John Day Building: 2.15
Noëlle is originally from Long Island, New York in the United States. Growing up with the ocean in her backyard gave rise to an interest in marine ecology and birds, which she ultimately decided to pursue as a career. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2010 with a four-year BSc in Marine Biology, and Wildlife Conservation Biology. During her studies at URI, she spent hours behind binoculars looking for elusive seabirds off Atlantic beaches, travelled to remote islands off the coast of Maine to study seabird behaviour and to Bermuda to study marine microbiology of the Sargasso Sea. During University vacations, Noëlle worked as a field biologist for various US government organizations in such diverse fields as Grizzly Bear management in Yellowstone National Park, endangered coastal bird protection, and coastal ecosystem restoration. After graduation, with the goal of getting hands-on experience in marine conservation, she headed to the northern Netherlands where she worked as "nurse" at Zeehondencreche Lenie 't Hart (a rehabilitation centre for Common & Grey seals). In 2011, she moved to Cape Town to rehabilitate seabirds at SANCCOB, where she saw firsthand how South African seabirds can suffer from the impacts of human disturbance and climate change. Noëlle joined the Fitzpatrick Institute in 2013 to study thermoregulatory behaviour and heat tolerance in African Penguins.
African Penguins historically dug burrow nests through the layers of guano covering their colonies. However, guano collection on seabird islands in the 19th and 20th centuries led to loss of this natural habitat. Penguins are now forced to breed in surface nests or under artificial burrows where they can be susceptible to extreme weather and predation. Noëlle combines field work and laboratory experiments to better understand how African penguins deal with rising temperatures and storms while breeding. The results of her Masters will help predict how Spheniscus penguins will be affected by future climate change and to find the optimal design for artificial burrows.