MSc Graduate in Focus: Sarah Nelms

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 Sarah Nelms, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2014) and now a Post Doctoral Research Associate with the University of Exeter!

Sarah Nelms in Svalbard during her PhD Credit: Rachel Coppock

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

After completing my MSc I immediately began a graduate role with my master’s thesis supervisor which then led to me getting a PhD scholarship at Plymouth Marine Lab and University of Exeter. Upon completing my PhD earlier this year, I was offered a postdoc position back the UoE Penryn campus.

 

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

I loved everything about studying in Cornwall! The campus is beautiful and Falmouth and the surrounding areas are friendly and relaxed. The beaches and countryside are fantastic for an outdoorsy person like myself. The department is very welcoming and I felt like a member of a community that celebrates the achievements of staff and students alike.

The small and friendly campus is what makes UoE Penryn so special. It’s easy to meet people and connect and there are plenty of spots around campus to inspire you.

A Microplastics Survey, Credit: Emily Duncan

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

One of the most important things I gained during the MSc was confidence. The support I received was hugely influential in helping me realise my potential as a scientist and I thrived in that environmentThe network of friends and peers I was able to build has also benefitted me since finishing my course. 

Additionally, the practical skills I learnt during the MSc, such as science communication, statistical analysis, time-management, were essential during my PhD.

I’d advise anyone looking to follow a career in academia to gain as much practical experience as possible and try lots of things so you can make an informed decision about what direction you want to head in.

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

Work really hard but take quality time off, meet lots of people, be organized and enjoy it!

You won’t regret it! 

Thanks Sarah!

Analysing seal scat for microplastics

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

My ExeterMarine PhD: Carbon dioxide – an unexpected ally for fish faced with low oxygen?

Many of us know how climate change is causing an increase in ocean acidification, warming sea water temperatures and coral bleaching, but did you also know it causes an increase in the number and severity of ‘hypoxic’ or low oxygen events? Understanding how this decrease in oxygen (and its reciprocal increase in carbon dioxide) impacts species dependent on oxygen is important if we are to effectively predict and manage the impacts of future climate change on marine life.

University of Exeter PhD student Dan Montgomery tells us about his new paper, working to understand the tolerance of European Sea Bass to hypoxic events.

Words by Dan Montgomery, PhD Student, University of Exeter

Key message: During periods of low oxygen in the oceans fish are also faced with high CO2 levels. Previous research investigating responses to hypoxia by fish hasn’t considered this change in CO2. We found that including realistic changes in CO2 during hypoxia tolerance tests increase hypoxia tolerance of European seabass by 20 %. This has important implications for assessing impacts of hypoxia on fish species and predicting potential effects of climate change.

Oxygen is key to most animals found on earth and a lack of oxygen has large consequences, potentially including death. For animals that live on land or in the air low amounts of oxygen (otherwise known as hypoxia) are relatively rare, however for animals that live in water (like fish) hypoxia is much more common 1. In order to determine the impacts of low oxygen on these animals we need to know how tolerant they are to these low oxygen conditions. Scientists have been conducting research to discover the tolerance of fish species to hypoxia for over 50 years but crucially these experiments are carried out in laboratories and aquariums where oxygen is reduced in water by bubbling them with nitrogen (or a mix of nitrogen and air). Whilst this reduces the oxygen levels in the water it does not account for changes in another key gas, carbon dioxide!

European Sea bass in Exeter University’s aquarium

Low oxygen levels in the world’s oceans are usually caused by respiration of bacteria. As a by-product of this respiration carbon dioxide is produced. This means that whenever oxygen levels are reduced carbon dioxide levels increase. The reciprocal relationship between carbon dioxide and oxygen is well known and has been recorded many times in oceanographic surveys 2,3. Our research, using European sea bass, aimed to understand if this increase in CO2 during a hypoxic event changed the hypoxia tolerance of fish when compared to normal experimental techniques which induce hypoxia without changing CO2.

Working in the lab to measure blood chemistry of sea bass

We found that sea bass which experienced environmentally realistic increases in CO2 during a hypoxia challenge were 20 % more tolerant to hypoxia than fish exposed to a hypoxia challenge with no CO2 change. We believe this increase in tolerance is related to changes in the chemistry of the sea bass’s blood which increase the affinity of haemoglobin for oxygen in their red blood cells. This means that as O2 levels drop in water the bass can maintain transport of oxygen in their blood for longer! This result may mean that previous research investigating hypoxia has miscalculated the true tolerance of fish in the wild.

