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

MSc Graduate In Focus: Zara Botterell

This year we are launching two new MSc courses in Marine Environmental Management and Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Zara Botterell, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2015) and now a PhD student investigating microplastic pollution and zooplankton at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the University of Essex!

Hi Zara! First off, why did you choose to study at the University of Exeter?

I’ve chosen to study at the University of Exeter twice; to begin with I did my BSc at the Streatham Campus. I was looking to do a broad based biological sciences degree and the course there had a little bit of everything. This was a big draw for me as I didn’t really know what I was interested in the most and didn’t want to specialize too early. The campus was also beautiful, with plenty of green space, in a beautiful city.

Throughout my undergraduate degree I’d naturally gravitated towards ecology, conservation and marine biology and I really wanted to continue with an MSc in these subject areas. My mum actually spotted the MSc Conservation and Biodiversity course and after a quick read I knew it was exactly what I’d like to do. Finances are also big consideration and after some further research I realised that at the time I was also eligible to apply for a scholarship, which I was successful in obtaining.

Immediately after completing my MSc I began a graduate role at the Penryn Campus as a PA and research assistant within the Centre for Ecology and Conservation. After working there for nearly 2 years I was successful in gaining a PhD scholarship at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and University of Essex.

What did you enjoy most about studying your MSc with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

The campus is beautiful, with lots of green spaces and being so close to the coast it is perfect for anyone who loves the outdoors and nature.

Everyone in the department was friendly and approachable, where every success of staff and students was celebrated. The field trips were incredible, well planned and thought through to give us a great experience.

I loved the relaxed and friendly environment in Penryn, the campus was beautiful in every season and there are lots of places to explore nearby.

What skills and experiences from the MSc have been most useful in your career?

During my MSc I learnt many transferable skills such as statistical analysis, science communication and developing my academic writing which have been essential to my PhD. I have also been able to build upon my fieldwork experience and public speaking skills which I first developed during my time at Penryn.

The MSc gave me crucial experience in planning and implementing fieldwork and a great foundation knowledge of using the statistical software R and GIS mapping software which I have since built upon. Time management and organization has been key in my PhD. The variety of modules with different deadlines, different types of work i.e. fieldwork, written assignments meant that I had a lot to keep track of, however this was a great experience for my PhD.

Finally, why did you choose your career path and do you have any advice for those looking to pursue something similar?

My advice for anyone who would like to do a PhD would be to work hard, make the most of any opportunities and get experience doing lots of different things. When it comes to applying for a PhD, whilst subject and location are important, take the time to have a chat with your potential supervisors to see how you get on. For 3-4 years they’ll be supporting and guiding you through your PhD and will be integral to your development, experiences, success and of course enjoyment!

Work hard, be organized, do your best and enjoy! Ensure you have a routine and take quality time off.

Any advice for anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?

Apply, you haven’t got anything to lose!

Thanks Zara!

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!

MSc Graduate in Focus: Rachael Edwards

This year we are launching two new MSc courses in Marine Environmental Management and Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Rachael Edwards, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2016) and now a PhD student at the University of Waterloo, Canada and working as a Community Champions Project Manager and Volunteer Coordinator for Sustainable Merton, UK

Hi Rachael! Why don’t you tell us a bit about what you have been up to since studying with us?

For my Masters at the University of Exeter, I evaluated the outcomes and outputs of the Marine Turtle Conservation Project in North Cyprus. This research was recently published in the Journal for Nature Conservation. After completing my MSc, I went directly into a PhD programme at the University of Waterloo, Canada, where I study cultural diversity in the use of parks and protected areas and methods of fostering connection to nature. I am now in the final year of my degree. Although my PhD is through a Canadian University, my research is U.K. focused and I have returned to England for field work. I also work part time for a sustainability charity in London.

 

What did you enjoy about studying in Cornwall?

The smaller size of the Penryn campus created a strong sense of community among the students and faculty. I enjoyed always running into people I knew, both on and off campus. It felt like a campus family and am so thankful for the many friendships I formed over the course of my programme. The surrounding scenery was also breathtaking and there were so many unique habitats to explore.

