Studying Reef Soundscapes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ben Williams

Hello all you cool catfish and kittens!

My name is Ben Williams and I am a member of the marine bioacoustics group led by Professor Steve Simpson in Exeter. I’ve recently finished my Masters by Research thesis and I’m now fortunate enough to be working at Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement (CRIOBE) on the island of Moorea, French Polynesia. I primarily study tropical reef soundscapes, which operates around the concept that we can learn about coral reef ecosystems simply by listening to the life on these surprisingly noisy habitats. My colleague, Isla Hely, who I’m working with here in Moorea, recently shared a blog post on the events that led up to this expedition, navigating fieldwork prep in a global pandemic, and what we’re working on. In this blog post, I’ll share a few more details on my journey over the past 18 months that led up to where we are now!

Jumping back to September 2019, I had finished my undergraduate degree, an internship with the Exeter bioacoustics group in Indonesia and a second with PhD student Lauren Henly. I was just a few days away from starting my MRes when I got a call from Steve asking if I was interested in changing my plans and joining the team for two months at Lizard Island Research Station on the Great Barrier Reef, just three weeks before departing. Needless to say, I didn’t turn this down! During this fantastic opportunity, I was able to assist more senior group members in their research whilst working on the first chapter of my MRes. I learnt so much more about marine fieldwork and gathered some great data exploring the utility of consumer grade recorders to collect soundscape recordings. During this, I of course remember hearing about the events in Wuhan, thinking “Surely this will boil over soon?”, but our naivety to the world was set to change for the foreseeable future.

I experimented with a number of new recording techniques at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef

Once I had returned and commenced the write up of my first chapter, I began putting in grant applications for the second half of my MRes. At this point, Steve made plans for me to join Isla in Mauritius where I would be able to lead a project studying a unique network of artificial reefs whilst reciprocally helping Isla with her research. Our funding bids were successful and I was days away from booking tickets to arrive in late March. However, just like everyone else’s year, these plans were turned on their head by the pandemic. So, Isla returned and we spent the next few months waiting to see if these plans were going to be possible. Sadly, the Wakashio oil spill also occurred in July, which was devastating to many of the reefs around the island and the final nail in the coffin to this expedition.

Research students were one group of many who faced challenges as a result of the pandemic, with months of preparation, work or experiments thrown out the window. I found myself having to go back to the drawing board for my second chapter. I therefore opted to explore some data I had helped the group collect previously in Indonesia. This was recorded at one of the world’s largest reef restoration projects – myself and Ellie May wrote a couple of blog posts for Exeter Marine about this work. Here we wanted to determine whether we could find a difference between healthy and degraded reef soundscapes, and whether this could be used to indicate the progress of restored sites. The project lead, Tim Gordon, had explored some really interesting angles with this data so far, and I was left scratching my head as to how I could build on this. But, through perseverance a eureka moment came when I found we were able to combine computationally generated metrics from these recordings and some complex statistical analysis skills I had learnt during my undergraduate degree. This turned out to be some of my best work to date and I was delighted to have been able to make the best of a bad situation!

Healthy and degraded reefs have very distinct soundscapes that can teach us about what’s happening in these habitats

So, after two awesome fieldwork seasons, countless hours of programming in ‘R’, learning to use new pieces of software such as GraphPad, MATLAB and Audacity, I was able to put together my 27,000 word thesis and polish this off with my supervisors Steve Simpson and Lucille Chapuis.

A prototype AudioMoth recorder that I’m testing here in Moorea

I was then immediately able to move on to work here in Moorea for the next three months, alongside Isla Hely, with the generous support of Exeter Marine, the Fisheries Society of the British Isles, and the Challenger Society for Marine Science. Here, I’m trialling some exciting new recording technology known as AudioMoths, which came about after setting up a collaboration with the developers who are helping us bring AudioMoths to the marine environment. These recorders have a lot of potential to provide an intelligent, open source, and cost effective alternative to our typically £2000+ hydrophones. I’m also studying the impacts of artificial light at night (ALAN) on reef fish as well as one or two other projects we’re keeping quiet for now! It has been brilliant to join long-term collaborators with Exeter, Suzanne Mills and Ricardo Beldade, who are leading the ALAN work here and have played a huge part in making our fieldwork happen. Myself and all involved are also very aware of how fortunate we have been to be able to commence this work, and remain very grateful to all the incredible people at the University of Exeter and CRIOBE who have made this possible!

Myself and Isla will be sharing more on our work in the coming weeks, for now you can follow me on twitter (@_ExeBen_) and Instagram (@bwilliams1995) where I’ve been posting updates on our work!

 

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, please visit our website!

Call for Entries: The Big Blue Photography Awards 2021

ExeterMarine and Fourth Element have teamed up to bring you The Big Blue Photography Awards 2021. The overall winner will be chosen from six categories and will take home a wetsuit of their choice from the fourth element range, while the runner up will receive a fourth element Storm Poncho.

Following the success of the ExeterMarine Photography Competition in 2019, which received more than 200 entries in just two weeks, the competition is once again open for entries from photographers worldwide. This year the competition has returned with a brand new name and a selection of six new categories, with each category winner receiving a fourth element Drypack, Gulper water bottle and Xerotherm Beanie Hat.

Friendly Fulmar / Lewis Jefferies

The Big Blue Photography Awards aims to showcase the planet’s beautiful maritime landscapes, wondrous marine wildlife and spectacular underwater worlds, as well as the diverse people that depend on coastal and marine ecosystems in its six unique categories:

Clifftop Thrift / Robin Fisher

SOUTH WEST SEAS
In celebration of the wonderous marine life and landscapes on our doorstep, the South West Seas category welcomes any images of marine life and landscapes captured in South West England.

BLUE BRITAIN
Any images of British marine life and landscapes are eligible. This includes the coast of the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, the Isles of Scilly, the Hebrides and the hundreds of other islands around our shores bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel and the North Sea.

Cornish Perfection / Jacob Guy

OUR GLOBAL SEAS
This category is a celebration of the planet’s wild seascapes and all that live within them. Entries can come from anywhere in the world, whether it be the warm waters of the Indian Ocean or the icy, dark depths of the Arctic.

PEOPLE AND THE SEA
From food to human health and wellbeing, recreation to livelihoods – the sea provides many vital services for people. This category welcomes images that capture the importance of the sea to people all over the world.

Anemone Crab / Jake Roberts

OCEANS UNDER THREAT
Humans have had an undeniable impact on our oceans. The Oceans Under Threat category gives photographers a platform to make a statement with their images on how humans are having an impact on the marine environment.

MARINE RESEARCH IN ACTION
Despite the many threats facing our oceans, there are a huge number of passionate and inspirational marine researchers who have dedicated their lives to improving the state of our oceans. In this category, we welcome images of these researchers in action!

Everyone is welcome to submit up to two photographs to the competition. We will showcase many of the entries on the ExeterMarine Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds throughout the next 4 weeks using the tag #BBPA2021.

The competition will close to entries at 5pm on Friday 2nd April 2021. So what are you waiting for? Submit your images here!

Fourth Element Wetsuits

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, please visit our website!

Navigating a Masters by Research Amid a Global Pandemic

Isla Hely, Masters by Research student at the University of Exeter

Hello all! My name is Isla Hely and I am a Masters by Research student at the University of Exeter under the supervision of the incredible Professor Steve Simpson.

It’s safe to say that 2020 was a bizarre year for many. I, for one, can attest to this.

My Masters journey has been anything but simple. However, after a year riddled with ups and downs, I am happy to confirm that I am writing this blog post sat in a wonderfully air-conditioned office at le Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement. In short, CRIOBE; a French research station nestled between green mountains, located on the idyllic gemstone of an island: Moorea, in French Polynesia. Fieldwork during any period of time, regardless of a pandemic, is hard enough, but with the added hurdles it took to get here, I genuinely feel so fortunate to be here, doing what I love.

Here’s my journey.