Juvenile seabass in the holding tanks in the Aquatic Resources Centre at the University of Exeter

Improving our understanding of how hypoxia impacts fish species is crucial as climate change is causing an increase in both the prevalence and severity of hypoxic events. If calculations of hypoxia tolerance are incorrect this could affect our ability to predict impacts of climate change on fish. Our aim is to now investigate whether this response is common in marine fish or if individual species have differing responses.

The study, published by Scientific Reports, is freely available at here.

You can follow Dan on Twitter @DanWMont

References:

  1. Breitburg, D. et al. Declining oxygen in the global ocean and coastal waters. Science (80-. ). 359, (2018).
  2. Melzner, F. et al. Future ocean acidification will be amplified by hypoxia in coastal habitats. Mar. Biol. 160, 1875–1888 (2013).
  3. Sunda, W. G. & Cai, W.-J. Eutrophication Induced CO2-Acidification of Subsurface Coastal Waters: Interactive Effects of Temperature, Salinity, and Atmospheric PCO2. Environ. Sci. Technol. 46, 10651–10659 (2012).

#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 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 Stressful Being a Coral! Declining Coral Cover on the Great Barrier Reef

Author: Jennifer McWhorter

Jennifer McWhorter is pursuing her PhD in a joint program between the Universities of Exeter and Queensland. Using various climate and ecological modelling techniques, Jen hopes to improve our spatial knowledge of coral reef stressors.

 

The above diagram describes the process of coral bleaching followed by mortality. Source: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA)

 

Similar to humans experiencing a fever, coral reefs undergo similar stress. The more frequent the fever and the longer the fever lasts, the more life threatening it becomes. Sea surface temperatures in the ocean are increasing at an alarming rate due to human inputs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Ekwurzel et al., 2017). In 2016/2017, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) experienced two back-to-back severe warming events that caused widespread coral bleaching[1]. According to the Australia Institute of Marine Science, hard coral cover on the GBR has declined at a rate that has never been recorded.

 

Figure 2. “Large-scale spatial patterns in change in coral cover and in heat exposure on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. A, Change in coral cover between March and November 2016. b, Heat exposure, measured in DHW (in degree C-weeks) in the summer of 2016. Map template is provided by Geoscience Australia (Commonwealth of Australia (Geoscience Australia) 2018).” Source: Hughes, T. P., et al., 2018

 

In addition to coral bleaching, cyclones and crown-of-thorns sea star outbreaks have been the main cause of decline in coral cover on the GBR within the past four years. The northern area of the GBR is expected to have lost about half of its’ coral cover. This estimate reflects the impacts of two episodes of severe coral bleaching from 2014-2017 and two cyclones.  The central reef has experienced a decline in coral cover from 22% in 2016 to 14% in 2018 due to coral bleaching and the ongoing southward spread of the crown-of-thorns sea star. Even though the southern portion of the GBR was not exposed to the 2016/2017 warming events, coral cover has dropped from 33% in 2017 to 25% in 2018. On the southern reefs, the crown-of-thorns sea star outbreaks appear to be the main cause for the most recent decline.

 

During my last trip to Australia, I assisted in injecting vinegar into the crown-of-thorns sea stars at Lodestone Reef on the GBR. The vinegar kills the sea star within 24 hours potentially reducing their threat to hard, or stony corals. Photo Credit: Chris Jones

 

“Clearly the reef is struggling with multiple impacts,” says Prof. Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. “Without a doubt the most pressing of these is global warming. As temperatures continue to rise the corals will experience more and more of these events: 1°C of warming so far has already caused four events in the past 19 years.”

“Ultimately, we need to cut carbon emissions, and the window to do so is rapidly closing.”

 

 

[1] Coral bleaching – Coral bleaching occurs when the relationship between the coral host and zooxanthellae (photosynthetic algae, NOAA), which give coral much of their colour, breaks down. Without the zooxanthellae, the tissue of the coral animal appears transparent and the coral’s bright white skeleton is revealed. Corals begin to starve once they bleach. (GBRMPA)

 

Additional Resources:

Ekwurzel, B., Boneham, J., Dalton, M. W., Heede, R., Mera, R. J., Allen, M. R., & Frumhoff, P. C. (2017). The rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level from emissions traced to major carbon producers. Climatic Change144(4), 579-590.

Hughes, T.P. & Kerry, J.T. Back-to-back bleaching has now hit two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef. The Conversation https://theconversation.com/back-to-back-bleaching-has-now-hit-two-thirds-of-the-great-barrier-reef-76092 (2017)

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. Nature556(7702), 492.