Campus life, and life in Penryn more generally, was vibrant and laid back at the same time. There were so many clubs to get involved with and, because of the smaller campus, it felt like a very tight knit community. I enjoyed meeting people from outside my program and the campus organizations did a great job of putting on events, organizing trips, and keeping us informed on opportunities to get involved with the wider community.

The combination of Penryn’s beautiful scenery and the friendly campus community is something I think you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. You really feel like you are a part of a campus family. There were so many opportunities to meet new people, take up a new skill, explore the outdoors, and learn about the Cornish culture right on your doorstep.

 

Rachael exploring the English Coast

Excellent, what skills did you learn that helped you to develop further in your career?

For my PhD, I study outdoor recreation and wellbeing in public open space. The social science research skills I learned while studying at the University of Exeter were invaluable as I began my doctorate and the wide variety of courses and seminars that were offered allowed me to tailor the program to my specific career goals.

The variety of skills and hands-on experiences the course provided were very beneficial as, like many Masters students, I wasn’t exactly sure which direction I wanted to take in my academic journey. This programme exposed us to the many career options that are available, provided the opportunity to learn new research skills, and offered us a wealth of opportunities to contribute to the wider conservation community (I volunteered for the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty during my time in Penryn).

Prior to entering the programme, I didn’t have any experience with social science research methods. Thanks to the numerous courses, lectures, and seminars on human dimensions of conservation offered over the course of my MSc, I left feeling confident in a wide variety of such methods and was inspired to pursue a social science doctorate. Interdisciplinary collaboration is essential for solving complex conservation issues. To promote effective collaboration, it’s important that natural and social scientists are exposed to each other’s research processes and my Masters programme did an exceptional job of this.

I extensively researched Masters programs, and found that the sea turtle conservation work emerging from the University of Exeter’s Marine Turtle Research Group was among the most cited and of a very high standard. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to contribute to this body of research through recently publishing my MSc dissertation in the Journal for Nature Conservation.

 

On the Kenya Field Course during her MSc

Finally, why did you choose you career and do you have any advice for anyone looking to pursue a similar career?

I grew up interacting with nature on a daily basis and having quality local green space is still essential for my mental health. Through my doctoral research, I aim to promote equity in the planning and management of public open space to improve community health and wellbeing and foster connection to nature. I enjoy the opportunity to speak with a wide range of people as part of my research and appreciate the challenge and creativity that it takes to design green spaces that meet the needs of such diverse communities. I also enjoy the research and scientific writing process as a whole and having the freedom to immerse myself in new areas of inquiry.

The best advice I can give for someone thinking of starting a PhD is to take initiative over your own studies, embrace opportunities that come your way, and follow your research interests, even if they seem like they are in flux. I think one thing that holds people back is worrying about whether they are making the “right” or “wrong” decision for their career path. What I have learned is that you should stay open minded to new opportunities and it’s never too late to change direction. Chances are things won’t go exactly as expected, but what would be the fun in that?

Thank you Rachael!

 

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!

 

MSc Graduate in Focus: Claire Tanner

This year we are launching two new MSc courses in Marine Environmental Management and Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Claire Tanner, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2016) and now a PhD student in shorebird behaviour and evolution at the University of Bath!

Hi Claire! First off, why don’t you tell us what you are up to now and how you got there?

Before I joined the MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity programme in 2015, I had already worked as a sea turtle biologist, a research assistant and a programme director in conservation organisations in Costa Rica, Cape Verde and Ghana. I decided that I wanted to develop a career in research, which was why I chose to undertake an MSc, and then to apply for PhDs. My MSc dissertation was focused on how climate change affected the sex ratios of sea turtles, and for my PhD at the University of Bath, I am currently investigating how sex ratios in adult shorebirds could potentially affect the mating system.

What did you enjoy most about studying your MSc with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

Cornwall is such an amazing place to live, with many different habitats to explore during local field trips, the beach nearby to relax with friends, and so many different watersports and outdoor sports to do!

Penryn Campus has such inspiring lecturers that are completing cutting-edge research, and there are many opportunities within modules and extra-curricular talks to hear and meet guest speakers from different career fields. The community of doctoral students and lecturers at Penryn Campus are so enthusiastic about their research, and really supportive of students developing themselves for their chosen careers. It was great to be able to discuss research with lecturers and research staff, especially when the research being conducted is always so current, interesting and progressive.