January 2020: Mauritius 
My first official field trip for my Masters by Research to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean doth commence. My main focus for this field trip was to explore communication in the reef fishes of Mauritius, with a key focus on UV markings of damselfish and mouth-brooding behaviour and vocalisation in cardinalfish. As a lone researcher and traveller, I was filled with the myriad of feelings that accompany the start of a new major chapter: excitement, nervousness and anticipation to name but a few. I was raring to go, and hungry to learn. The Mauritius expedition presented me with the opportunity not only to advance my dive training, but also to network with inspirational local reef conservation NGO’s and to work alongside the BBC and obverse, first-hand, the process of natural history documentary filmmaking.

PADI Rescue Diver Training in Mauritius

February-March 2020: COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 hits the UK, followed swiftly by Mauritius. Being 6000 miles away, I definitely felt a bit detached from my motherland. I was loosely following the progress of COVID from China to the UK, feeling rather safe and protected on my little island in the Indian Ocean. However, on the 18th March 2020, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth confirmed that there were 3 cases of COVID-19 in Mauritius. Over the next few weeks, like in many countries, the situation worsened and after discussions with my supervisor and advice from the University, I was emergency repatriated back to the UK on the 23rd March.

March-May 2020: Interruption
March to May was an incredibly tough period personally for me, resulting in me deciding to interrupt my Masters with the full support of Exeter University and my supervisor. In short, a very close family member was taken seriously ill with COVID-19. At times like these, illnesses such as COVID-19 can feel like a distant threat and humans can falsely believe that we are untouchable. This period of my life made me realise that we are quite the opposite – a fact that in its intensity is both terrifying, but simultaneously motivating. It made me think: we have one life! Following the miraculous recovery of this incredibly resilient and brave family member, I had a new drive to seize the day and jumped straight back on the bandwagon of marine research. This started with myself and my supervisor rethinking the direction of my Masters project.

May-October 2020: Collaboration & Clownfish
I truly believe that collaboration is one of the key pillars maintaining the balance in the world of science; connecting with scientists from all around the world takes what can be achieved in science to the next level. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with two brilliant, bubbly, bonkers Marine Biologists on my next venture: Dr Suzanne Mills and Dr Ricardo Beldade. This period of time involved me, sat at my desk, cup of coffee in hand, watching and analysing 100’s of hours of videos of French Polynesian clownfish, captured previously by Suzie and Ricardo. This analysis allowed me to highlight the complexities of clownish vocalisation, showing vocalisations to be highly linked with behaviour, and proving that these charismatic fish are in fact a whole lot more tuneful than suggested by the current literature.

French Polynesian clownfish

November-December 2020: The Next Step – French Polynesia
Following the exciting discoveries of my first chapter, I was looking to the horizon and thinking ‘what’s next?’. This is where Dr Mills and Dr Beldade saved the day (AGAIN!). I was very kindly invited to join them in French Polynesia on an Artificial Light At Night (ALAN) project, working with the same tuneful heroes from my first chapter: the orange-fin anemone fish (Amphiprion chrysopterus). Understanding the impacts we, as humans, have on our surrounding natural environment and the species we coexist with, is what drives me in my journey in science. In understanding the impacts we have, we can alter the course of these impacts and mitigate against them to better improve our environment. My aim with this project is to comprehend that first step of understanding the impact we have, with a focus on light as the anthropogenic stressor in question.

Setting up cameras to record Orange-fin anemonefish behaviour

My next few months here will be a busy old time. Throughout my three month field season here, my time will be split up with many a day in the field (or ‘sur le terrain’ as they say here!) come sunshine or rain, many a day in the workshop learning how to use various tools and thinking creatively about how to optimise GOPRO positioning to effectively capture clownfish behaviour, as well as many hours spent talking and networking with my fellow researchers at the station and learning about the innovative and inspiring projects that are going on here. I honestly just can’t wait to get stuck in.

I hope you will join me on my French Polynesian scientific adventures, if you are keen, please follow me on Twitter: helyyy_i for all updates from tropical Moorea.

Mauururu (thank you in Polynesian!)

 

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, please visit our website!

Women in Science: 30 Inspirational Women in ExeterMarine

Today is International Day Of Women and Girls in Science! To celebrate, we have created a series of profiles highlighting 30 ExeterMarine women leading the way in health, science, engineering and technology.

Professor Annette Broderick 

Annette’s research focuses on the exploitation and status of marine vertebrate populations, in particular marine turtles, utilising satellite tracking and mark and recapture to understand the thermal ecology, sex ratios, habitat use, navigational abilities, growth rates and fecundity of individuals. Annette also runs a long-term field study of the marine turtle populations in Cyprus, on which many of our undergraduate students volunteer.

“Annette was the best PhD supervisor I could have wished for. She inspired me, pushed me, supported me, and made me laugh throughout. Alongside running research and projects around the the world, Annette supports a huge range of students, staff and volunteers, not only in science but with care and support. She will forever be my science matriarch.”

Jennifer Finlay 

Jennifer is on a 4 year BBSRC SWBio DTP studentship in partnership with Ocean Matters Ltd., looking to optimize the production of lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus), a cleaner fish used to reduce sea lice prevalence in salmon farms. She is looking at how the water chemistry in which lumpfish are raised affects their physiology and behaviour, and how farmers could manipulate water chemistry to improve growth and welfare, and their effectiveness as a solution to the sea lice problem in salmon farms.

“Jennifer is the Biosciences PGR rep, a great source of energy and positivity in our community at Exeter, and a great friend – which in the past 12 months has been especially appreciated and valued. While also completing a PhD relating to aquaculture of lumpfish, she has been at the forefront of helping to foster a healthier community in Biosciences, which is just as significant a contribution to the productivity of our group!”

Image result for dr xiaoya maDr Xiaoya Ma

Dr Xiaoya Ma is a Chinese Palaeontologist working on exceptionally preserved Cambrian fossils. A Senior Research Fellow, her primary research interest is to understand the origin and early evolution of animal life.

“Xiaoya is amazing. Despite the challenges of balancing the pandemic, family life, online educating, and researching in both the UK and China, she continues to astound all with the amazing insights into ancient marine life forms from the fossil record. This she does with an infectiously, positive verve, second to none.”

Jiaxin Chen

Jiaxin Chen is a PhD student in the Renewable Energy department working under the supervision of Dr Ian Ashton and Professor Lars Johnanning. Her PhD thesis refers to developing met-ocean modelling alongside algorithms for predicting the navigation and operation of autonomous offshore marine systems. Her research will explore methods to integrate measured data into wider spatial data from met-ocean models and satellite earth observation for the management of autonomous systems offshore, and the met-ocean model will also be studied in exploring the autonomous systems to be more intelligent.

“Jiaxin has continually applied models, re-assessed and improved her approach. Even when results appear good, she never hesitates in trying to achieve better. With this enthusiasm and application, she is finding effective methods to improve how we think of marine data and how it can be provided. This has real potential to improve safety and reduce costs for offshore wind farms as well as opening new possibilities for autonomous marine systems.”

Dr Sarah Nelms

Sarah is a Postdoctoral Research Associate within the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation. Her research focuses on the issue of plastic pollution within marine and coastal environments, and its impacts on marine vertebrates such as turtles, seabirds and marine mammals.

“Recently, Sarah led a large team of researchers from around the world in reviewing the scientific literature on the conservation of marine mammals, producing an article that will guide marine mammal conservation for years to come. I am continually inspired by Sarah’s dedication to communicate her science to the public, and her commitment to always giving her best. Her high standards and dependable leadership sets a great example for researchers of all career stages; both women and men alike.”

Hind Al Ameri 

Hind Al Ameri is a PhD Researcher, mainly looking at the impacts of climate change on hawksbill turtles in Abu Dhabi.

“Hind is a shining light for marine conservation in the Arabian Gulf. A committed government scientist for her home government of Abu Dhabi, she is formalising much of her work over the last few years into a PhD study. In doing so, she is working very hard to share scientific information across her region as well as raising environmental awareness with a dedicated approach to outreach activities.”

 

 

 

Dr Sophie Nedelec

Dr Sophie Nedelec is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with an interest in sensory ecology and human impacts on the environment. Much of her work has focused on the impacts of anthropogenic noise on the reproduction and survival of fish.

