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.

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!

My Exeter PhD: Camouflage helps brightly coloured chameleon prawns to survive in the rock pools

Camouflage is vital to an animals survival, blending in to the background can stop you being spotted by predators or conversely, allow you to sneak up on your prey. But how do animals that live in highly variable environments like rockpools, where the surrounding plant life and available hide-y holes can change from one tide to the next, stay camouflaged? One option to has a variety of colour morphs like the chameleon prawn found in UK rockpools, but what happens if you suddenly find yourself in a pool predominately full of green seaweed when you are bright red?

University of Exeter PhD student Sam Green tells us about his new paper with the Sensory Ecology Evolution Group, working to understand the drivers of variation in the chameleon prawn colour variation.

Words by Sam Green, PhD Student, University of Exeter.

Key findings: Brightly coloured and aptly named chameleon prawns (Hippolyte varians) combine impressive changes in colour with behavioural preferences for particular seaweeds to survive in their rock pool habitats.

Here in Cornwall we are lucky to have easy access to incredibly diverse rock pools around our coastline that are teaming with wildlife. One fascinating species dwelling amongst the seaweeds close to the low tide line is the chameleon prawn (Hippolyte varians). An apt name for a species that is highly variable in appearance and found in forms ranging from vibrant red and green colours to varying degrees of transparency and patterning1,2. But what is driving this remarkable variation?

 

Chameleon prawns (Hippolyte varians) are found in an incredible diverse range of vibrant colour forms in UK rock pools.

Rock pools are extremely beautiful and colourful environments but they are challenging to live in.  Every day the tides’ ebb and flow, which changes the availability of submerged habitat as well as the varieties of predators that range over the rock pools looking for an easy meal. Could this variation in colour help prawns to avoid the interests of hungry fish? One possibility is that prawn coloration provides camouflage against their seaweed substrates. But how can they maintain this camouflage when the rock pool environment is so variable and always changing?

Natural habitats comprise many potential background colours, posing a challenge for any animal that relies on camouflage – such as this array of seaweeds in a rock pool.

One remarkable camouflage strategy that might be used is for an animal to change body coloration itself. This is surprisingly common in the natural world with the duration of change ranging from a few seconds to weeks and months3. The well-known masters of this strategy include octopus and cuttlefish, where many are capable of swift changes to their coloration enabling them to quickly tailor their camouflage to the surroundings4. Might chameleon prawns also utilise colour change to better match their surroundings?

In our research we have focused on green and red chameleon prawns and their seaweed substrates, the green sea lettuce and red dulse. We brought prawns and seaweed into the lab and housed the prawns on seaweed of opposing coloration. Then, analysing coloration of prawns and seaweed from the perspectives of predatory fish visual systems, we measured changes in colour in relation to camouflage.

 

Chameleon prawns were kept individually on seaweed of mismatching coloration in the lab to induce colour change.

Prawns have an excellent level of camouflage against their associated substrate types. They are also capable of impressive, if somewhat slow, colour changes that drastically improve camouflage against the previously mismatching seaweed over a number of weeks. So the prawns can change colour, but it’s clearly too slow to maintain camouflage when swimming around the rock pools. The seaweeds that comprise the ‘algal forests’ of the intertidal zone vary with the seasons5. These slower colour changes probably enable prawns to capitalise on seasonal seaweed shifts, whilst still benefiting from the protection of camouflage. If this is the case, how do the prawns maintain camouflage on a day-to-day basis?

Examples of the remarkable changes in colour displayed by green and red prawns over the 30 day experiment.

Animals often improve their camouflage through behaviour, such as choosing appropriate backgrounds that maximise their camouflage6.  Again using the same two species of seaweed we tested the behavioural preferences of green and red chameleon prawns. The prawns display strong behavioural preferences for selecting a background that best compliments their own coloration. So, whilst colour change may be of no use if a passing wave were to dislodge a prawn from its chosen camouflaged perch, they are able to quickly rectify the issue by swimming to the nearest patch of suitable seaweed.

