • Lunch: Local cuisine, Empanadas, vegetable and meat tarts (tartas), sandwiches
  • Dinner: Local cuisine, chicken, steaks, pasta, pizzas
  • Snacks: Cookies, crackers, cereal bars, fruit
  • Beverages: Clean drinking water available on site.

Please alert Earthwatch to any special dietary requirements (e.g., diabetes, lactose intolerance, nut or other food allergies, vegetarian or vegan diets) as soon as possible, and note them in the space provided on your volunteer forms.

The project staff can accommodate most diets with advance notice; however, strict vegan diets are not possible to adhere to within local cuisine, and gluten allergies and celiac disease are not possible because cross contamination is likely. Although the project can accommodate vegetarians, please keep in mind that food may not be very diverse. Lactose free diets are possible to accommodate. Accommodating special diets is not guaranteed and can be very difficult due to availability of food, location of field sites, and other local conditions.


Alcohol consumption is not permitted by minors or on teen teams regardless of local law. It is permitted on adult teams, and is available for purchase in Camarones. Wine is a common and traditional accompaniment to meals in Argentina.

Project Conditions


For weather and region-specific information, please visit and search for your project location.

Essential Eligibility Requirements

All participants must be able to:

  • Take an active role in your own safety by recognizing and avoiding hazards if and when they arise (including, but not limited to, those described in Earthwatch materials and safety briefings). Comply with project staff instructions and recommended safety measures at all times.
  • Be able to effectively communicate to the staff if you are experiencing distress or need assistance.
  • Be comfortable being surrounded by a language and/or culture that is different from your own.
  • Be able to get along with a variety of people from different backgrounds and ages, often in close proximity, for the duration of your team.
  • Follow verbal and/or visual instructions independently or with the assistance of a companion.
  • Provide passport numbers to Earthwatch before August 1, 2020 in order to be included in research permit to enter the natural reserve.
  • See clearly (with or without corrective lenses) close up to read research instruments.
  • Enjoy being outdoors all day in all types of weather, exposed to very strong sun, heat and high winds (and high wind chill) for long periods of time.
  • Enjoy being outdoors in the potential presence of wild animals.
  • Walk over rough, uneven terrain with areas of dense, thorny vegetation, animal holes that can be hard to spot, any sometimes rocky, hilly slopes for up to five kilometers (3.0 miles) per day and generally up to 7 hours per day an average rate of one kilometer (0.6 miles) in 15 minutes, with minimal fatigue and without a hiking/walking stick.
  • Carry personal daily supplies up to five kilograms (11 pounds), such as water, and some small field equipment (e.g. GPS, nest checking pole).
  • Without assistance, get up and down near the penguin nests. For most of the tasks volunteers are required to sit on the ground next to penguin nests.
  • Without assistance, climb in and out of high clearance project vehicles, which may include trucks.
  • Sit or ride in project vehicles with seat belt fastened and in close proximity to other team members while traveling over dirt roads.
  • Bend up and down; crouch comfortably for up to 5 hours per day while performing nest work.
  • Keep quiet, stand respectful distances from animals while observing them and working in the colony.

Health and Safety


If medical advice is required, there is a small clinic in Camarones, just a few minutes from the accommodations. There are hospitals in Trelew and Puerto Madryn, which are 3 and 3.5 hours away from Camarones, respectively, but much further from the field sites.

Earthwatch has a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week emergency hotline number. Someone is always on call to respond to messages that come into our live answering service.


Please be sure your routine immunizations are up-to-date (for example: diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella) and you have the appropriate vaccinations for your travel destination. Medical decisions are the responsibility of each volunteer and his or her doctor. Visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization for guidance on immunizations.

If traveling from countries or region where yellow fever is endemic, you must have a certificate of vaccination.

Project Risks and Precautions


The roads from Trelew to Camarones is paved and generally in very good condition at the time of printing of this briefing. At the study site, roads will be dirt, gravel, or corrugated and at times bumpy and/or dusty. Everyone will wear seat belts whenever the vehicle is in motion. Speeds will be kept to the posted limit traveling from Trelew and at 50-km/ hr. (30 mph) in the study site. Only authorized, insured, experienced staff will drive. Volunteers are not permitted to drive. We will avoid night transportation (some night drives are part of the research).


The terrain in the colony is varied. There are hills, small shrubs, thorny vegetation and loose rocks. In a few areas there may be a steep slope. There are also many holes in the ground that volunteers can trip on and injure himself or herself or a penguin. Field staff will caution participants and instruct them how to traverse the colony. Participants must walk carefully, and wear hiking boots with ankle support. Hiking poles are not allowed because they can damage nests and injure penguins. Inform a staff member if you do not feel well, or do not feel comfortable with certain terrain.