The lecturers at the CEC were always really supportive and approachable, which made it a very comfortable environment in which to study and enabled me to develop as a scientist and improve my research skills. I really loved the field trip module, which further developed my field work and collaborative skills. It was amazing to be able to visit Kenya to study conservation and learn from conservation managers on the ground, comparing different conservation methods, and discussing future research projects.

What skills and experiences from the MSc have been most useful in your career?

During my Masters course, I gained many transferrable skills which have been essential for my PhD, including developing my academic writing, improving my ability to make and present posters for presentations and social media, data analysis, and public speaking. It has also given me the confidence to develop as an independent researcher. Before coming to University of Exeter, I had never used R. The statistics module taught me R within 3 months (which is amazing as it’s a whole new coding language), to the extent that I could use it competently for my dissertation results. I now use R extensively for my statistical analyses. It is a skill that I will continue to develop as I use different analyses and models throughout my career.

Do you think there are any factors that make the University of Exeter a unique place to study?

It is the perfect place for students who love the outdoors as there are so many opportunities to take part in outdoor activities. The course is unique and offered so many opportunities to develop my skills for my future career.

I loved that Penryn Campus was a green campus. It was very environmentally friendly with electric campus vehicles, recycling schemes and the “Turn on the Tap” scheme. I was able to start a “Ban the Bottle” campaign with peers to reduce the use of single use plastic bottles on campus. This was then continued with the next cohort and created the water-bar on campus! It was great to be part of a change of behaviours amongst students.

The University of Exeter has also achieved Silver Athena SWAN status. This really inspired me by seeing more women in research and science. Having visited other Universities without such a high Athena SWAN status, it has made me realize just how unique and important this was during my studies.

Finally, why did you choose your career path and do you have any advice for those looking to pursue something similar?

Keep persevering. I applied for PhDs for 2 years while working in an office. It could get disheartening at times, but PhDs are so competitive now for behavioural and evolutionary topics, that it’s very important to keep going, get feedback, and improve applications. Don’t lose hope!

Thanks Claire!

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!

MSc Graduate In Focus: Josie Palmer

This year we are launching two new MSc courses in Marine Environmental Management and Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Josie Palmer, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2018) and now a PhD student at University of Exeter!

Hi Josie! First off, why don’t you tell us a bit about what you are up to now?

I am a first year PhD student entitled, “Assessing the Impact of Small-Scale Fisheries on Sea Turtle Populations in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin”, with the University of Exeter.

After completing my MSc, I applied for A NERC funded PhD at the University of Exeter, where I reached the final round of the selection process but was unfortunately unsuccessful. I spent 8 months working for the Marine Turtle Conservation Project (MTCP) in North Cyprus from February-October 2019 as an Onboard Fisheries Observer, Stranding and Lab Manager and Team Leader for the Cyprus Bycatch Project and MTCP turtle nesting season. I then applied for the same PhD I was unsuccessful for during Spring 2019 in November 2019 which was advertised with a different type of funding this time and was successful, starting my PhD in January 2020.

What drew you to studying at the University of Exeter after completing your BSc?

I started looking for an MSc in the final year of my undergraduate, and had spoken to a number of my lecturers about courses they would recommend, including my project supervisor and personal tutor, and was highly recommended the MSc at UoE by all of them. The only other course I was looking at was with Imperial College London, but I decided that the research focuses and atmosphere of UoE more closely aligned with what I wanted to do and the experience I wanted to have.

The Penryn Campus is a hub for marine conservation, and I knew I would get a wide variety of opportunities to engage with this as well as receive some of the best lecturing from experts in their field. The coastal lifestyle is definitely one of the main draws for the campus, and definitely took the edge of the stress you can experience while studying.

How did the MSc help prepare you for your career in research?

The support from staff is truly unprecedented. I never felt like I couldn’t ask for help or that I was asking a stupid question. You’re not just a student, you’re an individual to the university.

There was a heavy emphasis on the research project aspect of the degree and this is what really started to get me to think more in depth about my work and prepare me for further study and research.