Media Release: Two Thirds of the Great Barrier Reef hit by back-to-back mass coral bleaching

Long-term Reef Monitoring Program – Annual Summary Report on coral reef condition for 2017/2018

 

#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!

Scientists at Sea Podcast: Sail Against Plastic

Show Notes

 

 

 

Guests – Flora Rendell and Lowenna Jones

 

 

 

Sail Against Plastic started as an idea to simply undertake a sailing expedition, over just a few months it developed into an Arctic mission to investigate unseen pollutants, namely microplastics and noise pollution.

 

“We are a collaborative expedition hoping to unveil and reveal the invisible pollutants of the arctic”

 

The Sail Against Plastic team. Photo credit – Ben Porter

 

Why the Arctic?

It is well documented that plastic debris has been circulating around our oceans via 5 ocean gyres. It is now thought there maybe a sixth gyre that carries plastic up into the Arctic circle. Recent discoveries supporting this theory have shown that plastic has been found in sea ice.

 

“As sea ice melts that could be opening up more microplastics that have been trapped in that sea ice… it shows that we’ve been influencing the world for a long time”

 

A selection of plastics found on mainland Svalbard. Photo credit – Ben Porter

 

A view from the Blue Clipper: Photo credit – Ben Porter

These pieces of plastic aren’t necessarily what you would expect, while there plastic bottles and bags found in these areas, there may be an even greater prevalence of microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic debris resulting from the breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste.

 

“It’s not these big large pieces of plastic, it’s not a floating island that we’re going to find’

 

At the time of recording, the team, a diverse group of scientists, artists, environmentalists, photographers and videographers, were just a few days away from setting sail on the Barents Sea from Svalbard aboard the Blue Clipper.

 

 

The team’s manta trawl, used to collect microplastics. Photo credit – Ben Porter

 

 

“I think the main thing is making issues that are so strongly linked to humans… making you feel emotive about them… through art and through film, people will feel emotive about it and will care, we hope”

 

“And make it relevant to people in the UK and Europe and connect communities that are halfway across the world that have similarities and can work together to find a solution to our crazy plastic addiction”

 

 

 

 

 

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Website – https://www.sailagainstplastic.com/

Blog – https://www.sailagainstplastic.com/blog-1/

Facebook – @amessagefromthearctic

Instagram – @amessagefromthearctic

Twitter – @Sail4seas

Art – Jess Grimsdale & Further info

 

Hosted by Ethan Wrigglesworth and Molly Meadows

Episode and show notes produced by Ben Toulson

 

#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!

 

Scientists at Sea Podcast: What’s in the water? With Dr. Anne Leonard

Show notes

Ethan and Molly talk to Dr. Anne Leonard about her work studying antibiotic resistant bacteria in the waters around our coasts. How did it get there? Is it dangerous? Where are the cleanest places to swim? All these questions and more are answered in the podcast linked above.

If people are worried about where and when they should go to beaches… going to ones that regularly meet good water quality standards is probably a good way to go.

Follow Anne on Twitter – @dr_anne_leonard

 

Read Anne’s open access (free) systematic review here:

Is it safe to go back into the water? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the risk of acquiring infections from recreational exposure to seawater

You can also find out more about the Beach Bum Survey here (again, open access)!

 

 

Links to more of Anne’s work (membership to journals required)

A coliform-targeted metagenomic method facilitating human exposure estimates to Escherichia coli-borne antibiotic resistance genes

Human recreational exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria in coastal bathing waters

 

 

Bathing Water Quality Near You

Blue Flag Beaches

Environment Agency – Bathing Water Quality

Surfers Against Sewage – Safer Seas Service

 

 

The Jargon Buster

If there’s anything that came up in the episode that you would like to know more about, get in touch via our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Antibiotic medications

  • Drugs used to treat bacterial infections. These are used to treat a whole range of conditions such as acne, bronchitis, and skin infections.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria

  • Bacteria that are not controlled or killed by antibiotic medications.

Microorganisms

  • A living organism that cannot be seen by the naked eye, but can be observed under a microscope.

MRSA – Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

  • An example of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

E. coli – Escherichia coli

  • A type of bacteria that usually live in the intestines of people and animals which can cause food poisoning.

Pathogenic bacteria

  • Bacteria that is capable of causing disease.

Agricultural run-off

  • The portion of rainfall that runs over agricultural land and then into streams as surface water rather than being absorbed into ground water or evaporating.

