MSc Graduate in Focus: Matt Carter

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 Matt Carter, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2014) and now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of St. Andrews!

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

I am a postdoctoral research fellow at the Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of St Andrews. My research entails tracking seals at-sea using animal-borne devices to study their behaviour and habitat requirements.

After my MSc I applied for a PhD studentship at the University of Plymouth to study how grey seal pups develop foraging behaviour. The unique skillset that I had developed at Exeter made me a strong candidate for the role and I was offered the position. I had always wanted to be a professional researcher but had a serious lack of self-confidence. My MSc supervisor was instrumental in giving me the confidence and ambition to undertake this journey. During my PhD I collaborated with the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews. After completing my PhD I was offered a postdoctoral position by my supervisor at SMRU to continue studying seal ecology.

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

Exeter has a great reputation for ecology and conservation, but the thing that really separates it from other top universities is the staff. I chose Exeter because I wanted to learn from exciting people who are leading their field and doing interesting research, making a difference in the world.

A strength of MSc courses is that students typically come from many different backgrounds. There is a strong focus on developing a peer group where you can share ideas and work with each other and get feedback in a friendly collegiate manner. I was nervous at the start of the course that I would not fit in with other students with a more relevant academic background, but I found that the course leaders were great at helping me to recognise my strengths and gain the confidence to be an active part of group discussions.

The academic climate at the Penryn campus is progressive, relaxed and inclusive, and you are encouraged to engage in seminars and research group meetings alongside professional academics. The setting in one of the most beautiful parts of the country means that this is the perfect place for people who are passionate about the environment and the outdoors. The Penryn Campus feels more like a vibrant community than an institution. Having grown up in Falmouth I can say that the campus has breathed new life into the town.

 

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

During the course I developed a number of analytical skills, such as using GIS and R, that have proved to be valuable assets in job applications. Also, being around so many good academic role models made me want to continue a career in scientific research.

The lecturers are an enthusiastic, passionate and creative group of people who will treat you as an equal. The facilities at the Penryn Campus are cutting edge, whether you are interested in laboratory or field techniques. The staff also have a wide network of connections to NGOs and local stakeholder groups that will help you to meet inspiring people and engage with different possible future career paths.

I think when employers see an application from a UofE Penryn Campus alumnus, they know to expect someone who has had world class training from experts in their field. Studying an MSc at Exeter’s Penryn Campus gave me a unique mix of skills from data analysis, to delivering poster and oral presentations, and even grant writing.

Any advice for students who might want to pursue a similar career?

When you choose your student project, think carefully about what you want out of it. Don’t just study something that is familiar to you. Pick a project that will give you a new skillset and take you out of your comfort zone. Often we choose to study certain species because we feel a particular connection to them. It’s good to be passionate, but think beyond the species, think about what transferable skills you can develop that make you a well-rounded scientist. Also, get used to discussing your work and ideas with your peers and be generous with your time if you can offer help to others. Peer review is an important principle in academia and it starts here. Having a strong support network as a student will help you through the tough times, and the people you study with on your MSc may well be colleagues in the future.

Life in academia is not for everyone. Don’t be ashamed if you decide it’s not for you, there are many other options. But, if you do think it’s for you, find a PhD that you really care about. You will be completely invested in this project for years so be sure that it is something that will hold your interest and allow you to grow as a scientist. Take every opportunity to learn from other people’s experiences and make use of the contacts you develop during your MSc. Maintain an open channel of communication with your supervisor and be honest about your ambitions and limitations.

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

If you want world-class education from inspiring researchers in one of the most beautiful corners of the country then you are in the right place…

Thanks Matt!

You can follow Matt  @MattIDCarter  and the Sea Mammal Research Unit @_SMRU_ 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: Elizabeth Campbell

This year we are launching a new MSc in Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for September 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 Elizabeth Campbell, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2014) and now an associate researcher with ProDelphinus and PhDl student at the University of Exeter!

Hi Elizabeth! First off, why don’t you tell us what attracted you to study your MSc at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus?