“Sophie is a highly creative ExeterMarine scientist, leading ground-breaking research into impacts of noise in the oceans, offering outstanding support to undergraduate and postgraduate students, managing an international industry-funded initiative to revolutionise how we measure underwater acoustics, and delivering a wonderful module on how we communicate science to the public, all the while home-schooling her two amazing kids and lighting up Zoom meetings with her infectious sense of fun.”

Dr Joanna Alfaro

Dr Joanna Alfaro is a Peruvian conservation biologist, Director of the Peruvian NGO Pro Delphinus, and an Associate Researcher with the University of Exeter. She and her team conduct important research focused on small-scale fisheries. 

“Joanna is unflappable, resourceful, tenacious and always open to new challenges and new collaborations. She has become a recognised leader in marine conservation in Peru and has fostered the careers of many young marine biologists. Joanna is equally at home working alongside fisherman, conducting field research, or promoting conservation on the world stage.”

 

 

Dr Louisa Evans  Dr Louisa Evans 

Louisa is an interdisciplinary social scientist with interests in environmental governance and international development, primarily but not exclusively in coastal and marine systems.

“Louisa is an excellent scientist who’s always at the forefront of the really important questions in marine social science, she is great at bringing together interdisciplinary teams, and in her research she finds creative ways to elevate the voices of people in coastal communities.”

 

Image result for dr emily duncanDr Emily Duncan

Dr Emily Duncan is a Postdoctoral Researcher within the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation. Emily studies the impacts of plastic pollution on marine life including sea turtles. Her work has taken her all over the globe, from Cyprus to the Ganges River to Australia.

“Emily is contributing to excellent, crucial research on the effects of plastic pollution on marine vertebrates around the world, as recognised by the Queen’s Anniversary Prize awarded the University in 2019. Extremely hard-working but also very supportive and kind-hearted, Emily has been a role model for me and many others through her progression from undergraduate to post-doc.”

Catherine Lee Hing

Catherine Lee Hing is a talented MSc student, exploring the potential effects of climate change and plastic pollution on marine megafauna.

“In 2020, Catherine was awarded the Sir Geoffrey Holland Prize for holding a Women in Conservation Symposium, celebrating equality and diversity in conservation. Catherine inspires others to overcome societal obstacles and demonstrates great passion and enthusiasm to translate science-based results into marine conservation and policy.”

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Rita Patricio

Rita is a marine ecologist and her research focuses on several aspects of marine turtle ecology, including understanding migratory paths and connectivity, prevalence and impacts of Fibropapillomatosis disease, population dynamics and trends, and also on investigating climate change impacts on nesting populations. Her recent work in West Africa has also a strong focus on conservation and community engagement and capacity building.

“Rita is a force of nature and is truly a joy to work with. Fiercely intelligent and rigorous in her approach to work but kind and joyous with all that work with her in the field, laboratory or the office. Sea turtles and marine conservation have a truly wonderful champion in Dr Rita Patricio.”

Dr Ana Nuno

Dr Ana Nuno is an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter. Ana conducts interdisciplinary research at the interface of social and natural science for addressing sustainability challenges, with a focus on better understanding social dimensions of resource use to inform conservation initiatives. She specializes in delivering collaborative research (e.g. with resource users, local and international NGOs, governmental agencies) with on-the-ground impact.

Ana is particularly interested in the application of tools from multiple disciplines to conservation and in developing novel techniques to achieve a better understanding of the dynamics of social-ecological systems. Her work focuses on bringing together ecological and social data into unified frameworks, as an essential way of fully understanding and addressing conservation issues.

“Ana is truly inspirational in her commitment to true interdisciplinary methods to afford insights into effective conservation. In addition, her commitment to capacity building and mentorship is remarkable. This she effects with quiet, understated charisma that inspires confidence and trust in community members, natural resource managers and academics around her.”

Dr Krista Sherman

Dr Krista Sherman is a marine scientist with more than 10 years of research and conservation experience. She completed a PhD in Biological Sciences at the University of Exeter and is the first Bahamian female with a PhD in the marine sciences.

“Krista has made it her mission to defend and conserve the overfished Nassau grouper across The Bahamas. Krista came to Exeter for her PhD to train in a range of techniques to better understand the ecology of the Nassau grouper. She has since taken her substantial scientific expertise back to the Bahamas, and now drives a range of public engagement, fisheries and conservation initiatives.”

 

 

 

 

Jen Jones

Jen Jones is a marine biologist, conservationist and marine iguana fanatic researching the impact of plastic pollution on the Galapagos Islands. University of Exeter PhD student and Galapagos Conservation Trust Project Manager; she is a wonder multitasker!

“The most impressive thing about Jen is her strength. She never gives up and always knows what her goals are for any given project. From helping to write multi-million dollar grant applications to sieving sand for hours in 35 degree heat, she works tirelessly to fight for better for the Galapagos Islands, their conservation and for the people there too. She’s a great scientist, passionate conservationist, and a wonderful person.”

“Jen is an all-round awesome person. Always there to have a laugh with when the going gets tough and simply the best fieldwork buddy there is out there. She’s an incredible researcher and has been a mentor to so many of us in the Galloway/Lewis lab group. We’re incredibly lucky to have her.”

Dr Katy Sheen 

Dr Katy Sheen is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography. Using both observations and models, she is interested in how the physical processes within our Earths climate system  work, and how they may respond to a changing climate.

“A lot of Katy’s work has focussed on the Southern Ocean and more recently on the Sahel region of Africa, but whether she’s in the field collecting data, or teaching students here in Cornwall, she never fails to inspire others with her dedication, positive energy and inquisitive mind.”

Prof Lora FlemingProfessor Lora Fleming

Professor Lora Fleming is a Physician and Epidemiologist. She is the Director of the ECEHH, Chair of Oceans, Epidemiology and Human Health for the University of Exeter and also the principle investigator for the Seas, Oceans and Public Health in Europe project (SOPHIE).

BlueHealth initiatives and SOPHIE are funded by Horizon 2020, involving communities of interdisciplinary experts. After many years working in a public health department as a physician and epidemiologist, becoming increasingly interested in health interactions with the environment, Lora was key in bringing oceans and human health together as a field in America with the aim of focusing on potential benefits, rather than just risks that the natural environment can offer to human health. This then brought her to the UK with European funding presenting the opportunity to start the ECEHH within the medical school in Truro.

“Lora leads a thriving centre which has an amazing supportive culture. She pushes for interdisciplinary working, linking the environment and human health, and has been instrumental in pushing forward the Oceans and Human Health agenda in Europe.”

Dr Lucy Hawkes

Lucy is a physiological ecologist, whose work focuses on the costs and drivers of migration in animals (vertebrates and invertebrates) using emergent technologies such as satellite telemetry, heart rate logging, accelerometry and metabolic rate measurements. Lucy uses technical approaches including biologging, spatial ecology, remote sensing and respirometry to make empirical measurements that help in the understanding of amazing migratory performances. Her work has also investigated the impact of external forcing factors, such as climate change and disease ecology on migration and breeding ecology.

“Lucy is a beacon of how to mentor people in science to do the very best they can. Through the highs and lows that science, academia and fieldwork can bring to all of us, Lucy sees through the challenges and recognises what is important – the quality of science and the emotional and physical welfare of her team. No challenge is too much to undertake, she is fearless in her fieldwork, a dedicated mentor and an amazing scientist.”

Professor Heather Koldewey

Professor Heather Koldewey is a marine biologist and conservationist who has done inspirational work to help protect vulnerable marine species and reduce plastic pollution in ocean habitats.

“Heather has been at the forefront of numerous pioneering projects such as Net-works, Project Seahorse and One Less as well as a leader of the National Geographic “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition and Bertarelli Foundation’s BIOT MPA programme. Heather is a wonderful role model for female marine conservationists due to her passion and skill of inclusivity of local communities to solutions. And on top of this she is brilliant fun to work with!”

Dr Beth O’Leary

Beth O’Leary is a Post-doctoral research fellow in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation. She is a talented young scientist who has dedicated her career to undertaking high-quality strategic research to underpin ocean conservation.