Practicing interview scenarios was incredibly helpful to see how I might be interviewed for future jobs and how to prepare for them. I have gained a whole suite of analytical skills that will be transferable to a wide range of jobs, not just in conservation. There were and still are so many opportunities to practice communicating your research in a friendly and non-judgmental atmosphere, which is something I used to be terrified of doing but have definitely relaxed more with because of these opportunities.

 

Any advice for someone looking to follow a similar career?

I think there is a tendency for people to assume that the best way into this field is to get as much practical experience as possible. Usually it’s assumed this means volunteering abroad to gain fieldwork experience of a particular groups of animals or species. These are definitely core skills you need but there are many other skills that are often overlooked. Some of the best advice I’ve been given is that it’s not about the animal or plant or system that you study, its about having the skills behind the scenes to be able to say something meaningful from your research. Once you have the skills in a particular area of research you can transfer these to many others.

After I complete my PhD, I’d like to continue to work in scientific research but in what capacity I’m not sure yet. One thing I’ve learnt throughout my academic career so far is that you can only do so much planning, and the best decisions I’ve made so far have been through taking things one step at a time and seeing what’s out there and what appeals to you the most when it’s time for your next move!

Any advice for anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?

There is something for everyone at the University of Exeter, so if you’re looking for a relaxed and friendly and professional atmosphere to study in, then you’ve found it!

Thanks Josie!

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!

MSc Graduate in Focus: Haley Dolton

This year we are launching not one, but two new MSc courses! We have a new MSc in Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and an MSc in Marine Environmental Management! Applications to both courses are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine vertebrate ecology and conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Haley Dolton, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2018) and now a PhD student at Trinity College Dublin funded by the Irish Research Council!

Hi Haley! First off, why don’t you tell us a bit about what you are up to now?

After finishing my studies at the Penryn campus, I was lucky enough to work on a couple of short-term projects with researchers from ExeterMarine. I conducted a literature review on Arctic biodiversity for Prof Brendan Godley and Dr Kristian Metcalfe and I analysed video footage from towed cameras deployed on basking sharks for Dr Lucy Hawkes and Dr Matthew Witt. During this employment, I recorded behaviours displayed by basking sharks and their interactions with each other and the marine environment.

I then worked in the teaching lab setting up experiments and demonstrating in practicals, which taught me a variety of new skills! I also continued to volunteer for local marine groups such as Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust and the postmortem team in the ESI who try to figure out why some marine animals have stranded along the Cornish coastline.

Now, I am a PhD student at Trinity College Dublin. My research focuses on the thermal biology and ecology of Atlantic blue fin tuna, sixgill sharks and basking sharks. I collect data from wild, free swimming individuals by attaching devices that record a variety of different things such as body movements and external temperature. From this data, I hope to find out more about each species and how this new information could potentially inform conservation and policy.

So, what did you enjoy most about studying your MSc?

The best aspect for me about studying at the CEC, were the supportive lecturers, researchers and students. There really was a great community feel and if someone could help you out in any way, they would! Their support obviously covered all things academic, but they also supported me as a person, wanted the best for me and really encouraged me in areas where I felt under-confident. For example, before coming to the University of Exeter, I would never show anyone any artwork I would do, but thanks to their encouragement I started to share things I had created with people which resulted in people requesting drawings, purchasing drawings and designing infographics for marine research groups – all things that I would not have come about without the encouragement of people at ExeterMarine!

The lifestyle the Cornish coast could offer was also amazing and I spent many an hour kayaking, on a SUP or snorkeling! As I mentioned above, I also got in contact with a variety of different marine research groups in Cornwall and volunteered for them – this is something I’d highly recommend to any new student to expand your skill set and to meet some great people!

How did the MSc help prepare you for your career in research?

My research project for my masters came about in a slightly unusual way. I had worked in practical marine biology for several years before coming back to education to do my masters degree. I came back to study to learn how to best analyse the data I had been collecting, with one of my main aims being to learn how to use R and GIS (spatial analysis software). Those connections I had made during work with Manx Basking Shark Watch, kindly supplied basking shark location data and allowed me to gain those skills I needed in R and GIS, with great support from my supervisor, Dr Matthew Witt. It was these skills, which helped me to gain employment at the University when I finished my masters.