I grew up close to the ocean, enjoyed it and wanted to have a career that was related to it. I enjoy having a job with a purpose, a job that has a positive impact in the world and that improves it in some measurable way.

The University of Exeter offered a programme that aligned to my interests and the faculty had experience working in areas that were of my interest (small scale fisheries, developing countries, vertebrates). In the MSc at Penryn I found an advisor that was interested in my research topic, and a course that would strengthen my knowledge and future work. The MSc teaches you how to plan a project, to fundraise, implement, present and share your results as well as publish them. You finish your MSc with experience in every project aspect

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

The biggest highlights for me, include the Field Course in Kenya, the wide variety of practical methods classes throughout the degree and being able to complete my thesis on river dolphins!

Cornwall is a fantastic place to study! Everything you need is close. Natural surroundings inspire your work and give you space to relax. University courses take advantage of their natural surroundings as well.

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

The Key Skills module has given me many important tools! From delivering presentations, how to network at conferences and branding yourself online to writing a grant and writing and publish a paper.

The staff are approachable and available to answer questions. The course environment is friendly amongst students and teachers.

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

To not hesitate, apply and take advantage of a great course set in a beautiful location

Thanks Elizabeth!

You can follow Elizabeth (@Eliicampbell) and ProDelphinus (@prodelphinus) on Twitter

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

Scientists at Sea Podcast – Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in the UK, with Tom Horton

Show notes

In this episode we speak to Tom Horton, a current PhD student at the University of Exeter and Project Officer for ThunnusUK. Tom and Ethan discuss all things ThunnusUK and Atlantic bluefin tuna.

ThunnusUK (named after the Atlantic bluefin tuna’s latin name, Thunnus thynnus), is a collaborative study between the Univeristy of Exeter and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas). The aim is to provide a baseline understanding of ecology and global distribution of Atlantic bluefin tuna that can be found in the waters around southwest England.

You can find out more about ThunnusUK here.

 

Atlantic bluefin tuna have historically weighed up to 900kg and measured nearly 4m.

 


About our guest: Tom Horton

Tom has built up an impressive career portfolio, after graduating from a Marine Biology (MSci) at the University of Southampton he became a research assistant at the Marine Megafauna Foundation. Following this he moved to Cornwall to become the Volunteer Seaquest Southwest Co-ordinator for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and then progressed on to work for Marine Discovery Penzance as a researcher and guide. He is now undertaking a PhD with the University of Exeter, Cefas, and Stanford University focusing the spatial ecology of marine vertebrates that are of conservation concern, Atlantic bluefin tuna being a prime example.

 

Tom (right), pictured out on fieldwork.

 


 

Topics discussed

A selection of the tags used in the research
  • What is Thunnus UK?
  • How long has Thunnus UK been around?
  • Atlantic bluefin tuna in UK waters, why do they come here?
  • How do you tag and track a bluefin tuna?
  • How do tuna tags work?
  • Tagging animals safely and responsibly
  • How have fishers responded to the project?
  • Where do Atlantic bluefin tuna travel to when they leave UK waters?

 


 

Resources

 

Thunnus UK website

Have you spotted a Bluefin Tuna? You Can report your sighting here 

Tom Horton on Twitter

Thunnus on Twitter

 

 


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!

As mentioned in the podcast, if you would like to hear what our series 1 presenters (Ethan Wrigglesworth and Molly Meadows) have been up to, check out Trail and Errors.

#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 Michael Hanley or visit our website!

 

MSc Graduate in Focus: Owen Exeter

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 Owen Exeter, MSc Conservation Science and Policy graduate (2017) and now working as a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Exeter!

 

Hi Owen! We’re glad that you are still working with us at the University of Exeter, why don’t you tell us a bit what you’re up to now?

 

I’m now a Graduate research assistant for Dr Rachel Turner and Dr Matthew Witt at the University of Exeter. I really love the possibilities in research. My areas of interest are constantly evolving and there is a lot of variety in the world of marine vertebrates. I spend weekends off Falmouth helping tag tuna, weeks in Scotland with basking sharks then periods working with big data and making maps. It’s a fantastic mix and I am always looking forward to new experiences.  