The behavioural choice chamber used in our study. Here a red prawn chooses between suitable seaweed backgrounds.

The act of remaining camouflaged is rarely as simple as it first appears. The incredible variation in body coloration displayed by chameleon prawns enables the highest level of camouflage against particular seaweed backgrounds. On top of that the prawns display clear adaptations for remaining obscured in their environment, despite the challenges presented by their rock pool existence. For the chameleon prawns, our research shows that perhaps the best way of maintaining camouflage in the face of variation is to have a suite of strategies to suit the occasion.

Chameleon prawns are extremely well camouflaged against their favoured seaweed backgrounds. As seen here with green prawns and green sea lettuce.

Read the paper here

You can follow Sam on Twitter: @saunteringsam and Instagram: @saunteringsam

You can also keep up to date with the Sensory Ecology and Evolution Lab on Instagram: @See_research_lab and Facebook

References:

  1. Gamble, F. W. & Keeble, F. W. Hippolyte varians: a Study in Colour-change. Q. J. Microse Sci. 43, 589–703 (1900).
  2. Keeble, F. W. & Gamble, F. W. The colour-physiology of Hippolyte varians. Proc. R. Soc. London 65, 461–468 (1899).
  3. Duarte, R. C., Flores, A. A. V, Stevens, M. & Stevens, M. Camouflage through colour change : mechanisms , adaptive value and ecological significance. (2017). doi:10.1098/rstb.2016.0342
  4. Hanlon, R. Cephalopod dynamic camouflage. Curr. Biol. 17, 400–404 (2007).
  5. Dickinson, C. British Seaweeds – The Kew Series. (Eyre & Spottiswood, 1963).
  6. Stevens, M. & Ruxton, G. D. The key role of behaviour in animal camouflage. Biol. Rev. (2018). doi:10.1111/brv.12438

#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!

 

Shark Awareness Day: Plastic pollution – problematic for sharks and rays.

For Shark Awareness Day 2019 we have been chatting to a few of our elasmobranch (that’s sharks, skates and rays) researchers here the the University of Exeter! In this blog we talk to Kristian Parton one of our Masters by Research students based at our Penryn Campus. He has recently published his first research paper giving a global overview of shark and ray entanglement. Below he tells us about his research and what he has found.

Words by Kristian Parton, Masters by Research Student at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus

Numerous shark populations around the world are under-threat from a variety human impacts, the most notable of these being overexploitation and bycatch. Plastic pollution and marine debris is also an ever-growing threat to species inhabiting the marine environment, having direct impacts on fish, sea turtles and marine mammals. There is little existing scientific knowledge on the impacts of marine debris on shark and ray species. Over the last year, I led a team of researchers from the University of Exeter seeking to investigate the impacts of anthropogenic (human-made) marine debris on elasmobranch populations across the globe. Our literature review was published this week in Endangered Species Research, in which we used novel data collection from social media site “Twitter”, as well as pre-existing data in the scientific literature. We discovered that the threat of marine debris to sharks and rays is likely underreported and is without doubt of clear animal welfare concern, although it is unlikely to have wide-ranging detrimental population level effects.

We managed to identify that “ghost fishing gear” was the category of marine debris responsible for entangling the majority of elasmobranchs. Ghost fishing gear is fishing equipment that has been discarded or lost at sea, and is distributed by ocean currents and winds. Ghost gear indiscriminately catches and kills a host of marine life, including sharks and rays.  We also discovered the majority of entangled individuals were found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, although recommend that more research should also be conducted in the Indian ocean – a known hotspot for elasmobranch biodiversity. In the scientific literature the most common entangled species were lesser spotted dogfish and spiny dogfish, two species regularly found off the coast of Cornwall. We highlight that sharks and rays who have specific habitat niches (e.g. those that inhabit the seafloor or species that occupy open ocean habitats), as well as those who display migratory movements may be at higher risk of entanglement in marine debris.