Systematic review

  • A systematic review has multiple stages and is aimed at the identification of all reliable evidence regarding a specific clinical problem.

Next Generation Sequencing

  • A quick way of analysing DNA.

 

Get in touch via our Facebook and Twitter pages.

#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!

Scientists at Sea (Episode 1): Do crabs have ears? with Emily Carter

 

 

Show notes

 

Emily Carter – @E_E_Carter

How does noise pollution impact one of our coastal favourites? Ethan and Molly talk to Masters by Research student Emily Carter about her current work which investigates how the presence of ship noise affects the rate of colour change in shore crabs.

 

Other behaviours that don’t rely on noise at all can be quite drastically affected by noise pollution

Useful links from this episode:

Fiddler crab

Selfish herd hypothesis

Shore crabs

Crabs hearing noise

Gylly beach

Penryn Campus

Steve Simpson, Matthew Wale, Andrew Radford

Martin Steven’s Group/Sensory Ecology

 

 

 

 

#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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#ExeterMarine community highlights the impact of plastic in the Ocean for Earth Day

The #ExeterMarine research community provides globally significant insight into the effects of plastics in the Ocean and on the organisms that rely upon the marine environment, from plankton to whales, and even humans.

The focus of this year’s Earth Day is to provide information and inspiration needed to fundamentally change attitudes and behaviours about plastics and increase awareness about the impact that plastic pollution has on marine life, human health landscapes and nature. As the use of plastics increases so to is the awareness of the threats posed by plastics.

Here is a selection of what our community had to say on the subject of plastics. Read the full article here.  

 

 

 

 

 

My #ExeterMarine Expedition: Sail Against Plastic

Sails Against Plastic is currently raising funds for the expedition – if you’d like to find out more check out their page on Crowd Science.

Author – Flora Rendell-Bhatti

Sail Against Plastic represents a culmination of the time I have had at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus. A diverse, exciting, unique, collaborative and supportive expedition mirrors my time spent studying and living in Cornwall. I completed my undergraduate degree here and couldn’t face leaving the vibrant campus, so continued onto a masters by research, looking into the effects of microplastic contamination on sea urchin larvae development. I chose to continue my studies at Exeter University because of the cutting-edge research being carried out across all of campuses. My undergraduate degree opened  many doors into the research world and I couldn’t face leaving it.

 

In the first few months of my research masters, whilst at a Plastic Free Falmouth meeting I was invited onto the Sail Against Plastic expedition as a Scientific Director.

As a collaborative sailing expedition with scientists, photographers, film makers, artists, campaigners and sailors it had real promise as a science communication project to reach more people via film, art and photography.  I strongly believe that scientists must make an effort to collaborate and merge environmental outreach and education with their research, in order to make positive change regarding environmental issues.

Our aim as a crew is to investigate and unveil invisible pollution in the Arctic ocean. We will be setting sail from Longyearbyen this summer, as a diverse 18 strong team aim to collect vital baseline data no some of the non-visible pollutants that pervade the seas here, including marine plastic pollution and man-made noise. Using manta trawls and drop-net sampling we will be able to gather baseline levels of microplastic pollution within the Barents Sea (located SE of Svalbard). Our data will contribute to globally-significant research, which may provide evidence to support the theory that the remote Barents Sea is in fact a ‘sixth gyre’ like the other five known ocean areas where currents aggregate plastic waste in huge concentrations.

The Barents Sea is also home to one of the world’s largest industrial fisheries. However the waters around Svalbard are home to up to 14 species of marine mammal, where communication through low frequency sound can be essential for survival. Very little is understood about how, when and where human-generated noise might be impacting upon these species, but we hope to pioneer some preliminary research to begin the first steps to protect these already vulnerable marine species from the dangers of marine noise.

Through the use of film, photography and art, we hope to increase public awareness by making our findings educational and engaging, whilst highlighting the actions needed to preserve this spectacular region. So far, we have engaged with school children about the impacts of single-use plastics, surveyed locally for microplastics, hosted beach cleans and engaging film screenings, have danced our hearts out at our Ceilidh Against Plastic and Gig Against Plastic events. All these events have enabled us to engage with the public about the issues of single-use plastics and how areas which seem pristine and untouched, can be tainted with actions here in the UK. We want to be part of the solution and help communities to come together to be innovative and forward-thinking to stem the plastic tide.