Shortly after graduating I was contacted by Dr Matthew Witt and asked if I wanted to on one of his new projects the ‘English Marine Spatial Planning and the Ocean Health Index’. I knew Matt from various projects during my MSc and we had stayed in contact after graduation. 

I was incredibly fortunate to spend a week working with Matt and Dr Lucy Hawkes in Scotland deploying high resolution ‘Daily Diary’ tags to basking sharks. It was literally my last couple of weeks when Matt asked if I could come and work as a field assistant. It was an incredible experience and a chance to contribute towards groundbreaking research into the fine-scale movements of these iconic sharks. My research thesis with Matt had been desk based as I had wanted to focus applying and refining the GIS skills I had learnt during the MSc. It might not happen to everyone, but I think it shows that if you work hard, even if you don’t have many field opportunities, you learn more vocational skills and supervisors will recognize your potential. They might just ask you to be more involved in the research group activities if possible.  

 

We’re glad you had such great opportunities! What did you enjoy most about studying in Penryn?

 

It took me a little while to work out what career I wanted in life. I studied politics as an undergraduate and years abroad working in hospitality. But traveling exposed me to some incredible places and marine life, so I decided to take a few chances and enroll in the MSc and I am so glad I did!

There aren’t many better places in the UK to study marine conservation science. It has a fantastic mix of world leading researchers and opportunities to volunteer for external conservation organizations. I was able to spend free time surveying for the Cornwall Seal Group which is a fantastic charity. I also helped at the Seal Sanctuary and got further GIS experience at the Cornish Wildlife Trust.

The University is constantly growing and there are more and more opportunities to be involved in cutting-edge research. The marine vertebrate team is especially strong and there are so many incredible researchers to learn from. 

I love living in Cornwall. The Penryn Campus is located with access to beautiful beaches and incredible marine life. Just last week I took a trip not far off offshore in Falmouth bay freediving with blue sharks. On the way out we saw bluefin tuna, minke whales and hundreds of dolphins. If you love marine life it really is a dream location.  

Underwater cameras used this summer by the team to study 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?

Field work with basking sharks was incredible, but the analytical skills taught in the MSc are what have really prepared me for my current role. If you have an idea of what you want to do after your studies start looking at positions early. You don’t need to apply for anything, but you can get an idea of the skills you will need for the future. Also make use of the career zone on campus. They are so helpful and transformed my CV when I started applications.  

Have an open mind. My interests have evolved since I began my MSc. You might discover new field of research that interest you. Fisheries also now fascinate me and I have definitely gone from being completely obsessed only with sharks to being obsessed with a huge variety of commercial and conservation concern fish (but mostly sharks).

Also get involved in as many opportunities as possible. Studying gives you a great platform and skill set. But by showing enthusiasm and interest you meet new people and get new ideas. I am only where I am now by reaching out to researchers and asking to help out in my spare time. It gave me an opportunity to learn some basic GIS skills and each project led to more responsibility, ultimately leading to a job.

Clockwise from top left: Dr Lucy Hawkes, Dr Matt Witt, Owen Exeter, Chris Kerry and Jessica Rudd

 

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

Just go for it! I wasn’t sure I had enough experience for a science-based MSc but there is plenty of support if you are willing to put the hard work in. I didn’t have a huge scientific background and was worried I would struggle to keep up. The reality was there are so many varied opportunities and I found working with geospatial data just made sense. 

Thanks Owen!

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

IPCC Research Confidence in the field of Coral Reef Futures – Jennifer McWhorter

Research Confidence in the field of Coral Reef Futures

(Based on IPCC 2019 Report, Chapter 5, Changing Ocean, Marine Ecosystems, and Dependent Communities)

Author, Jennifer McWhorter, PhD Candidate QUEX (Universities of Queensland and Exeter)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consists of a team of top researchers and scientists advising global climate action. Recently, the IPCC wrote a special report updating research findings pertaining to 1.5 ℃ of warming, of particular interest to my field of research is the section on coral reefs. Based on Chapter 5 of the latest IPCC report (Bindoff, N.L et al., 2019), I have highlighted the consensus of scientific research by summarizing key topics of coral reef research by research confidence. In italics are statements summarized from the report.