This Short-fin Mako Shark has been entangled in fishing rope which has caused scoliosis (deformation) of its spine. Image by Daniel Cartamil

By using a novel method of data collection via social media site “Twitter”, we were able to identify several different species of shark and ray that were a victim of entanglement, but weren’t found as entangled in the scientific literature. This included whale sharks, basking sharks and oceanic white-tip sharks. Twitter also highlighted additional entanglements hotspots that again weren’t displayed in the scientific literature.

Although not one of the major threats to sharks and rays, entanglement in marine debris still presents a risk to elasmobranchs, particularly from an animal welfare perspective. With further research on the topic, it could be revealed that this is occurring at far higher levels than we have reported. Social media has now become integrated into today’s society, so using it in a positive way to help reveal additional entanglement reports is a real bonus. With millions of users, the global reach of social media is unprecedented and scientists could now start to tap into the virtual databases that exist on the web.

From this research, we have set up an online entanglement report form in collaboration with the Shark Trust. This will allow citizen scientists across the globe to submit their shark and ray entanglement sightings, and will significantly help scientist further quantify this risk to ever declining elasmobranch populations.

Follow Kris on Twitter.

#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!

Shark Awareness Day: Eye of the Tiger – Conducting Landing Surveys in Sri Lanka

For Shark Awareness Day 2019 we have been to talking to some of our elasmobranch (that’s sharks, skates and rays) researchers! Here, University of Exeter PhD student Claire Collins tells us about her research in Sri Lanka working to understand the shark fishery there so we can better manage them.

Tiger shark awaiting sale by shark traders in the early morning

Words by Claire Collins, University of Exeter PhD student.

I am 2nd year PhD student studying the socio-economic context of pelagic fisheries in Sri Lanka and India, specifically distant water vessels that target sharks (along with other large pelagics). As part of my research I will study the socio-economic value chains associated with sharks, the spatial movements of vessels and the perceptions of fishers with regards to national and international conservation regulations. To do this I will use a variety of methods including landing surveys, focus groups, household surveys and observational data. It is hoped that at the end of the project we can understand more about what motivates fishers to target sharks in distant water areas and how policy and management can be improved to benefit fishers’ livelihoods and shark populations.

Sharks are threatened globally by both targeted fisheries and through accidental capture in other large pelagic fisheries. Understanding the impact of anthropogenic activities is important and relies on accurate landings and discards data. However, for many fisheries globally the status of sharks as bycatch, and the difficulties in identifying them to a species-level means that we don’t have a clear idea of levels of fishing. The Indian Ocean has been identified as an area where populations of sharks are particularly poorly understood. As part of my PhD project I will be focusing on collecting data on landings and discards of sharks, as well as fishers perceptions of their livelihoods as shark fishers and how management and regulations effects them. One way to collect this data is through landing surveys in markets. These surveys are dual purpose for us, as we are able to collect landings data (including information on price and who is buying them) and we also get to speak to people whose job it is to understand shark movements and populations; the fishers!

Fishers with sharks caught incidentally during fishing for large pelagics such as Tuna and Billfish

Market surveys are not for the faint-hearted as they are frantic, start incredibly early (3AM at one of our sites) and the resulting smell means researchers are often unsuitable for travelling on public transport/sitting in cafes afterwards! Upon arriving at the markets researchers familiarise themselves with fishers and traders and look out for the first landings of the day. In order to understand value chains associated with sharks the team collect weight and price information for each species of shark landed that day, along with the details of which individuals are selling and buying them. Sales are conducted quickly and sharks often disappear seconds after being offloaded, therefore researchers need to be quick and rely on their good relationships with traders and buyers. Within Sri Lanka shark fisheries are considered zero wastage, therefore the team has to collect price and weight data for the sales of meat, fins, liver, teeth/jaws and skin as well as whole sharks.

Meat and fins are separated for sale on the market side.