Reducing single-use plastic in your life can seem like a herculean task, when nearly everything we use has some form of plastic wrapped around it! However, simple swaps, community action, accessibility to information, inspiration, finding the correct tools and coming together really does make a difference. Our team members have seen this develop and grow first-hand in Cornwall, being involved in Plastic Free Falmouth, Penryn Produce and Falmouth Marine Conservation. However, with strong links with organisations, schools and individuals in Svalbard, we hope this expedition will be highly collaborative and have a meaningful impact, which goes above and beyond publishing scientific papers.

We are currently raising funds for the expedition, if you would like to support us or find out more please visit our Crowd Funding page!

This expedition is only possible with your help. Be part of the solution to save our oceans: support our project to enable us to make the unseen seen.

Connect with us:

Facebook – A Message from the Arctic

Instagram – A Message from the Arctic

Twitter – @Sail4seas

 

 

 

 

 

 

#ExeterMarine is a 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!

Falmouth Marine Conservation Group – a collaboration between #ExeterMarine academics and the local community, powered by our students

Author – Jade Getliff , Marine Biology Undergraduate, Founding Member of Falmouth Marine Conservation.

Falmouth Marine Conservation Group (FMC) is a community conservation organisation of active volunteers raising marine awareness to empower our community in protecting the local marine environment, founded in October 2016 by our very own Marine Biology students, including myself!

A little bit about me… I’m Jade, a Marine Biology undergraduate in my second year at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus. I am the Biosciences Subject Chair for the CLES college, as well as a Student Ambassador, so I work closely with our fabulous academics! My favourite marine animal has to be the Green Turtle, which themselves are threatened by everything from sea level rise to plastic pollution. My work with marine turtles drives my passion to protect our marine environment and lead the fight against single use plastics! When I arrived for the first time in Cornwall in September 2016, I was enthused by the passion of our #ExeterMarine academics and wanted to connect that with the love that the local community has for the marine environment here in Cornwall! And so, with the incredible initiative of Meg-Hayward Smith (Chair of FMC) and the support of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, FMC was born…

When we set up FMC almost two years ago, we agreed our four main aims to allow us to achieve our goals of increasing awareness of marine issues, backing up our campaigns with solid research and making a positive impact on our local community here in Falmouth and Penryn!

Education – Our education and outreach team visit local school and youth groups every week, teaching the next generation of conservationists, biologists and policy makers about a huge range of marine topics! More recently we have been focusing on the growing marine plastic pollution issue, which has been grabbing more and more media attention. Through fun games and activities, we encourage the kids to think about how they can reduce their plastic waste and encourage their friends and family to do so too!

This week we visited the Brownies in Falmouth,

where we tested their recycling knowledge in a fun recycling relay game, it shocked all of us how much plastic is really hard to recycle! The kids then made their own never-before-discovered marine species out of plastic waste and presented them to the group, telling us all about how their marine species might be threatened by plastic pollution – some chose to use unrecyclable fruit netting to symbolise how their species might be vulnerable to entanglement by fishing gear. They pledged to not only recycle and reuse, but also refuse single-use plastics!

We hope, through the younger generation, to inspire the community to protect the marine environment and learn how to live alongside our marine wildlife harmoniously.

Research – We believe backing up our campaigns with research is so important! We encourage and run lots of citizen science projects throughout Falmouth, collecting data and recording local wildlife sightings to support our conservation efforts and understand more about the local coast and how we can conserve it in the best way possible. We are currently surveying and tackling the invasive populations of Pacific Oysters around the Fal river, as well as running regular cetacean surveys and microplastic trawls – so there is lots for volunteers to get involved in!

Events and Campaigns – From Rockpool Rambles to Snorkel Safaris and engaging Academic Talks, we run a vast variety of regular events to inspire and educate the local community through fun and motivational activities! One of our most successful events has been an Academic Talk, delivered for us by our very own Professor Brendan Godley and Sarah Nelms on the subject of marine plastic pollution. A whopping 290 people attended, raising a huge £530 to support the vital work of Falmouth Marine Conservation and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust! Many of our members and the student community were inspired and have pledged to ditch single-use and back us in our campaign to make Falmouth a Surfer’s Against Sewage Plastic Free Coastline!

Business – We collaborate with business to improve the Falmouth marine environment by helping them decrease their negative impact – many have taken the plunge to ditch straws, plastic bags and single use coffee cups!

I could go on forever about the amazing work of FMC… I hope you enjoyed my whistle-stop tour of what we have been up to over the past two years! Please find us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date with our exciting events and news – and stay tuned on the #ExeterMarine blog for more turtle-y awesome (and hopefully shorter!) blog posts by yours truly.

#ExeterMarine is a 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!