 

Very High Confidence Overview of Research

Some alarming numbers on the future of coral reefs were confidently stated in the latest IPCC report, “coral reefs are projected to decline by a further 70-90% at 1.5 ℃ with larger losses (>99%) at 2 ℃ ”. Since the industrial revolution in the 19th century, human activities have contributed to approximately 1.0 ℃ of global warming. At our current rate of emissions, global warming is estimated to reach 1.5 ℃ between 2030 and 2052. (IPCC, 2019: Summary for Policymakers). To give you some perspective on those numbers, future generations will have a difficult time finding coral reefs in the state in which we have had the privilege of experiencing them.

The corals in the image above were photographed two months apart showing the effect of the last warming event at Pixie Reef, just north of Cairns, on the Great Barrier Reef. On the left, the corals are healthy and then two months later, the image on the right shows many of the same corals are stressed and near mortality (bleached or white in colour). (Photo credit: Brett Monroe Garner)

 

High Confidence Overview of Research

When the human body has a weakened immune system, such as experiencing chemotherapy from cancer treatment, a common cold or flu can be detrimental, leading to a worsened state or even death. Coral reefs facing multiple disturbances such as warming and ocean acidification, reef dissolution and bioerosion, enhanced storm intensity, enhanced turbidity, and/or enhanced run-off have a lower chance of recovery. In the future, when faced with multiple threats, there will be a shift in species composition and biodiversity. This shift will be towards soft corals and algal dominated reefs as opposed to reef building corals. Albeit, regional differences in levels of reef vulnerability exist on a scale of 100 km or by latitudinal gradients.

The image above portrays an example of the shift in dominance from reef building corals to a dominance of non-coral organisms, such as the pictured ascidian, Didemnum molle and algae in Palau, Micronesia. (Photo credit: Dr. Kennedy Wolfe)

 

Medium Confidence Overview of Research

Record breaking warm water temperatures during 2014-2017 resulted in severe and wide-spread global coral mortality (Eakin et al., 2019). The reefs that have survived this event have a higher thermal threshold resulting in a dominance of species that are not as sensitive and have a high adaptive capacity. Is this a glimmer of hope? Perhaps but, it is important to note that this is the category of medium confidence of an overview of the research.

Branching corals are typically less resilient in warm water conditions than stony, non-branching corals (Hughes et al., 2018). This juvenile Acropora (branching coral) offers hope of recovery on a reef in Palau, Micronesia. (Photo credit: Dr. Kennedy Wolfe)

In a physical world, the ocean is complex, different zones of the ocean experience various conditions in space and time. Coral reef habitats are not uniform. Deeper coral reefs (30-150m) and upwelling zones may serve as a refuge and source of larval supply to disturbed reefs. On the contrary, these reefs could be more at risk than suggested.

Low Confidence Overview of Research

Coral reefs require certain light and temperature conditions in order to grow. The rate of sea level rise may outpace coral growth. Sea level rise would send corals into deeper habitats potentially limiting these ideal light and temperature conditions.

Resilience and adaptation is broadly still unknown, few reefs are showing resilience. Luckily, some of the best in the world are working hard to close this gap.

In Palau, Micronesia, Professor Peter Mumby descends onto the reef. Pete’s Marine Spatial Ecology Lab conducts research into coral reef ecosystems, fisheries, modeling, and socioeconomics. (Photo credit: Dr. Kennedy Wolfe)

Support climate change research initially by learning about it. Thank you for reading.

You can follow Jen on Twitter to keep up to date with her research!

#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 Michael Hanley or visit our website!

 

References:

Bindoff, N.L., W.W.L. Cheung, J.G. Kairo, J. Arístegui, V.A. Guinder, R. Hallberg, N. Hilmi, N. Jiao, M.S. Karim, L. Levin, S. O’Donoghue, S.R. Purca Cuicapusa, B. Rinkevich, T. Suga, A. Tagliabue, and P. Williamson, 2019: Changing Ocean, Marine Ecosystems, and Dependent Communities. In: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N.M. Weyer (eds.)]. In press.