Our research team also conduct questionnaires with fishers that are landing to the markets on the subject of their fishing behaviours, attitudes towards sharks and the economics of their recent trip. These surveys are conducted by researchers with the captains of the vessels, often in the wheel-house, and tablets are used to help speed up recording and analysis. By combining data from both types of surveys, as well as interviews with other individuals such as shark traders, we can map out socio-economic reliance on shark resources. This will help us to understand likely impacts of changes in management and policy interventions on a national and international level. It could also offer policy-makers an insight into how fishers see their industry and livelihoods and what is important to them for the future.

Fishers are regularly gone for trips of over 2 months

All images taken by the author. This work is supported by the Bertarelli Foundation as part of the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science and is conducted in partnership with the Zoological Society of London.

You can follow Claire on Twitter.

 

#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!

Investigating Coral Reef Acoustics to Aid Reef Restoration

Words by Ben Williams, 2019 BioScience Graduate

Most people are aware coral reefs throughout the world are struggling one way or another. A range
of issues are responsible including overfishing, pollution and climate change induced bleaching to
name a few. However, coral reef communities provide valuable ecosystem services to a vast number
of individuals, it’s estimated One Billion people have some degree of dependence on these
ecosystems. With much of the world’s reefs degraded or lost it makes conserving those that remain
vital, and restoration of former reefs an important endeavour to many individuals.

The Marine Bioacoustics group in Exeter focuses much of their efforts on understanding the
soundscapes of coral reefs. These soundscapes encompass the entirety of the sound that can be
heard on particular spots of the reef and can be collected using underwater microphones we call
hydrophones. Emerging research suggests a lot can be determined about a reef from a few key
parameters within its soundscape which could be used to indicate the health of the surrounding
reef. A great example is shown in the spectrograms below, where you can hear an audible difference
between the soundscape of a healthy reef and that of a degraded reef:

This short acoustic clip first plays us the buzz of a healthy reef, followed by the quieter setting heard on a degraded reef

A group of us from Exeter’s Marine Bioacoustics group are currently out in Indonesia exploring reef
acoustics further. We’re collaborating with a project set up by Mars™, who have been working on an
intuitive way to restore the reefs in South Sulawesi. They use two key methods in doing so, the first
is coral propagation, where small samples of coral are clipped off live colonies and transported
somewhere new where they grow back at a faster rate than if left on their original colony. The next
step is to attach these to a skeleton system they call ‘Spiders’, which provide a substrate for new
corals to colonise and elevate them slightly above the reef bottom to provide the water flow needed
to bring nutrients to the growing coral. The Mars™ project has implemented large areas of these
spiders around two islands off Makassar with an impressive degree of success in their ability to
restore the reef.

This photo shows some of the several month old spiders placed by the Mars™  team which are showing an impressive rate of growth.

Our team from Exeter is particularly interested in the difference between the soundscapes of healthy and degraded reefs. We’re visiting the Mars™ restoration efforts to help explore the differences in soundscapes between their restored sites, degraded sites and baseline healthy sites. The hope is that in the future we will be able to show restored sites match the soundscape of healthy sites, and a quantifiable difference between the restored sites and degraded sites will be observable. We’re trialing this out using hydrophones which we’ve been placing daily on different sites within the reefs to determine whether this is a feasible methodology in comparing the reef soundscape.

Ellie May deploying a GoPro to film our quadrat used for the underwater playback test.

We’re also exploring the possibility of using ‘soundscape enhancement’ to help fine tune the ecology of the reef at a local scale to bring about restorative impacts. This is a highly innovative approach in which submersible loudspeakers are placed on patches of degraded reefs where they play recordings that may help recovery of the reef. A proof of concept of this was only recently provided in a 2018 study authored by Tim Gordon, who is now leading the expedition out here in Indonesia, and other members of the
Marine Bioacoustics group. The study found that larval and juvenile recruitment was greater at sites where healthy reef noise was played compared to sites where degraded reef noise was played. The use of soundscape enhancement is therefore of a great interest to restoration programmes like Mars™ in Indonesia, and we’re also out here to help them investigate whether this could be a potentially useful tool for their restoration. This time we’re trialing playback methods that could be used to affect the ecology of adult fish within the reef, primarily regarding their grazing behaviour which is a key process in controlling algae overgrowth at degraded sites.