I also made use of the help offered by the careers service who taught me the skills I needed to gain interviews and through programmes such as the Exeter Award.

Any advice for someone looking to follow a similar career?

Work hard, be kind and be patient. Some of the best job offers I’ve had have come from connections or the unexpected and left field. Take advantage of any opportunity if you are able to and seek out your own opportunities. The opportunity to attend seminars from guest speakers and to network afterwards, were very useful skills to gain. In fact, it was from networking that I knew of the PhD position I am currently in!

As corny as it sounds, the biggest highlight was meeting and getting to know my fellow students. I have met some of my favourite people from doing my masters and have some truly wonderful memories with them. There’s something very special about living somewhere as beautiful as Cornwall and getting to explore and share all it has to offer with your friends!

Any advice for anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?

Go for it! It’ll be hard at times, but you won’t regret it!

Thanks Haley!

You can follow Haley on Twitter.

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!

MSc Graduate In Focus: Tammy Davies

This year we are launching not one, but two new MSc courses! We have a new MSc in Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and an MSc in Marine Environmental Management! Applications to both courses are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine vertebrate ecology and conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Tammy Davies, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2008) and now a marine science officer at Birdlife International!

Hi Tammy! First off, why don’t you tell us a bit about what you have done since graduating from your MSc in 2008?

After finishing my MSc, I worked as a research assistant on a human-elephant conflict mitigation project in NE India, supported by Chester Zoo. I then went on to complete a PhD at the University of St Andrews and ZSL, researching the impacts of land use change on biodiversity and people in the Solomon Islands. After finished my PhD I undertook a postdoctoral position at the University of Victoria (BC, Canada) on the social and ecological effectiveness of large marine protected areas – a global meta-analysis, and moved to BirdLife International as a Marine Science Officer almost 3 years ago.

So, what did you enjoy most about studying your MSc?

The highlight was having a longer period of time dedicated to a research project, and this was what first attracted me to the course. It was great to have an intense teaching period, and then a good amount of time to focus on a research project, and use new skills learnt during the previous few months.

The best part was the enthusiasm of the staff for what they do – it was such a change from my undergraduate degree, and a great environment to be a part of. I found the course really well structured and balanced between taught modules, external speakers, field trip, and longer research project.

Cornwall is an incredibly beautiful part of the UK – I loved being so close to the sea, and having opportunities to take part in basking shark surveys, try surfing, and general outdoorsy-ness, which is so much easier when the sea is on your doorstop.

How did the MSc help prepare you for your career in research?

The course was applied and focused, and was great training for my career. In particular, the focus on writing all assignments as scientific papers, and learning R, were the two skills that have definitely been the most beneficial for my subsequent work.

As an added bonus, it also provided a network of people within the conservation field, both peers and alumni. It’s incredible how many people I have met around my current work place who are fellow Penryn conservation alumni!

Thanks Tammy!

You can follow Tammy on Twitter!

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!MSc

MSc Graduate in Focus: Chris Kerry

This year we are launching a new MSc in Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine vertebrate ecology and conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Chris Kerry, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2018) and now completing his PhD at the University of Exeter!

Hi Chris! First off, why don’t you tell us what you are up to now and how you got there?

I used my time during the MSc to develop skills in marine spatial ecology. After graduating, I remained in contact with my research project tutor turning my MSc thesis into a publishable piece and gaining fixed term contract work to conduct spatial analysis for other lecturers and connected organizations. I was then written into a grant proposal as a research assistant which led to me being accepted as a funded PhD student based on these experiences.

It’s lovely to have you back with us! What did you enjoy most about studying your MSc with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

I enjoyed being welcomed into a vibrant research community and participating in projects at the forefront of conservation efforts which were producing real world benefits.

The lecturers are enthusiastic about their research, they welcome student input and are keen to share their experiences and expertise. It is a supportive environment, from the accessibility of lecturers and research staff to having a designated space where MSc students can study and share knowledge and ideas.

I believe the rate of new research in conservation science coming out of Exeter is unparalleled, which makes the content of the courses more relevant and exciting.