Eakin, C. Mark, Hugh PA Sweatman, and Russel E. Brainard. “The 2014–2017 global-scale coral bleaching event: insights and impacts.” Coral Reefs 38.4 (2019): 539-545.

Hughes, T. P., Kerry, J. T., Baird, A. H., Connolly, S. R., Dietzel, A., Eakin, C. M., … & McWilliam, M. J. (2018). Global warming transforms coral reef assemblages. Nature, 556(7702), 492.

IPCC, 2019: Summary for Policymakers. In: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N.M. Weyer (eds.)]. In press.

MSc Graduate in Focus: Phil Doherty

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 Phil Doherty, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2011) and now a Post Doctoral Research Associate with the University of Exeter!

 

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

Upon finishing my MSc I was offered a short-term contract (3 months) in Penryn as a field assistant analysing video data captured from Baited Remote Underwater Videos (BRUVs) at renewable energy testing sites. This turned into a longer contract (18 months) continuing to develop methodology and analysis of the BRUV project. During this time I was part of applying for funding with the Scottish Government to satellite track basking sharks with the aim of designating a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Scottish waters. This bid was successful and became my PhD. I completed my PhD in 2017 and worked short-term on a few ongoing projects within the wider ExeterMarine group as a research assistant before acquiring my current postdoctoral position. I have been very lucky in being given the chance to work on a wide range of projects and to be supported in roles within the research group.

It’s lovely to have you with us! What do you enjoy most about studying and working with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

The location itself is a massive draw. The campus and surrounding towns are very close to many beautiful beaches. I think the fact that the CEC is actively involved in cutting edge research is a huge plus in terms of conducting a masters within the department. This access to research groups and data makes for exciting projects from which to write your thesis. It can also provide opportunities to work on real data that may contribute to ongoing research projects on the whole. For me this was the best part of my MSc, conducting fieldwork with a NGO.

I was looking to broaden my skillset, but also be exposed to academic research. I was unsure of the exact route I wanted to take in the sector and so experience in different facets of research and research groups, NGO’s, consultancies etc. sounded like a good opportunity to find out which aspects suited me to pursue further.

The staff’s openness and willingness to engage and help throughout the course was great, it felt like they cared and wanted you to succeed. The fieldcourse to Kenya was an obvious highlight. It was great to learn about current conservation issues and how those working in the field are attempting to manage and mitigate these issues.

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

It turns out research was the element I enjoyed most, and so the time to be able to conduct a thesis was the highlight of the course for me, but also the part which best set me up to pursue the next phase of my career. I was lucky enough to get a position with a NGO working on various aspects of applied marine conservation. Using a long-term dataset and ground-truthing results in the field provided me with many skills in which I would need to progress.

I chose to pursue applied marine ecology and conservation as a career as I’ve always been fascinated with the ocean and the animals living within it – especially when and where animals move to/from. I also feel the knowledge gained on species should be used to some extent to help update or inform other knowledge gaps and this is a great avenue for that.

 

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

I would think about what you would like to get out of obtaining a masters, and how it might shape the next move you make. Do some research, contact members of staff to enquire about ongoing research and opportunities. Treat it like a job and make the most of the expertise and experience on offer.

 

Thanks Phil!

You can see what Phil gets up to at the University of Exeter at his Profile and you can follow him 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: Tommy Clay

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 Tommy Clay, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2012) and now working as a post doc investigating the environmental drivers of sea bird movements at the University of Liverpool!

Hi Tommy! First off, why don’t you tell us what attracted you to study your MSc at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus?

I was attracted specifically to the course and the location, but the University has really risen up the league tables in the last decade, in part due to the recognition that high student satisfaction is important for a University to flourish. The CEC has really become an international hub for behavior, ecology and conservation science, and has attracted a dynamic group of staff and students. The courses are lively and varied with a mixture of lectures, practicals, field courses, presentations and group discussions, which facilitates learning.

The dynamic interactions between staff and students at the University, local industry and NGOs make it a global center for marine research. This is demonstrated by the fact that ExeterMarine has been a great success.