 

#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!

A Day in the Life of a Marine Bioacoustics Intern

Words by Ellie May and Ben Williams, ExeterMarine Undergraduate Students

 

Hi there, this is Ellie May and Ben Williams giving you an update on our current trip to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi to assist Tim Gordon and Lucille Chapius in looking at the soundscapes of healthy and degraded reefs. We are currently based in the city of Makassar, where we take one of MARS symbioscience’s boat out to the islands of Bontasua and Badi to measure the acoustic complexity, richness and invertebrate snap rates of different spots around the reef. Our first day out on the islands consisted of observing and understanding the scale of restoration provided by MARS via their spider systems, in which they attach fragments of healthy reef colonies to a metal spider structure in order to promote growth in degraded areas. Our interest is understanding whether adult fish respond to the soundscapes of different reefs, and whether playing recordings of healthy soundscapes will increase not only the abundance of fish but also their rate of grazing.

The spider structures used by MARS to promote coral growth.

A typical dive day consists of being up at 7.30am to prepare our equipment and make any final adjustments before we head out to the islands at 9am. A member of the MARS team will take us to the relevant reef spot, where we deploy hydrophones to sample the baseline of the reef at various times of the day. GoPro’s are set up adjacent to the hydrophones in order to test the quality of sound they record in comparison to the hydrophones. Both Ben and I have our own side projects we are working on throughout the duration of our time here. I’m trying to prove that GoPro’s can be just as useful as hydrophones in recording reef soundscapes, which then allows any individual with access to a GoPro and free coding applications to discriminate between key components of sound, massively increasing the data sets researchers can use to measure reef health.

Our daily commute!

 

During our first week, our time was split between days in the water and daily trips to the local hardware stores in order to find extra bits of equipment we needed, and safe to say we had to be pretty inventive! However, as the days pass, we’re all getting into the swing of things and learning which tasks need prioritising and where we individually fit in to the project. During our days in the water we are constantly moving between locations to record as much as possible, as well as setting up quadrats to measure fish grazing rate in response to healthy reef sound played through our underwater speaker.

Part of our Speaker system that needs to stay dry!

 

We usually return to Makassar’s port by 5pm, cram all our equipment into a ‘Grab’ taxi and head back to our accommodation for a debrief and evening plan. Luckily as food is so cheap we tend to go out for dinner every night, and try to sample a mix of local Indonesian food as well as a few more Western cuisines. Gado-Gado is our favourite local dish and we have a tally of how many our team can eat within the approximate month we are all staying here, as this is the only vegetarian Indonesian dish we have found as of yet!

Ben setting up our hydrophone and GoPro system.

 

After supper and a debrief we get on with preparing everything for the next day in the field, whether that be making slight adjustments to the equipment to decrease set up time or cutting and editing our audio recordings to make the data analysis in the future a lot less time consuming. We tend to get relatively early nights here as everyone is usually shattered after a long day that is both mentally and physically taxing! Often in the evenings Ben and I reflect on how truly privileged we are to be able to learn about bioacoustics on such beautiful and diverse reefs, and be able to have a first-hand insight into the incredible work MARS are doing on coral restoration. To be able to see both the logistical planning and fieldwork skills it takes to organise and run such a project is amazing, especially as a current undergraduate. Observing the differences between the restored and untouched reefs really consolidates how important restoration projects are, and hopefully there is a much wider community finally realising that big changes are needed in order to save the biodiversity of our reefs.

#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!

Happy #SeaTurtleWeek! Check out these turtle-y awesome Sea Turtle researchers!

As we segway from #WorldOceansDay into #SeaTurtleWeek we though we would share with you all an insight into just some of the research being carried out by @ExeterMarine at the Univeristy of Exeter!

Below, members of the Marine Turtle Research Group led by Profs Annette Broderick and Brendan Godley share their research and why they enjoy working with these ancient animals.