“Beth is undertaking a series of ground-breaking studies which are already leading to real world changes in policy. These include:

1) Making the scientific case for protection of half a million square kilometres of the North Atlantic in 2010 in the world’s first (and still only) network of high seas marine protected areas.

2) Revealing the gross mismanagement of European fisheries by politicians. Over the course of 25 years of the Common Fisheries Policy, she found that fisheries ministers set Total Allowable Catches on average a third higher than scientific advice, guaranteeing overfishing and proving their culpability in stock declines.

3) Conducting research which underpinned a motion passed at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii in 2016, which argues for a new target of 30% of the sea to be protected by 2030 which is now gaining massive political traction.

4) Undertaking pioneering science on the application of marine protected areas to international waters and supporting an ongoing process at the United Nations to amend the Law of the Sea to allow the creation of high seas protected areas. She has given invited presentations to UN delegates about scientific understanding of the high seas on two occasions.”

Dr Jo Browse

Jo is a lecturer in Physical Geography with a background in physics and computational science. She is a climate and atmospheric modeler interested in Arctic atmospheric composition and develops complex models to forecast the evolving Arctic environment.

Jo’s overarching research goal is to understand how different components of the Arctic climate system (ice, ocean, atmosphere, vegetation etc.) will change and interact to accelerate or mitigate Arctic warming through positive and negative ‘climate feedbacks’. She studies the coupled climate system in the Arctic using complex models and an expanding network of Arctic real-world observations to quantify and constrain model uncertainty.

“Jo has been successful in securing NERC and UKRI grants, and recently contributed to a number of high-profile papers, for example, in the journal Science Advances.”

Dr Lucy Omeyer

Lucy is a Post-doctoral research associate within the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation, working as lead research scientist on two projects focusing on bycatch mitigation strategies.

“Lucy is one of those individuals who quietly works away at something, figuring out how to tackle a problem, learning new methods and always produces excellent work. She is a fantastic scientist, super efficient and very hard-working.”

 

 

 

 

Dr Tessa Gordelier

Tessa’s research interests lie in the development of the marine renewable energy sector. Her research has a particular focus on component reliability assessment and the development of novel solutions for the sector. Much of her work has revolved around mooring systems for highly dynamic floating MRE devices, with her PhD Thesis entitled “Enhancing Wave Energy Developments through Mooring System Reliability Assessment”. This work involved a significant amount of physical testing utilising both the Dynamic Marine Component Test Facility (DMaC) and the South West Mooring Test Facility (SWMTF), in addition to collaboration with IFREMER through the Marinet Programme.

Tessa now works linking businesses in Cornwall with research and innovation in the marine sector. Her recent work has enabled Cornish company, Morek Engineering, to create innovative software to streamline the development of seafastening designs for the offshore renewables market.

Dr Ruth Thurstan

Ruth’s work in the UK and Australia has made use of a variety of sources and techniques to better understand the scale and drivers of ecological change, and the consequences of such change for the users of these ecosystems, with a particular focus on finfish and shellfish fisheries. These include government statistical records, popular media, oral history interviews, maritime charts, and underwater coring and in-situ survey methods.

“Ruth Thurstan is an inspiring leader in a new field: marine historical ecology. Her work is best compared to that of a detective, piecing together how the oceans once looked based on multiple sources of fragmentary evidence. Like the best fictional detectives, to succeed you need keen instincts for where to find the evidence, a polymath’s understanding of many disciplines, and an artist’s sensitivity as to how to fit it all together. Ruth’s hunting grounds take in endless columns of fisheries statistics, dusty and rarely visited library shelves, newspaper archives, oral histories and dog eared photographs among many others.”

Veronica Zuccolo

Veronica Zuccolo graduated from the University of Exeter MSc Conservation and Biodiversity programme in 2020 and was awarded an ExeterMarine grant to pursue her passion researching sharks in Latin America.

“Veronica’s passion and interest in shark biology is truly inspiring, and her determination to complete her project, investigating sales of endangered sharks in Brazil – throughout a global pandemic, is amazing!”

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Rachel Turner 

Rachel is an environmental social scientist focusing on marine resource governance and coastal communities. Her research focuses on understanding how socio-economic and environmental contexts drive resource use behaviour and have implications for management and governance systems. She is interested in the dynamics of social-ecological systems and how resource users respond to change, and she is committed to interdisciplinary research addressing challenges of sustainable natural resource management. Recent research has explored marine resource dependence and identification of supportive governance structures for effective Caribbean coral reef management. Her current work in the UK focuses on wellbeing of fishers and fishing communities with a focus on health.

Dr Liliana Colman

Liliana is a marine ecologist and her research focuses on several aspects of marine turtle ecology, including both in-water research and work conducted on nesting beaches. Her current research involves studying the ecology of leatherback sea turtles in Brazil, through the use of diverse techniques such as PIT tagging, stable isotopes, temperature and sex ratios and population dynamics.

“Liliana’s research has contributed greatly to our knowledge of the ecology of marine turtles in Brazil. Lili is an inspiration for her perseverance and hard work, her natural ability to connect with people and her passion for marine conservation. She is a great role model for students and younger researchers pursuing their dream to become an academic conservation scientist.”

Lowenna Jones

Lowenna is a University of Exeter MbyRes graduate, specialising in marine plastic pollution. In addition to conducting her masters by research investigating the source, fate and distribution of microplastics in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Ocean basins, she co-organised the Sail Against Plastic expedition – a pioneering scientific research voyage with the aim of  raising awareness and collecting data on plastic contamination in the Arctic.

“Lowenna is incredibly passionate about the conservation of our oceans. Determined, driven and very hard-working, she never fails to rise to new challenges. She is a brilliant role model for young marine conservationists, and I look forward to seeing what else she achieves in her career.”

Dr Eva Jimenez-Guri Dr Eva Jimenez-Guri

Eva is an Evolutionary and Ecological Developmental biologist interested in understanding the effect that plastic contamination can have on embryo development in the marine environment. She looks at the developmental abnormalities derived from this contamination from a morphological and molecular perspective, to understand how this is affecting the survival and fitness of marine organisms.

“Eva is a fiercely passionate researcher, focusing on work at the cross-road of developmental biology and marine plastic pollution. She has inspired, supported and encouraged me through my development from an under-graduate to a post-graduate researcher and I am continually amazed by her compassion, motivation and knowledge as a scientist whilst balancing motherhood and all that it means to be female.”

Dr Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Earle is a marine biologist who has led pioneering research on marine ecosystems.

“Sylvia is a living legend, having spent weeks underwater, including in submarines and underwater living pods. She is currently the National Geographic Researcher in Residence, and has campaigned fearlessly for ocean conservation over many decades. She speaks with authority, passion, wonder and joy, and continues to inspire new generations of marine biologists and conservationists through her magical films and books. Sylvia is a keen advocate of the work in ExeterMarine on coral reef restoration, including the use of acoustic enrichment to accelerate recovery of fish populations.”

 

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, please visit our website!

Juntos podemos? Promover ações para a conservação marinha

Autora – Dr Ana Nuno

Uma pequena ilha remota e pouco conhecida situada no Golfo da Guiné, ao largo da costa da África Central, Príncipe (São Tomé e Príncipe) e a sua população dependem fortemente da pesca artesanal. Quando as comunidades piscatórias da ilha nos dizem que têm de viajar mais longe, passar mais tempo no mar e aumentar a quantidade de equipamento de pesca para obter quantidades semelhantes de peixe que costumavam capturar perto da costa há alguns anos, isto soa muito familiar. Estes problemas são sentidos em muitas zonas costeiras por todo o mundo e podem ser particularmente graves em pequenos estados insulares em desenvolvimento, onde os recursos para a gestão são escassos e as pessoas geralmente têm acesso limitado a outras oportunidades.