Chris Kerry (front right) with (clockwise) Jess Rudd, Dr Lucy Hawkes, Dr Matt Witt and Owen Exeter on field work tracking Basking Sharks.

How did the MSc help you in your career, and do you have any advice for students looking to pursue a similar career?

One of the most useful things was attending one to one sessions with advisors at the career zone who helped restructure my CV to be more appealing to employers and advise on interview techniques.

The sense of accomplishment at the end of the research project has to be one of my biggest highlights. The process of collecting and analyzing data and producing a thesis which informs conservation efforts is extremely rewarding.

Chris Kerry on field work. Photo courtesy of Dr Lucy Hawkes

 

Finally, Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of applying to any of our programmes at the University of Exeter?

Firstly, approach members of staff to see if they have any projects that you could assist with. Volunteering with ZSL during my MSc led to them offering me paid work afterwards. Likewise, undertaking an internship with Dr Matthew Witt led to us developing an MSc research project together and then being recruited as a research assistant.

Secondly, Cornwall has a wealth of people and groups outside the university working in Marine Conservation. During my MSc, I volunteered with Cornwall Wildlife Trust, ERCCIS, British Diver’s Marine Life Rescue, ORCA and Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust but there are also many others. Volunteering with these organisations, other than assisting in incredibly important work, provide valuable additional experience, networking opportunities and demonstrate a real desire to work in this sector which helps you to stand out.

Put yourself out there but do your research. Attending conferences and symposiums with speakers whose research genuinely aligns with your interests and skills is a great way to make connections. Being able to discuss their research with them in an informed way will help you to stick in their minds.

Thanks Chris!

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!

Academics Join to Wish Happy 30th Birthday to Surfers Against Sewage

Words by Professor Brendan Godley

Last Friday, I was pleased to attend  Surfers Against Sewage 30th Anniversary celebrations where they announced their new patron, the Duke of Cornwall, His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. SAS is a greatly admired NGO with whom we, and other universities committed to ocean conservation,  work very closely. They really are a force for positive change.

Prof Annette Broderick  and Dr Anne Leonard also represented ExeterMarine alongside colleagues from Plymouth University, Edinburgh University and the Environment Agency.  Other groups included a range of other stakeholders that work with the charity and, of course, SAS staff and trustees. It was a very warm and engaged event and HRH signed a sustainable surfboard made by local company Otter Surfboards to mark the event. University of Exeter alumnus, and SAS CEO, Hugo Tagholm gave a very thoughtful address and I asked him for it and paraphrase it below, as it resonated so very well, particularly with those of us from Cornwall.

Happy Birthday to SAS!

HRH Prince Charles signs a sustainable surfboard made by James Otter (Right) with SAS Chief Executive Hugo Tagholm (Left)

 

For more than four decades The Prince has used his unique position to champion action for a sustainable future. In the context of global challenges that include climate change, deforestation, and ocean pollution, The Prince has promoted sustainability to ensure that the natural assets upon which we all depend among other things soil, water, forests, a stable climate and fish stocks endure for future generations. 

Cornwall’s is the UK’s Ocean County, our very own California, with its outstanding coastline, world-class waves, wildlife, beaches, tourism industry, and an unrivalled grassroots community of ocean activists.

People really do live and breathe the ocean in Cornwall. 

HRH Prince Charles lets Dr Meriwether Wilson (Edinburgh) know of his strong commitment to marine protection.

Our proximity to the ocean has helped us grow a unique and charismatic charity that continues to deliver marine conservation progress for the long-term protection for Planet Ocean.

This is no more so exemplified by our recent work on plastic pollution and the water-quality campaigns of the 1990s. These campaigns started in response to the pollution witnessed on the beaches that are so central to the lives, living and wellbeing of our supporters.

Our supporters are often described as the canary in the coalmine of ocean issues – walking across tidelines strewn with plastic pollution, surfing near contaminated rivers, sensitive to biodiversity loss and affected by the impacts of a changing climate. They are also privileged to be a part of the ocean ecosystem. 

And, people really do protect what they love.