Ceren Barlas, PhD student 

Hello! I am a Ph.D. Biological Sciences student in the Marine Turtle Research Group at the University of Exeter, supervised by Brendan Godley and Annette Broderick. My research focuses on the marine plastic pollution in the Mediterranean and how it affects the physical and biological environment. The recent experiments at Alagadi beach investigated the effect of macroplastic contamination on the beach, where we compared the effects of different contamination levels and different plastic types on sand temperature. This type of contamination and resulting effects are important for sea turtles, as a change in sand temperature can change the sex ratios of the hatchlings and affect the reproductive success of future generations.

Find out more about the turtle conservation project at Alagadi Beach here.

 

Dr Ana Nuno, Research Fellow

How can we better protect sea turtle populations worldwide? We need to understand the root causes of problems affecting them… and that often means understanding how people use them (e.g. diet and culture). My research combines information about sea turtles and people so that we can design robust conservation programmes. For example, my research explored sea turtle farming as a way of promoting sustainable use of turtles in the Caymans Islands and assessed drivers of the illegal trade of marine turtle products in Cape Verde. There are so many different ways people value sea turtles… it’s crucial understanding these different perspectives so that we can find ways forward!

Find out more about Ana and her work here, and follow her on Twitter.

Research paper exploring the drivers and deterrents of illegal turtle harvesting.

 

 

Julia Haywood, PhD Student

I am a marine spatial ecologist working on female loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean Sea. Using satellite telemetry, stable isotope analysis, and satellite remote sensed data I aim to unravel the mystery of what they get up to when they aren’t nesting. Where do they go, how do they find their way there, what is so special about that place, and how do human activities affect them?

Follow Julia on twitter!

 

 

Dr Rita Patricio, Postdoctoral Researcher

Dr. Patricio is a Postdoctoral researcher at MARE-ISPA, Instituto Universitário, Portugal and University of Exeter, UK.

I research the green turtle connectivity along the West African coast and the Atlantic, using satellite telemetry, to assess their migratory routes, and genetic analysis, to investigate their origins. Other aspects we are also looking into include climate change impacts on the greatest green turtle population in Africa, habitat selection, and status of the critically endangered hawksbill turtle in the Bijagós Archipelago, Guinea-Bissau.

I work with an amazing team of students, researchers, national technicians and community members. Our work contributes to improve sea turtle protection, for example informing the zonation of MPAs, or suggesting regulations at priority sites, it helps to raise awareness, through the participation of local communities in conservation work, and it builds the capacity of national teams involved on research. Plus, disseminating our research results and activities boosts visibility enhancing funding opportunities for conservation.

It is fascinating to work so close to these charismatic and ancient-like creatures. Marine turtles are very symbolic to many coastal African communities, representing abundance, power, and fertility. Understanding local cultures and working together for the conservation of marine turtles for the coming generations it is most fulfilling.

Follow Rita on Twitter and find out more about the project by following the links below.

Sea Turtles in Guinea Bissau

Atlantic Migrants Marine Research Group  

 

 

Casper van de Geer, PhD student

I have recently started my PhD, where I will be looking into the ecology and conservation of marine turtles in Kenya. The fieldwork and data collection has been carried by the team at Local Ocean Conservation (LOC), founded in 1997 and based in Watamu, and is ongoing. Before starting my PhD I was the manager at LOC for four years.
I will be investigating turtle nesting trends and incubation temperatures, as well data collected through the LOC’s Bycatch Release Programme. The Bycatch Release Program aims to minimize mortality of turtles resulting from interactions with the artisanal fishing sector, which has been recognized as one of the major threats to marine megafauna in the Western Indian Ocean region. I will also be carrying out an assessment of this program to see if it should and could be replicated elsewhere.

There is still much we do not know about turtles in Kenya or indeed the wider Western Indian Ocean, so I’m excited that my research will be able fill some of these knowledge gaps and contribute towards effective conservation strategies for these incredible marine reptiles. These contributions will also demonstrate how important local grassroots conservation efforts, like those of Local Ocean Conservation, can be if they are carried out properly and consistently.