Penryn is well set-up to host students and has great facilities and decent transport links. Falmouth, where most of the students live, is a pretty fishing town turned student village, so has a good array of bars and pubs (and when I was there, one club!).

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

I have many fond memories from my year at the University of Exeter Penryn Campus. Cornwall is one of my favorite places and a fantastic place to live, especially if you enjoy being near the sea and surrounded by nature. Plus, I was lucky to have a fun cohort of course mates.

For me, there were two standout highlights. The field course to Kenya was great fun – to be able to learn about conservation issues while going on safari every day was really special. For my research project, I spent three months in Peru as a research assistant for the marine conservation NGO ProDelphinus, who work with local communities to promote sustainability of Peruvian small-scale fisheries. The hosts were extremely hospitable and I got to see how a conservation NGO is run, both from the office and in the field. It was an invaluable experience, and one which cemented my passion for marine ecology and conservation.

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

The course gave me a good overview of topics in conservation, potential career paths, and skills for a career in research or management of wildlife. In particular, skills in programming and statistics are increasingly important for ecological research and the course provides a great opportunity for students to develop these skills.

Carrying out literature reviews and presentations helped develop skills in processing large amounts of information and presenting it to audiences in a clear manner, something which is useful for a wide range of jobs. More specifically, developing proficiencies both in GIS and statistics in R (a programming software) are incredibly useful for a career in environmental management, whether directly involved in research or not.

To pursue a career in research or academia, I think the most important thing is to have an inquisitive nature. A PhD is hard work and requires a lot of perseverance, so it’s important to choose a topic you’re really passionate about and can get regular enjoyment out of.

Don’t be afraid of rejection and try and put yourself out there. If you want to work with someone, send them an email detailing your skills and interests, as they may have opportunities going that are not advertised. It’s a competitive field and a lot of success is based on luck. However, if you can create opportunities for yourself you’re more likely to get that lucky break.

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

Go for it!

Thanks Tommy

 

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: Victoria Warwick-Evans

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 Victoria Warwick-Evans, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2010) and now working with the British Antarctic Survey as a marine spatial analyst!

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

I am currently a marine spatial analyst postdoc at the British Antarctic Survey. After graduation I was an intern on the Red Sea Dolphin Project, where we surveyed the distribution of dolphins in the red sea. Subsequently, I worked in sea turtle conservation for a company called SAS Tartarugas in Cape Verde. I then volunteered with a group called Southwest Whale Ecology Study, tracking humpback whales using a theodolite in order to understand their migration along southwest Australia. After this, I used the marine mammal observer qualification that I gained whilst completing my masters at Exeter, to work as a marine mammal observer for Gardline. During this position I gained my seabirds at sea qualification, and subsequently went on to complete a PhD in seabird ecology at the University of Liverpool. Finally I accepted a post-doc at the British Antarctic Survey and have been here for 3 years.

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

The highlight would have to be the field course to Kenya, but I also enjoyed the marine mammal observer course that qualified me to work as a marine mammal observer, and trained me in the identification of marine mammals. The course was carried out on the ferry to Bilbao, so we had a great opportunity to learn from experience.

I was also particularly impressed with the R course, and how well statistics was made accessible to ecologists. I found the modules on specific skills (such as wildlife photography, website design) really important too.

I loved living in Cornwall, there is such a variety of both marine and terrestrial environments to explore both during university courses, and during my own time. The staff in the department were very helpful and supportive, and easy to approach and chat to both academically, and socially.

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

I chose to study ecology and conservation as I am inspired by the natural world, and think that conservation is vital for its protection. I stayed in academia because I enjoy the research aspect. I particularly like developing an idea, carrying out fieldwork and analysis, and the satisfaction when the work is published.  I think that the statistics course, and public speaking events during the MSc were of significant importance to my career and for job applications.

It is important to get experience, so volunteer wherever you can. Decide which aspect of the work you enjoy the most and try to get experience in that area.

Thanks Victoria!

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: Megan Chevis

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 Megan Chevis, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2015) and now working as the National Coordinator for MarAlliance in Panama!