Uma comunidade piscatória no Príncipe / Dário Pequeno Paraíso

As comunidades piscatórias são cruciais na abordagem de questões de conservação em todo o mundo. A participação das partes interessadas e a co-gestão das pescas têm sido reconhecidas como abordagens-chave, particularmente quando a execução é um desafio devido à capacidade limitada do Estado. Mas como podemos promover ações individuais e apoiar medidas que melhorem os ecossistemas marinhos? Alguns poderão dizer que precisamos de empoderar as partes interessadas. O empoderamento tornou-se um conceito popular em conservação mas, embora bem intencionado, é muitas vezes utilizado como uma palavra da moda com alegações pouco claras. Como podemos avançar para além desta palavra da moda em conservação?

comerciantes de peixe e pescadores a puxar um barco / Dário Pequeno Paraíso

Centrando-se na conservação marinha e pesca artesanal no Príncipe, o nosso novo artigo científico publicado na revista Conservation Letters identifica os principais determinantes do empoderamento psicológico para a conservação e explora as possíveis implicações para a gestão de recursos. Feito como parte de um projeto financiado pela Darwin Initiative e em parceria com a Fundação Príncipe (uma ONG baseada na ilha), esta investigação incorporou discussões de grupos focais e questionários a agregados familiares (869 pessoas entrevistadas numa ilha com cerca de 8000 residentes!). Recolhemos informações sobre, por exemplo, características individuais e do agregado familiar; utilização de recursos naturais; perceções sobre possíveis intervenções; e múltiplos componentes de empoderamento (por exemplo, governação, liberdade de escolha & ação, participação, controlo e colaboração).

Questionários no Príncipe / Litoney Matos

Constatámos que era mais provável as pessoas acreditarem que poderiam pessoalmente fazer uma diferença na proteção do ambiente marinho na ilha se também: sentissem que a aplicação das leis pelo estado estava a desempenhar um papel ativo, tinham níveis mais elevados de liberdade de escolha e ação individual, e acreditavam que as suas comunidades poderiam, coletivamente, melhorar os resultados. Os entrevistados que responderam “não sei” sobre a atual condição do ambiente marinho na ilha foram menos propensos a acreditar que poderiam fazer a diferença do que aqueles que acreditaram que as condições do ambiente marinho permaneceram as mesmas, piores ou melhores do que antes.

Considerando potenciais intervenções, as pessoas que consideram ter níveis mais elevados de influência sobre a conservação marinha eram as mais propensas a recomendar medidas específicas (por exemplo, criação de áreas de pesca interdita). Isto sugere ligações entre empoderamento e a aceitação social de potenciais intervenções específicas.

Porque é que isto importa? O envolvimento em projetos de conservação pode ser influenciado pela crença nas capacidades individuais para alcançar a mudança. Havendo agora um novo projecto na ilha liderado pela FFI e destinado a estabelecer a primeira rede de áreas marinhas protegidas no país, esta informação é crucial para compreender como envolver significativamente as comunidades locais e outras partes interessadas. Isto é essencial para identificar visões comuns e trabalhar em colaboração para as alcançar. Como esta investigação demonstra, isto pode exigir a abordagem de várias questões diferentes mas que andam de mãos dadas (por exemplo, acesso a oportunidades, sensibilização sobre as condições dos ecossistemas marinhos e reforço da aplicação da lei), para que as pessoas acreditem que a sua contribuição pode realmente fazer a diferença. Embora o envolvimento e a participação sejam definitivamente necessários, são essenciais as condições adequadas para que estes deem frutos.

Se quiser saber mais informações sobre este projeto em Príncipe, consulte o nosso website e veja o nosso vídeo para dar um passeio por esta ilha fantástica!

 

Together We Can? Promoting Action for Marine Conservation

AuthorDr Ana Nuno

A remote and poorly known small island located in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Central Africa, Príncipe (São Tomé & Príncipe) and its people rely heavily on small scale fisheries. When fishing communities on the island tell us that they have to travel farther away, spend more time at sea and increase the amount of fishing gear to get similar amounts of fish that they used to catch near the coast some years ago, it all sounds too familiar. These problems are felt in many coastal areas all over the world and can be particularly severe in small-island developing states, where resources for management are scarce and people often have limited access to other opportunities.

A fishing community in Príncipe / Dário Pequeno Paraíso

Fishing communities are crucial in addressing conservation issues worldwide. Stakeholder participation and fisheries co-management have been recognised as key approaches, particularly when enforcement is challenging due to limited state capacity. But how can we promote individual action and support for measures that improve marine ecosystems? Some might say we need to empower stakeholders. Empowerment has become a popular concept in conservation but, while well-meant, it is often used as a buzzword with unclear claims. How can we move beyond the conservation buzzword?

Fish traders and fisher pulling a boat / Dário Pequeno Paraíso

Focusing on marine conservation and small-scale fisheries in Príncipe, our new paper published in Conservation Letters identifies key determinants of psychological empowerment towards conservation and explores potential management implications. Done as part of a Darwin Initiative project and in partnership with Fundação Príncipe (an NGO based on the island), this research incorporated focus group discussions and household questionnaires (869 people interviewed on an island with around 8000 residents!). We gathered information on, for example, individual and household characteristics; use of natural resources; perceptions about potential interventions; and multiple components of empowerment (e.g. governance, freedom of choice and action, participation, control and collaboration).

Questionnaires in Príncipe / Litoney Matos

We found that people were more likely to believe they could personally make a difference towards protecting the marine environment on the island if they also: felt state law enforcement was currently playing an active role, had higher levels of individual freedom of choice and action, and believed their communities could, collectively, improve outcomes. Respondents who answered “don’t know” about the current marine environment condition on the island were less likely to believe they could make a difference than those who believed the marine environment conditions had remained the same, worse, or better than before.

Considering potential interventions, people with higher levels of self-perceived influence over marine conservation were more likely to recommend specific measures (e.g. creating no-fishing areas). This suggests linkages between psychological empowerment and social acceptability of specific potential interventions.

Why does this matter? Engagement in conservation projects may be influenced by the belief of one’s own abilities to achieve change. As a follow-up project led by FFI and aimed at establishing the first network of marine protected areas in the country now takes place, this information is crucial for understanding how to meaningfully engage local communities and other stakeholders. This is needed for identifying common visions and collaboratively working towards achieving them. As this research shows, this might require tackling several different issues that go hand-in-hand (e.g. access to opportunities, awareness about condition of marine ecosystems and enhancing enforcement), so that people believe their contributions can actually make a difference. While engagement and participation are definitely needed, suitable conditions are essential for those to bear fruit.

If you’d like to find out more info about this project in Príncipe, check out our website and watch our video to take a stroll through this fantastic island!

 

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, please visit our website!

The BlueHealth Project – Linking Blue Spaces with Human Well-being

AuthorDr Jo Garrett

Over the last four years, researchers from across Europe have been collaborating on a multi-disciplinary project investigating the links between blue spaces and human health and well-being.

The project is now coming to an end and we have produced a BlueHealth Benefits resource which provides a snapshot of the evidence we’ve collected to date, including useful links and the challenges and opportunities urban blue spaces may face in the future.

What are blue spaces?

In the BlueHealth project, we define blue spaces as outdoor environments–either natural or manmade–that prominently feature water and are accessible to people. This can range from an ornamental fountain in an urban park to rivers, lakes and seas. The BlueHealth project also explored the potential uses of virtual blue environments.

Gwithian, Cornwall

Why blue spaces?

There is growing evidence that living near or visiting natural environments has benefits for health and well-being. These benefits may also be particularly important for people living in towns and cities where exposure to nature can be limited. However, this research tended to focus on green spaces and much less was known about the links between blue spaces and health. The BlueHealth project therefore had a particular focus on blue spaces in urban areas.

Hong Kong

How did we go about the research?

The BlueHealth project had several components utilising a range of methodologies. These included large scale data analyses, linking blue spaces and population level health outcomes; experiments which improved the access and quality of blue spaces; experiments with virtual blue spaces; assessing the qualities of existing urban blue projects around the world and exploring future scenarios of blue spaces. BlueHealth has also produced a range of tools to make comparable assessments of urban blue spaces before and after any proposed changes to help with decision making and management.