Check out Casper and Local Ocean Conservation on Twitter!

 

Dr Liliana Poggio-Colman, Postdoctoral Researcher

I’m a postdoc researcher working with the ecology and conservation of a small and critically endangered leatherback turtle population nesting in Espírito Santo, Brazil. We work together with @ProjetoTAMAR in Brazil to monitor them and investigate their nesting ecology, population trends, habitat use and threats. I love being able to work with such magnificent creatures.

Find Lili on Twitter and take a look at this video for more information on the project!

 

 

#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!

Scientists at Sea Podcast – Sail Against Plastic Part II

Show notes

You might remember that earlier in the series we spoke to Flora Rendell and Lowenna Jones about an arctic sailing expedition they were about to embark upon in 2018 titled ‘Sail Against Plastic’. Well they’ve been there, done that, and got the microplastic samples to prove it. If you didn’t catch the episode, I would recommend having a listen to it here.

The Sail Against Plastic team – Photo credit – Ben Porter

In short, Sail Against Plastic was a two-week multidisciplinary research expedition taking place in the waters off Svalbard. Sailing aboard the Blue Clipper, the team investigated the impact of plastics and noise pollution on this arctic environment whilst producing film, photography and artwork to capture the experience and illustrate their findings. You can find out about the background of the expedition on the Sail Against Plastic website.

This time Flora is joining us with Daniel Osmond, with both of them being greatly involved in the scientific aspect of the expedition. Since recording they have both gone on to secure PhDs, well done to both!


“It was just a great example of how different people with different experiences, interests and skill sets can all come together”


About our guests

Flora Rendell – Scientific Director

Flora is a current postgraduate research student at the University of Exeter, with a strong interest in science outreach and the effects of anthropogenic stressors on populations and habitats. Her key interests in aquatic habitats and the conservation and management of local sites around the UK.

 

 

Daniel Osmond – Scientific Officer

Daniel is an MSci Zoology Student at the University of Exeter. During his degree program and ongoing work in Wotton’s research group he has been spurred on to use ecological knowledge to help us to protect threatened ecosystems.

 

 

You can find out more about the team through this link.


Topics discussed

The Blue Clipper: Photo credit – Jamie Haigh
  • Background of Sail Against Plastic
  • Where did the expedition go?
  • How do you do plastic research on a ship that’s not designed for it?
  • How to analyse the microplastics samples that were found
  • Building the team
  • Multidisciplinary expeditions – Science, art, film-making all in one trip.
  • How the expedition was funded
  • Citizen Science projects
  • How do you make the best of 24 hours daylight for research?

 


 

Resources

The Sail Against Plastic expedition film can be viewed above.

Sail Against Plastic Blog

Expedition Photography

Sail Against Plastic Twitter

Sail Against Plastic Facebook


This was Ethan’s final episode (for now, at least), if you want to follow his adventures, take a look at the Trail and Errors website.

Hosted by Ethan Wrigglesworth and Ben Toulson

Episode and show notes produced by Ben Toulson and Ethan Wrigglesworth

Check out other episodes of the podcast here.

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

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

 

A Day in the Life of an Arctic Field Scientist

Words by Clara Nielson, University of Exeter PhD Student

A day in the life of an Arctic field scientist

Hello! My name is Clara Nielson and I am a PhD student from Exeter University studying the impacts of global change on marine species in Dr Ceri Lewis’s lab. We are currently at 78 degrees north in a place called Ny Alesund, in Svalbard at the UK NERC Arctic Station for AXA XL Arctic Live with Encounter Edu. We are here to both conduct important research but also to communicate what we are doing to schools around the world.