Megan Chevis                                                                        Photo Credit: Pete Oxford/MarAlliance

Hi Megan! First off, why don’t you give us a bit of background about what made you choose to study your MSc with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

After learning about the MSc course offered at the Penryn campus and seeing the type of research being conducted by the students and staff in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, I knew the program was perfect as a stepping stone for where I wanted to go and the type of career I wanted to pursue. It offered access to all the resources I would need as a student and a scientist, all while set in a beautiful location.

As an international student with limited knowledge of the UK, I was pleasantly surprised when I started researching Penryn and Cornwall while I was considering the MSc program. As someone who loves nature, hiking, and being in and near the sea, the Penryn campus was THE best place for me to study while also enjoying all the natural beauty that southern England had to offer. The multiple activities and events hosted by student groups helped me make the most of my time there.

 

You mentioned you saw the MSc as a stepping stone to your career, how did the MSc help prepare you for your career in Marine Wildlife Conservation?

There are many skills that I developed at Exeter that I currently use on a regular basis and that I know will continue to serve me in the future. Skills such as GIS mapping, data analysis using R, grant writing, public speaking, and scientific writing have been invaluable for my career so far. My time spent in the field course in Kenya strongly shaped my perception of wildlife conservation and initially taught me that wildlife conservation is all about humans. What I learned from communities and organizations in Kenya about human and wildlife conflict, natural resource use, and development are completely relevant to the work I do now concerning marine resources, artisanal fisheries, and coastal habitats in Central America.

 

While my work now more often involves working with humans (or at the computer!) than in the ocean, my passion for my work is renewed whenever I get to be in the field and interact with the animals that initially made me fall in love with the sea. The field of marine conservation can become quite heavy at times, and it can sometimes be difficult to know that you are actually making a difference in the right direction. One of the most instantly rewarding parts of the work I do is our environmental education program, where I talk to primary school kids about sharks and rays and sometimes take them into the field. Seeing the perceptions of kids change and hearing how many of them become inspired to be marine biologists helps make the struggles easier. To be successful in this field you must accept that, if you want to ensure a future for wildlife, you also have to ensure a future for the human populations that depend on them.

 

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

Do your research ahead of time to make sure the program and university are a good fit for you and your goals, but I think you will find that Exeter and its MSc program stand apart from the rest in terms of all that they offer for individuals wanting to pursue a career in marine wildlife research and conservation. Be prepared to work hard and push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

I would also advise to take advantage of the resources you have while at Exeter and gain as many varied skills and experiences as you can. The university and its staff have so much to offer. Even though you may think you know what kind of work you want to do after graduating, having a well-rounded resume and transferable skills will open you up to many more opportunities.

Thanks Megan!

Photo Credit: Pete Oxford/MarAlliance

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

A Field Season of Basking Shark Research in the Sea of Hebrides 2019

This summer, a team from the University of Exeter have been on field work in the Inner Hebrides tracking and filming basking sharks! Read on to find out why…

Words by Owen Exeter, Christopher Kerry and Jessica Rudd.

Basking sharks are the world’s second largest fish and one of the UK’s most iconic marine species. Understanding the lives of these endangered fish is key to their conservation. Since 2012, researchers from the University of Exeter led by Dr Matthew Witt and Dr Lucy Hawkes in collaboration with Scottish Natural Heritage’s Dr Suzanne Henderson have been working in the Sea of Hebrides to understand how and why sharks use these coastal waters. This year the team are applying a variety of technologies to investigate the secret life of basking sharks below the surface.

Left: Dr Suzanne Henderson, Dr Lucy Hawkes and Dr Matthew Witt. Right: Image taken by REMUS.

Previously, most of our knowledge of basking shark spatial ecology and behaviour has relied on surface observations limited by daylight and weather conditions. With the recent advances of tracking technologies, we have gained unprecedented insight into their UK distribution, diving behaviour, long distance migration and inter-annual site fidelity. Satellite telemetry data acquired by the Exeter team have confirmed the waters off the Isles of Coll and Tiree as spatially important to the species (Doherty et al. 2017). These findings have directly informed conservation management with the proposed Sea of the Hebrides MPA currently under consultation.