BlueHealth carried out a bespoke 18-country survey focused on the recreational use of blue spaces and the relationship with human health. The survey included questions about how often people visit different natural environments including a range of blue and green spaces. We also explored a specific visit to a blue space in detail, asking people about their most recent visit, what the environment was like and a whole range of questions about the visit. We are using this to explore how well-being outcomes from a visit are related to these different aspects.

Wimbleball Lake

BlueHealth has also investigated how a series of small-scale interventions that aimed to improve access to blue spaces have affected recreational use, physical activity and mental wellbeing. In Spain, we found that people living in a more deprived area of Barcelona did more physical activity after public access to a major urban river network was improved. In Plymouth, working in partnership with the local council, we improved facilities and access to an urban beach and found this was associated with higher well-being for people living in the area.

Teats Hill urban beach regeneration site, Plymouth

BlueHealth has also explored how virtual environments might be used in health and social care settings to boost wellbeing for those less able to visit blue spaces. Researchers have designed computer generated interactive virtual blue spaces and also explored the use of 360 video, filmed in Cornwall.

What are the benefits?

Blue spaces can have direct effects on the physical environment, such as providing habitat for wildlife, regulating urban temperatures, which may be particularly important as the climate warms, and regulating water quality. The BlueHealth project was particularly focused on how blue spaces can help to address a broad range of societal challenges such as lack of exercise, poor mental health, and health inequalities. Our large-scale data analyses have found that those living closer to the coast report better general and mental health and more physical activity [1-5] and that the benefits are greater for those on low incomes or in more deprived areas. On a smaller scale, our research has also found that short walks in urban blue spaces from work can have benefits for health and wellbeing [6] and that underwater blue environments can reduce boredom [7].

Blue future

The world is undergoing rapid climatic, environmental and societal change, and our blue spaces face challenges in the future. However, the BlueHealth project has increased the recognition of the importance of blue spaces, the word “BlueHealth” was even considered for addition into the dictionary this year. BlueHealth has developed evidence and tools helping to ensure a healthy blue future.

Sweden

Resources:

BlueHealth Website

BlueHealth Publications

BlueHealth Tools

BlueHealth in the Guardian

References

1. Garrett, J.K., et al., Coastal proximity and mental health among urban adults in England: The moderating effect of household income. Health & Place, 2019: p. 102200.

2. Garrett, J.K., et al., Urban nature and physical activity: Investigating associations using self-reported and accelerometer data and the role of household income. Environmental Research, 2020. 190: p. 109899.

3. Garrett, J.K., et al., Urban blue space and health and wellbeing in Hong Kong: Results from a survey of older adults. Health & Place, 2019. 55: p. 100-110.

4. Pasanen, T.P., et al., Neighbourhood blue space, health and wellbeing: The mediating role of different types of physical activity. Environment International, 2019. 131: p. 105016.

5. Hooyberg, A., et al., General health and residential proximity to the coast in Belgium: Results from a cross-sectional health survey. Environmental Research, 2020: p. 109225.

6. Vert, C., et al., Physical and mental health effects of repeated short walks in a blue space environment: A randomised crossover study. Environmental Research, 2020. 188: p. 109812.

7. Yeo, N.L., et al., What is the best way of delivering virtual nature for improving mood?: An experimental comparison of high definition TV, 360º video, and computer generated virtual reality. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2020: p. 101500.

 

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, please visit our website!

Exeter Marine Podcast: Theraputic Benefits of Nature and Virtual Reality – with Alex Smalley

In this episode we were joined by Alex Smalley to discuss his role as a science communicator, his PhD work on digital natural environments and how these can play a part in psychological restoration.

 

About our guest:

Alex Smalley is a science communicator and PhD student. Alex heads up the science communication for the BlueHealth and SOPHIE (Seas, Oceans & Public Health in Europe) projects, based out the ECEHH (European Centre for Environment & Human Health). He aims to enhance awareness and impact of this work across Europe. 

In his PhD Alex is investigating how immersion digital nature could be used for therapeutic purposes. This is funded through the Wellcome Centre and aims to use technology to develop an effective therapeutic intervention to reach those who might face barriers in connecting with physical natural environments. 

 

 

© BBC Radio 4

 

Topics discussed:

  • Alex’s career journey, science communication experience and current work.
  • A BBC soundscape experiment through the Forest 404 programme.
  • The impact that nature can have on psychological restoration, both in the real world and in virtual reality.

 

Resources:

Virtual Nature study

The Forest 404 experiment

Alex’s ECEHH profile

Alex’s BlueHealth profile

Alex’s SOPHIE profile

 

Episode and show notes produced by Ben Toulson and Katie Finnimore.

Check out other episodes of the podcast here.

You can subscribe on most podcast apps, if you’re feeling kind please leave us a review!

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Emily Easman or visit our website!

World Oyster Day MSc Graduate in Focus: Celine Gamble

Today, for World Oyster Day, we meet Celine Gamble, MSc Biodiversity and Conservation (2017) and BSc Zoology (2015) graduate, now working as a Project Manager at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Celine on a visit to an oyster farm on Angle Bay, Wales /ZSL

Hi Celine! Why don’t you tell us a bit about what you are up to now?

I am a Project Manager in the Conservation and Policy department at ZSL and Visiting Researcher at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Marine Sciences. I work within the ZSL Estuaries and Wetlands team, which has a varied programme of marine conservation projects, including marine habitat restoration and monitoring of marine species, such as sharks and seals, in the River Thames and outer Thames Estuaries.

During my current role I manage a new project, Wild Oysters, and a Network of restoration practitioners around the UK & Ireland. I work closely with a range of stakeholders including NGO’s, academics, oystermen, government agencies and community groups. My role is very varied, including a mix of physical restoration, science communication, networking, and scientific research.

Find out more about the ZSL Marine and Freshwater Conservation projects here.

A Native Oyster Reef in France /Stephane Pouvreau

In celebration of World Oyster Day, it would be great to understand more about native oysters and why we need to restore them?

The European native oyster (Ostrea edulis) is the only true oyster species that is native to our UK coastlines. Native oysters once formed vast reefs along the coastlines of Europe, forming a dominant ecological feature of our coastal marine habitat.

Despite being relatively small in size (5-11cm), oysters are capable of making some big changes in our marine environment! For that reason, I like to think of them as little superheroes of the sea. A single oyster can filter ~200 litres of seawater per day, which can improve both water quality and clarity. The unique three-dimensional habitats created by oysters support a higher biodiversity of species than the surrounding seabed. Oyster reefs can also increase fish production, by providing a protective nursery ground for juveniles.

Native oyster reefs are now among the most threatened marine habitats in Europe. In the UK and Ireland populations have declined by 95%, as a result of historic overfishing, pollution, and disease. You can still see some remnant populations in the south east of England, west coast of Scotland and the south coast of Ireland. Due to the vast decline of the species, native oysters need active restoration method in order to prevent the species from becoming functionally extinct.

Please could you tell us a little more about what ZSL doing towards Oyster restoration?

Today on World Oyster Day we are very excited to be launching an exciting new marine habitat restoration project in the UK. ZSL along with partners, Blue Marine Foundation and British Marine, we have been awarded £1.18m to deliver the Wild Oysters project.

Wild Oysters is aiming to recover native oyster populations in the UK, and in turn bring back the ecosystem services they provide. Bringing conservation and industry together we will make a space for nature within marina sites. By installing oyster nurseries suspended underneath marina pontoons, we will release the next generation of oyster larvae to the seabed. The oyster larvae will then settle across three new oyster reefs created in British estuaries. In addition, the oyster nurseries will provide us with a “unique window into the ocean” acting as an engagement and education tool.

ZSL are co-founders of the Native Oyster Network, along with the University of Portsmouth, aiming to facilitate the ecologically coherent and collaborative approach to native oyster restoration in the UK & Ireland. ZSL also chair the Essex Native Oyster Restoration Initiative (ENORI), a collaboration between oystermen, government, conservationists and academia. Working towards the Essex estuaries having self-sustaining populations of native oysters, increased biodiversity and sustainable fisheries whilst recognising their cultural importance.

Osytermen in Essex who are part of the ENORI project /ZSL
Oyster reef deployment in Essex as part of ENORI project /ZSL

How did your studies at the University of Exeter shape where you work today?