Clara Nielson and Dr Ceri Lewis in the Arctic

Pulling open the curtains to a view of snow covered mountains and glaciers on the edge of a fjord will guarantee to put a smile on your face and put you in a good mood for the rest of the day. Our usual day starts waking up in the base and heading to the canteen for breakfast. Ny Alesund is home to a range of international scientists all coming and going at different parts of the year and the canteen is the communal hub where everyone can share a meal, and a story or two, before heading off for the day.

Arctic View

Weather permitting (we have had a few base days where we are unable to get out onto the boat due to high winds) we usually spend the day out on Teisten, the research boat, collecting water samples from different parts and depths of the fjord. We are out here to monitor the pH and carbonate chemistry of the seawater, as part of a global ocean acidification project. Ocean acidification is the change in ocean chemistry as a result of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and this process is happening fastest in the Arctic. The samples we are taking will help fill in the global picture of just how fast this process is happening. We are also sampling for any microplastics that may be in the seawater as the Arctic is also thought to be a hotspot for microplastic accumulation due to ocean currents. We were here last year doing the same sampling, and we did find some plastic, so it will be really interesting to compare our data and that of other long term projects to see how the Arctic is changing. Today it was -7oC, which is pretty cold but add to that the wind chill and we were out in temperatures of about -25 oC. This made sampling slightly trickier than at home as the seawater and all of our sampling gear was freezing pretty quickly, not to mention how cold my hands were getting! Its hard to describe how that sort of temperature feels but basically it’s painfully cold. Thankfully team work, biscuits and a kettle kept everything working!

 

The cold is soon forgotten as once the days sampling is over we can head back to our heated base but the hot shower has to wait just a little longer! First, we need to make sure all our kit is cleaned ready to go again tomorrow and the samples are stored away correctly.

After dinner we spend a bit of time looking through samples and manage to show our Arctic base manager Nick his first sea angel! This is a type of zooplankton called a pteropod, which flapped around our petridish and made this seasoned field man swoon at its beauty.

Frozen equipment is a daily challenge.

Before bed I spend a bit of time with Jamie, from Encountered Edu, going through what I shall be doing tomorrow as it is my day to take part in Arctic Live. Arctic Live is the other important reason we are all here, as alongside our research we are taking part in a live streaming educational lessons and question and answer sessions where we speak to school children live from around the world about our experiences and answer their questions about the Arctic and what it is like to work here. I am looking forward to hearing what questions the children have come up with! Its really cool that we can share what we are doing live from this amazing place, I hope it inspires them.

It is time for bed once we are all set for tomorrow, the 24-hour daylight is making it slightly harder to get to sleep as you feel like it should be the middle of the afternoon, not 11pm but it is important that we all get a good rest.

I feel very privileged to be out in such a stunningly beautiful place and it is without doubt the best place I have ever done field work in. The wildlife here is amazing too, today we saw a Minke whale from the end of the boat which was incredible. The Arctic is at the forefront of climate change where the impacts are being felt first and fastest and is also a hotspot for plastic pollution so it is probably the most important place to be doing this kind of science right now.

All images a courtesy of Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop of Encounter Edu.

#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!

 

It’s World Penguin Day!

 Today is World Penguin Day!

 
Penguins are some of the most recognisable characters amongst the cast of species that call the oceans their home. Whether they love them (almost everyone!) or hate them, people I meet rarely fail to register an emotional response when I tell them I work on penguins. And that’s got to be a good thing this World Penguin Day because, globally, penguins are not fairing well. Of the 18 species of penguin, 11 are undergoing population declines and 10 are considered as threatened on the IUCN Red List. Penguins are threatened by climate change, pressure from fisheries interactions and pollution, amongst other things. But there are successful conservation stories for penguins species too and teams of dedicated people are working to ensure these charismatic species stick around to see many a more World Penguin Day in future.
Have a look at this blog post to find out more about our work to conserve African penguins: http://multimedia.earthwatch.org/a-comeback-story-in-the-making
or this recently accepted review for more information on all 18 species: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2019.00248/abstract.
A Penguin-eye view: foraging for fish

Happy World Penguin Day!

Words and Images by ExeterMarine researcher Richard Sherley.