High Winds and Variable Temperatures

You must bring clothing layers appropriate for mostly low and sometimes high temperatures. Wind resistant layers are very helpful to stop the wind-chill, and sun hats with a tie (so they do not blow off your head). Staff will monitor weather and wind conditions and plan field tasks accordingly. Use glasses and long sleeves if dust and or sand can be lifted by wind. Secure all gear while working at field site and be aware of any nearby loose debris. Seek shelter in extreme wind conditions.

Sun Exposure, Heat and Dehydration

You must drink plenty of water throughout the day and to bring at least two liters of water into the field each day. You must wear high-factor sunscreen (40 SPF or higher) and appropriate clothing, including sunglasses, a wide- brimmed hat and/ or scarf. A headband may be useful to cover your ears. This is especially important due to the proximity of the field site to the hole in the ozone layer. You shouldn’t overwork when jet lagged or tired - inform a staff member when feeling tired or ill. Extra sunscreen will be available in the first aid kits. Take regular breaks as needed.

Insects and Snakes

There are snakes and spiders in some areas of the field site. You must avoid any contact with snakes, and to not attempt to handle or disturb them if found. Use insect repellant and to bring personal medications in the event of a reaction to a bite or sting (at least two Epi-Pens if you have an Epi-Pen prescription for an allergy, antihistamines, etc.) as appropriate. Inform staff if you are allergic to anything and of where your medication is kept.

Animal Handling

You may participate in animal handling. Typically this is only with penguin chicks, so risks are minimal. Potential risks are bites or scratches. If you participate, you’ll receive instructions and a safety briefing, and be supervised or assisted at all times. You may not handle animals unless under the direct supervision of trained project staff. Protective equipment (e.g., gloves) will be provided. Always wash your hands after handling an animal.

Large and/or Dangerous Animals

There are many wild animals in the study site. There are guanaco (a large, llama-like animal), several sea birds, and several small mammals. The guanaco often pass by closely and in large herds; do not disturb them. Puma live in the area of the field site. They are elusive and are seldom seen by people.

Malaria and Insect-Borne Diseases

Malaria and Zika are reported to be a low risk in the area of the research site; however, it is found in the northern provinces of Argentina. If you plan additional travel in Argentina, speak with your doctor. The risk of these illnesses can be greatly reduced by taking precautions against mosquito bites (using insect repellent and wearing long-sleeved shirts and trousers in the evening). For Malaria, prophylactics are available.


A rabies vaccination is not compulsory for this expedition; you will not handle any rabies-carrying wildlife. However, you may wish to consult with your healthcare providers about the vaccine given that it is present in Argentina and Patagonia. Avoid stray dogs at all times. The rabies pre-exposure vaccination consists of three doses over a 28-day period. Please be sure to consult your physician or travel health clinic well before your expedition to ensure that you have time for the full vaccination series. If you have previously been vaccinated, a booster shot may be required. The pre-exposure vaccination does not eliminate the need for post-exposure medical attention and treatment, but it does provide additional protection against the disease in the event of a delay in treatment. In addition, bites or scratches should be immediately and thoroughly washed with soap, clean water, and a topical povidone-iodine solution or ethanol.

Travel Planning

RENDEZVOUS LOCATION: Patagonian Suites Apartments, Chubut, Argentina

* Additional information will be provided by Earthwatch to meet your team. Please do not book travel arrangements such as flights until you have received additional information from Earthwatch.


Earthwatch strongly recommends that travelers investigate their destination prior to departure. Familiarity with the destination’s entry/exit requirements, visas, local laws, and customs can go a long way to ensuring smooth travel. The U.S. Department of State's Traveler’s Checklist and Destination Guides are helpful resources. For LGBTI travelers, the U.S. Department of State's LGBTI Travelers page contains many useful tips and links.


Entry visa requirements differ by country of origin, layover, and destination, and do change unexpectedly. For this reason, please confirm your visa requirements at the time of booking and, again, 90 days prior to travel. Please apply early for your visa (we recommend starting 6 months prior to the start of your expedition). Refunds will not be made for volunteers cancelling due to not obtaining their visa in time to meet the team at the rendezvous. You can find up to date visa requirements at the following website:

If a visa is required, participants should apply for a TOURIST visa. Please note that obtaining a visa can take weeks or even months. We strongly recommend using a visa agency, which can both expedite and simplify the process.

Generally, passports must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry and a return ticket is required.


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