I have developed a focused interest in the restoration of unique marine habitats around the UK. Many of these habitats such as seagrass beds, kelp forests, saltmarshes, and oyster reefs, are often overlooked. I developed a passion for both science communication and marine conservation whilst working and studying at the University of Exeter. My interests and skillset have been developed throughout my degrees, from carrying out UK based marine fieldwork, learning to dive in Cornwall and the extracurricular opportunities available at the university.

During my master’s I had an introduction to many different marine NGO’s and researchers via the Marine Biodiversity and Conservation module. I met Dr Heather Koldewey, who at the time was the Head of ZSL Marine and Freshwater, through this module. I later approached her to be my MSc thesis supervisor, which meant that I learnt a lot more about her research and the wider work of her team.

Any advice for anyone looking to pursue a career in marine conservation?

Reaching out to contacts that you have built throughout your degree, including fellow classmates and recent alumni, is a great place to start. Having a casual chat with someone who is working at an organisation you are keen to work for in the future, provides you with that initial step in the door. I also find that social media and online networking tools work very well for building your knowledge of the types of marine conservation organisations out there. I followed the ZSL Marine and Freshwater social media pages throughout my university degrees, which helped my understanding of the scope of work delivered by the team. This information later became very useful when applying for jobs that came up within the organisation.

Finally, I would say do not let an unsuccessful interview (or a few) put you off applying to the same organisation again if another job comes up. I was offered my first position at ZSL after applying to a few different roles and my third interview attempt.

Graduating on Gyllyngvase Beach, Cornwall /Celine Gamble

Thanks Celine!

You can keep up to date with Celine on Twitter (@CelineGamble) and Instagram (@celineg_marine)

Marine Biologists on Lockdown

Hello to you all from our collective living/dining/bedrooms! As we are all adjusting to working from home we thought it would be interesting to write a collaborative article on working from home as marine biologists. What are we up to? How are we coping without our beloved snorkels or hugging a dolphin? Or perhaps most importantly, how do we see the world post pandemic and what impacts do we think COVID-19 might have beyond the lockdown of society on our seas and oceans?

Who are we and what do we do?

We are a motley crew of biologists and ecologists from all over the world all working within the snappily named “Invertebrate Ecotoxicology Lab Group” at the University of Exeter. 

Invertebrates are animals without a backbone and ecotoxicology is the study of how pollutants affect biological life. Based on the Streatham Campus in the City of Exeter we normally fill our time working in the laboratories running experiments relating to marine pollution or processing samples taken from all over the world to find out where are the problems facing life on the planet and how bad are they. 

We have a very broad focus; from a global scale looking at how pollutants are spread across the planet, down to their effects on individual organisms or even the cells within an organism. Trying to understand the impacts of pollutants in the environment such as nano- and micro-plastics, oil, heavy metals or broadly carbon dioxide (from burning fossil fuels) can be a daunting task but by asking specific questions and then working towards answering them, we develop little pieces of the global puzzle to work towards solutions. We hope that our pieces match with the work of others across the world, and together, we build a picture of how the planet is now, how it may be in the future, and hopefully how we can work together to conserve it rather than damage it. 

How do you do biology from home?

Although testing snorkelling techniques in the bath tub may be a worthy use of time for a land-locked marine biologist, the lack of lab access and vitamin sea is challenging and so is navigating a fundamental change to the focus and nature of your work. Although we may rather be in wetsuits, preferably in tropical destinations, or in our thermals out on the polar seas, there is actually quite a lot that can be done at your desk to progress your science.

Marine biologists across the globe are resorting to snorkelling in the bathtub to get their fix of vitamin sea (Source: Max Mayorov)

Firstly, as researchers, we have a responsibility to communicate our work to other scientists, policy-makers and the general public, and, when productivity allows, a lot of us are writing at the moment. We are writing up our research for publication, writing and amending plans that must be more adaptable than ever and even writing songs lamenting how much we miss the lab. There is also a wealth of reading to be done, catching up with the new findings of colleagues around the world to inspire us to critically analyse our work and think creatively of the next steps.

The humble art of meta-analysis is our friend right now, gathering data from a variety of sources to piece together evidence from decades of scientific investigation looking at different aspects of a particular problem and how this changes over time and with geography. During this time of societal reflection, we can also spend time reflecting on science in a methodical way, pulling together all of this research, collecting the facts and figures from hundreds of papers, and then stepping back to look at the bigger picture unfolding before us. The amazing thing about the global science community is the amount of data that are out there and now is certainly a time to celebrate how lucky we are to have good access to the internet and these amazing resources of human knowledge.

An example of an eye watering meta-analysis and a much prettier chart of microplastics in the mediterranean (Source: Adam Porter)

Some of us are learning new skills such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) that allow us to create visual maps of data such as how plastics and other pollutants spread globally to pinpoint future intervention areas. Others are learning new data analysis software and some of us are improving our foreign language and sourdough making skills. The wealth of free software through open-source platforms (such as R and QGIS) and access to education (through sourdough YouTube videos and the like) is another thing we are grateful for during lockdown here in the UK, learning from millions of other users across the world.

Also, we have been enjoying teaching from home, doing sessions with undergraduates as well as giving public outreach talks and supporting home-schooling families. Arctic Live has proven to be a huge success reaching 60,000 kids across the world (Encounter Edu have loads of online and importantly free teaching resources for use at home or school) with a number of staff and PhD students from Exeter as well as Plymouth Marine Laboratories teaching from their homes. This has been bittersweet as these lessons should have taken place whilst on location doing fieldwork in the Arctic but it has been amazing to provide this free resource to kids across the world.

Arctic Live in full flow featuring Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop of encounteredu.com and Dr. Clara Nielson of the University of Exeter talk to a classroom on Arctic Live 2019 – no such luck this year but it did still happen beaming into roughly 60,000 homes (Source: Twitter)

For others, lockdown is a time to process data already collected. Research expeditions whilst incredibly exciting are often chaotic with little time to rest. As scientists, we want to maximise our opportunities to collect information from the unique locations we have access to, such as the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.  Lockdown has given us time to step back and look at the breadth of information we have already, as well as planning how to move forward when we return to some form of normality. 

Those of us with children were thrown into a hectic working environment at home during lockdown as schools and childcare closed and time outdoors was restricted. Finding ways to get an hour of work done was an achievement in itself, with entertaining and home-schooling a child often taking priority. It was quite clear to supervisors early on that ambitious targets were not going to be met, zoom meetings are constantly interrupted and the newly purchased office chair was used as a merry-go-round. However, home-grown experiments and learning have taken place! Sink-or-float, ‘making floods’, planting seeds, bird spotting, flower identification and watching for hedgehogs are all good sessions. Despite the challenges, and the impact to work, spending more time at home as a family has been a privilege, something we will always treasure.

Self-made experiment by Omar, age 3, during lockdown: ‘Making a flood’ of ‘muddy soup’ with soil, grass and sticks from the garden (unbeknown to his parents) (Source Daisy Harley-Nyang).

What do you think the bigger implications of this global pandemic might be for the planet’s health?

The global pandemic has the opportunity to be a huge reset button for how we interact with the natural world. Whilst we have all had to make huge changes to our daily lives, and the impacts of this pandemic are painful and serious, we are seeing some positives in all of this. Wildlife is returning to urban spaces, like the mountain goats that took over a town in Wales, Pandas in zoos that with added privacy are mating naturally (New York Times), noise in the oceans has reduced giving whales and other marine organisms a reprieve from the constant hum of boat traffic (The Narwhal); all of this because human activity has stopped.

