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2004: Theunis Piersma

Theunis Piersma is a world-class scientist, a networker extraordinaire and an inspiring team leader. His work has been of fundamental importance to the conservation of wetland habitats. He has helped to unravel the ecological and physiological mysteries of wader migrations, and has been instrumental in justifying and promoting the conservation of key wetland ‘stepping stones’ on which these migrants depend.

Research partnerships have been a hallmark of Theunis’s research. He is a founding member of WIWO (The Netherlands Working Group for International Wader and Waterfowl Research), and has long been a leading light in the International Wader Study Group.

Among Theunis’s research contributions the most well known are his studies on the Red Knot along its many flyways. He has pursued this incredible bird through West Africa, north-west Europe, northern Australia and throughout the Americas, and the pursuit is not over.

Theunis is committed to bringing the implications of his work to the widest possible audiences. An example is his work in the Dutch Wadden Sea, where his collaborative research has highlighted the negative ecological consequences of dredging for cockles. The details of these impacts, documented in reputable research publications, were submitted as evidence to the European Court of Justice in a recent legal case. The findings of the Court ended mechanical cockle dredging in the Dutch Wadden Sea. The implications of this case throughout the European Union will be enormous – a clear case where scientific knowledge has contributed to a landmark conservation decision.