HRH Prince Charles shakes hands with Prof Annette Broderick (Exeter). In background Prof Sabine Pahl (Plymouth)

It is this powerful connection with the ocean that continues to inspire our work to tackle plastic pollution, improve coastal and river water quality, raise awareness of global heating and support the call to protect 30% of our ocean over the next decade.

I would like to pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of people who join us across the nation each year – on beaches, in schools, at events and on the campaign trail to deliver a brighter, bluer future.

Our supporters are the salty life-blood of our charity, in every part of the county, country and increasingly around the world. We are proud to empower over 100,000 beach clean volunteers annually; lead 700 Plastic Free Communities nationwide; inspire over a million school children through our Plastic Free Schools programme; and help raise the issues with policymakers through our Ocean Conservation group in Westminster.

I would like to thank my team and trustees who continue to make such a valuable contribution to the UK’s marine conservation effort, in inimitable Surfers Against Sewage style. I’d also like to make a special mention of the former leaders of the charity, Chris Hines, Vicky Garner and Rich Hardy – incredible people without whom we wouldn’t be here today!”

Surfers Against Sewage Chief Executive, Hugo Tagholm greets HRH Prince Charles and highlights the educational work of the charity.

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, biological,  medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Emily Easman or visit our website!

MSc Graduate In Focus: Catherine Hart

This year we are launching a new MSc in Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine vertebrate ecology and conservation around the world since studying with us.

Today we meet Catherine Hart, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2009) and now scientific director for the Red Tortguera (Sea Turtle Network) in Mexico!

Hi Catherine! First off, why don’t you tell us what you are up to now and how you got there?

I moved to Mexico when I was 19 after having been a volunteer on a sea turtle conservation project in Nayarit state and then undertaking an undergraduate degree there. It had always been my intention to go straight back after the master’s course. On arriving back, I began to run the field conservation work for a small NGO and then when it was low sea turtle season taught secondary school science and did a little gardening/child minding on the side. In 2010 I decided that a PhD would be beneficial and allow me to continue my sea turtle conservation and research activities. The PhD was with the Universidad de Guadalajara in Puerto Vallarta and was supported through a scholarship from the Mexican government. During that period, I increased the number of nesting beach conservation projects that I was managing from one to seven and co-founded an NGO “Red Tortuguera” (sea turtle network). After the PhD I was accepted into the Mexican Researchers System (Sistema Nacional de Investigadores) which allows me to continue my research while conducting sea turtle conservation activities.

What did you enjoy most about studying your MSc with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

I loved being by the sea. I am from Northampton so that’s about as far from the ocean as you can get in the UK. I loved how dynamic the UK tides are and I even loved the seagulls (which are not that popular).

Everyone on the course were amazing and had all done different conservation and research activities either during their undergraduate degrees or as volunteers. It was a great opportunity to learn about different places and conservation issues. The researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation are world class and very approachable. I always felt that I could ask questions and didn’t have to be embarrassed for having no idea about some things that others knew from their undergraduate degrees in the UK.

What skills and experiences from the MSc have been most useful in your career?

I would say everything I learnt at Exeter has been useful. Firstly, having studied at a university known for its research on sea turtles has opened many doors not to mention that my masters project was on Mexican sea turtles and I was put in contact with some of the top researchers worldwide for East Pacific green sea turtles who I may not have gotten to know so early in my career if it hadn’t been for the introductions made by the Exeter researchers. This is something I am very grateful for as not only has it been great for my research and conservation activities but also for the friendships I have made. On a more academic note the courses on statistics and mapping software have come in very useful! Perhaps the most important thing that I learnt at Exeter is to have the confidence in myself and the experience that I had gained from years of fieldwork in Mexico.

Finally, why did you choose your career path and do you have any advice for those looking to pursue something similar?

It’s great to be able to help study and protect sea turtles and other local wildlife where I live. I like to think that I am making a difference. I have been in the same place long enough to see some of the results of our conservation activities and that is very rewarding.

Never turn down an opportunity to tag along on research trips, learn a second language and perhaps take a course in marketing.

Any advice for anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?

Just do it.

Thanks Catherine!!

If you want to find out more about any of our suite of #ExeterMarine Masters and Undergraduate courses use the links below!