Conservation Concerns

There is, however, evidence to suggest that some areas of the environment are now at greater risk of being exploited. As the world’s attention has shifted to an almost myopic gaze on COVID-19 (who’d have thought we’d stop talking about Brexit!), in Brazil, deforestation has increased by 50% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same time period last year (Simon & Castano, 2020). The Amazon rainforest is considered to be a carbon sink which can absorb around 600 million tonnes of carbon annually (phys.org), playing a key role in climate regulation. The reduction in funding (as fundraising activities have mostly ceased for conservation groups) is also putting many conservation projects at risk and the disruption to long-term data collection and monitoring work in Marine Reserves is a concern. The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is one of our major study sites and there are concerns around illegal shark fin fisheries operating whilst tourism is shut down and Park Rangers are not permitted to do their usual patrols. The severity of this risk has been recently highlighted with the seizure of 26 tonnes of Ecuadorian shark fins in Hong Kong in May 2020 (primarily protected silky and thresher sharks), the largest seizure in history (Oceanographic Magazine) and an example of wildlife trafficking continuing at full throttle. Ensuring that marine protected areas are monitored is a high priority to limit these potential threats.

A haul of illegally fished sharks caught in Galapagos waters captured during a Galapagos National Park Authority seizure in 2017 (Source: Galapagos National Park Authority)

Consumerism, Waste Management and Global Pollution

A decrease in global pollution, specifically air pollution has largely been attributed to a lack of travel and decrease in industrial work. The ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) have reported that the release of the gas Nitrous Oxide (NO2) into our air, which can have implications on human health, has decreased by up to 30% in areas (Dantas et al., 2020). Also, declines in beach litter have been noticed and attributed to the lack of tourism (Zambrano-Monserrate et al., 2020). Although these may only be short term effects, they allow both scientists and the general public to envision what a future could look like with reduced pollution. 

As we have seen, plastic has an essential role in protecting people, especially frontline workers, during the COVID-19 pandemic. However it has driven an increased use of single-use plastics, especially by the general public in the form of gloves and face masks that may have impacts in the environment. There are numerous anecdotal reports of gloves strewn across parts of the UK and a similar picture has emerged as fast food restaurants re-open drive-thrus and customers dump waste out of their car windows to maintain a contact free dining experience (BBC News). There is also a systemic fear that industry may try to take advantage of the uncertainty around the pandemic to push back against hard-won environmental measures to reduce plastic pollution however there is some evidence that Corona viruses may persist longer on plastics (van Doremalen et al., 2020).

The European Commission has uploaded a document online entitled “Waste management in the context of the coronavirus crisis”, where you can find advice on the best practises to dispose of waste while protecting human health and the environment (European Commission). According to this report, “each person produces nearly half a tonne of municipal waste per year in the EU on average, which means that every week more than 20 kg of municipal waste is generated per household.” People are producing more waste during this pandemic as they spend more time at home and buy more food to cook at home or take away food with their disposable containers and cutlery. 

The good news is that, although more plastic waste is being produced at home, consumer mindsets are changing. It seems that, overall, people are centered on their most basic needs, spending less and only essentials. People are shopping more consciously, buying local and are embracing online shopping and it is predicted that these changes may persist beyond this pandemic.

The Impact on Travel and Tourism

We all love to visit far off distant places in the world, those picture perfect postcard locations… but how has the COVID-19 virus affected travel and tourism? The travel and tourism industry globally supports 330 million jobs and has been severely affected by the pandemic. It has been predicted that over $2.7trillion (WTTC) will be lost as a result of travel restrictions and lockdowns. The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on travel and tourism, we have all seen the before and after pictures of beaches, cities and airports normally busy, now deserted. Not even the economic crisis in 2008/9, MERS, SARS or even the September 11th terrorist attacks have had such an impact on International travel as the COVID-19 virus has had (Gossling et al. 2020).

Planes grounded due to the Coronavirus pandemic (Source: BBC)

Despite the immediate and severe impacts of this pandemic, there is hope that it will lead to a positive change in attitudes towards travel and tourism. In the UK, since the start of lockdown, cycling has increased which has prompted many towns and cities to widen or increase the number of cycle lanes, allowing for safer travel and increased distance between commuters (BBC News). Many other cities across the world have carried out or pledged similar improvements since the start of lock down, the challenge remains in keeping or making these changes permanent. There are signs of this happening already as The Mayor of London recently announced an ambitious plan to close off parts of central London allowing for safer walking and cycling (The Guardian) and France has announced schemes funding bike repairs and cycle training to encourage people to continue cycling after the pandemic (BBC News). 

Cities such as Venice, Italy; Amsterdam, Netherlands and Barcelona, Spain all experience what is termed as overtourism. Overtourism occurs when too many visitors visit a certain destination at once leading to congested streets. The drop in tourism has had significant effects on these economies but many cities are using the time as an opportunity to look towards more sustainable travel. Venice for instance is looking to implement a tourist tax on day trippers in 2021 to attempt to curb visitor numbers (The Guardian). A term now being used is ‘SlowTravel’ – using sustainable transport or taking fewer but longer trips (Smarter Travel) and perhaps this will be one way we make a change for the planet whilst still enjoying the benefits of a global society.

So What Comes Next?

If we can come out of lockdown in the right way, there could be huge positives to come in the wake of tragedy. Economic instability is a big concern in terms of willingness to invest in conservation and sustainability innovations but this time to reflect may be just what we need as a society to start to hold industry and politicians more accountable for the way we are treating the planet. The opportunity to build more cycle paths and reduce our reliance on carbon based transport beckons, the fragility of our reliance on oil exposed and perhaps investment in green energy and technology will follow. We are seeing universities and other businesses considering whether this represents an opportunity to “press reset…on the business model….to give ourselves a more sustainable future” (World Economic Forum). To quote The Guardian newspaper in their environmental editorials “We’ve never had a better chance to make a greener world. COVID-19 has delivered unusual environmental benefits: cleaner air, lower carbon emissions, a respite for wildlife”, the question remains as to whether we will all take this opportunity or squander a chance to make huge leaps in transformative change for people and the planet.

The Authors

 

 

Jen Jones is a marine biologist, conservationist and marine iguana fanatic researching the impact of plastic pollution on the marine foodweb of the Galapagos Islands. University of Exeter PhD student and Galapagos Conservation Trust Project Manager; she is a wonder multitasker! @Jenguin_Jones

 

 

 

 

Alice Wilson McNeal is a University of Exeter PhD student and marine ecotoxicologist happier in the sea than out of it, researching how climate change affects the toxicity of ocean pollution. @MarineBioAlice

 

 

 

 

 

Francisca Ribeiro is a marine biologist with a recent interest in analytical chemistry, who is trying to create easier ways to give an estimate of the amount of plastic a consumer might be exposed to by ingesting seafood. She is a PhD student and part of the QUEX partnership between the University of Queensland Australia and the University of Exeter. 

 

 

 

 

Stephanie Andrews is a marine biologist, lover of the outdoors and happiest either by or in the sea. Interested in the functioning of aquatic ecosystems in a changing world, currently researching the ecological impacts of microplastics in river systems for her PhD at the University of Exeter. @CidtheSquid57     

 

 

 

Daisy Harley-Nyang worked as a scientist in microbiology laboratories for the Environment Agency and APHA before returning to university. She is now a PhD student at the University of Exeter researching microplastics in wastewater and sludge. She is learning to juggle PhD life with family life; her three year old son, Omar, is a keen environmental activist and she likes nothing better than running, cycling or walking the North Devon countryside where she lives or wild swimming in a river, lake or sea.

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine Colvin is a sailor come marine biologist investigating methods to rapidly assess the environmental impacts of oil spills. She is a PhD student at the University of Exeter, happiest on or in the water, and interested in human impacts on marine life and effective mitigation. @ColvinMarine

 

 

 

 

 

Emily Rowlands is a marine biologist happiest in the choppy seas, with a recent interest in the polar regions. A collaboration between University of Exeter and British Antarctic Survey, her PhD investigates plastic pollution in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. @EmilyRowlands89

 

 

 

 

 

Jake Bowley is a rockpool specialist and an Exeter University PhD student in marine biology and microbiology, researching the attachment of harmful bacteria to microplastics and their role in disease transfer to animals and humans. @Jake_Bowley

 

 

 

 

 

Adam Porter is a mad mix of scientist and artist with a love of the outdoors, photography and exploration with a passion to help reverse negative human impacts on the planet. He finished his PhD at the University of Exeter in 2019 (and still feels weird about being a Doctor) and is now a NERC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Exeter. @ap3489