Recently the team’s research has shifted to exploring whether the region has further significance to the species. Little is known about basking shark reproductive behaviour, fine-scale movement or habitat preference. 2017 saw the successful deployment of multichannel tags recording behaviour at the sub-second level (Rudd et al. in prep) and in 2018, custom made cameras designed by MR ROV started elucidating some of these questions. This year we were joined by a team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) and their Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) REMUS, with further towed cameras to deploy and a sonar scanner to attempt to shed further light on the rarely seen secret life of basking sharks.

Field site: Isles of Coll and Tiree, Inner Hebrides, Scotland.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute REMUS

REMUS is an AUV, a two-meter-long submersible vehicle that is designed to record underwater footage without manual controls from the surface. This allowed us to conduct long deployments at distances of over 2km from our control boat. Developed by Amy Kukuyla and her team at WHOI, REMUS has previously been deployed to film white sharks, bull sharks and leatherback turtles at depth.

As REMUS relies upon a tracking beacon tag being attached to the sharks half our team set off early from Tobermory harbour to locate and deploy tags aboard vessel Bold Ranger. The control team, including WHOI staff, followed on Etive Explorer. We successfully deployed beacons on multiple sharks across several days. Once tagged, we launched REMUS which followed the sharks at predetermined distances for up to four hours each mission. REMUS has 5 frontal cameras with an optional rear camera allowing near 360 views to be captured and up to 24 hours of footage generated per mission. Members of the team are currently stitching these different camera views together for each mission to allow further processing and analysis of the footage.

Left: REMUS. Right: MR ROV towed camera.

Towed camera deployment

Last summer, the towed cameras revealed new and exciting footage, including the very first shark aggregation observed on the seabed. While basking sharks may aggregate at the surface to feed, it remains unclear why they may do so at depth. Wanting to build upon these initial findings and hope to uncover more novel behaviour, this year we set out to re-deploy three cameras for a longer duration. These tags encase a temperature-depth recorder tracking the shark’s movement throughout the water column while filming it with a rear and front facing camera attached just below the dorsal fin by a 1.5 m tether. A vital component to the tag package is the Programmed Time Release which enables us to set the time at which we wish the camera to pop off the shark after a desired period and an integrated satellite tag, allowing us to track the camera remotely once its antennae breaks the surface by relaying its position every hour.

Footage acquired from 2018 MR ROV towed cameras.

This season the team was again successful in deploying all three camera tags. Upon release we deployed a range of tech to help us successfully hone into the position of the cameras. Once arrived at its last known coordinates, we used a goniometer which gave an idea of the bearing of the camera in relation to the boat. Within a certain range a handheld VHF radio (above the surface) as well as a VEMCO acoustic pinger (underwater) provide extra confidence in the directionality and distance to our prized tags.

While two of the sharks remained close to Coll, the third shark swum towards the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, nearly 150km north of it’s initial attachment. After a stroke of luck, a skipper and boat were found to help locate the last tag, known as Mr ROV Green, but required us to leave Mull, cross the mainland and drive across Skye before being picked up by a rib to find the camera. With the final mission successfully completed and all three camera tags found, now comes the exciting part of reviewing footage from both the cameras and REMUS to discover what new behaviours may have been recorded, along with answering biologically important questions such as estimating feeding rates and tail beat frequencies, as well as possible interactions with other basking sharks.

Finally, we would like to say a big thank you to Matt, Lucy and Suz for their knowledge and support during this field season. Interacting with a range of field technologies and seeing our data feed directly into policy and management is an invaluable experience for early career researchers. This work wouldn’t be possible without their hard work and dedication. We would also like to extend our thanks to Sky Ocean Rescue, WWF and Scottish Natural Heritage for their support of the project.

If you would like to updates on the basking shark project and our team’s other research please follow via twitter: Owen @OExeter,  Chris @chriskerry1989  and Jess @jlrudd.

The team. Clockwise from top left: Dr Lucy Hawkes, Dr Matt Witt, Owen Exeter, Chris Kerry and Jessica Rudd

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

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