Exeter Marine Podcast: Becoming Marine Biologists – with Lauren Henly, Emma Weschke and Tim Gordon

This episode was recorded back in early 2019. Ben talks to Lauren Henly, Emma Weschke and Tim Gordon, who are all masters by research or PhD students in Prof. Steve Simpson’s research group (you might remember Steve from an earlier episode, Coral Reef Bioacoustics Part I). The discussion focuses around the research they’re all undertaking, what got them interested in marine biology, and what they have done so far.

 


 

About our guests:

Emma Weschke

At the time of recording Emma was a masters by research student and is now undertaking a PhD with the University of Bristol focusing on coral reef fish ecology and bioacoustics.

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Lauren Henly 

Lauren is a PhD student with the University of Exeter and Natural England studying functional ecology and behaviour of wrasse to inform management of wrasse fisheries. She provided us with the update below:

 “I’m now in the 3rd year of my PhD. I’ve been developing lots of different methods to assess the sustainability and potential impacts of the Live Wrasse Fishery on the south coast. I’m using genetics to look at the population structure of wrasse along the south coast so we can identify the most effective management unit size, using stable isotopes to predict the ecological impacts of the fishery, and working to ensure the views of other stakeholders (including recreational anglers) are considered when developing management measures for the fishery. It’s great being able to use such a broad range of techniques to address a key issue.”

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Tim Gordon

Tim is completing a PhD with the University of Exeter and the Australian Institute for Marine Science focusing on coral reef bioacoustcs, what can you learn from coral reefs by listening to them. You can find out more about Tim’s work in a previous episode – Coral Reef Bioacoustics Part II.

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Topics discussed:

  • Sustainability of wrasse fisheries around the UK.
  • Ecological consequences of marine anthropogenic noise on coral reefs, both during the day and at night.
  • How fish use underwater soundscapes.
  • Using underwater sound to aid marine conservation efforts.
  • The impacts of the degredation of coral reef marine noise
  • Using underwater speakers to make reefs louder.
  • The bigger picture aspects of working in a research group.
  • What got you into marine biology?

 


 

Resources:

 


 

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

Check out other episodes of the podcast here.

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

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

 

 

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 PhD 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!

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!

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!

International Day for Climate Action: How I attended a conference remotely

To celebrate the International Day for Climate Action, and the 10 year anniversary of its creators 350.org, we have been chatting to Louise Rutterford, a PhD student studying the response of marine systems to climate change at the University of Exeter. Louise recently presented a poster at conference remotely, from the comfort of her own home. 

Here she shares her experiences:

In early September I presented a poster at the annual International Council for the Exploration of the Sea in Gothenburg virtually (by skype). The session was a great success, not least due to the great support from the ICES team and hosting venue. I caught up with existing colleagues, met some new faces, found a new team working on similar projects to me and received the all-important constructive criticism of, and advice about, my work – so all the great bits conferences offer in a snapshot!

The session worked really well because the host organisation were keen to test this as a way to reduce travel and were totally on board with the set up. And I was kept busy as colleagues highlighted relevant parts of my work to each other and encouraged people to come and find me.

The session felt pretty intense from my end as I was tied to the screen, so no forays to the bar to absorb ideas and pointers for me! But everyone who spoke to me was incredibly supportive and, as usual at conferences, open to discussion, providing advice and helping to explain challenging concepts.

The set up at the conference venue.

I chose to attend the conference remotely for 2 reasons.

Primarily, I, Exeter and Bristol universities know that we need to radically reduce our impacts on the environment, especially our emissions. By not travelling to the conference I have conservatively reduced my research-based emissions by about 326kg [1] and [gwr.com] and saved about £900 of project funds in total.

Secondly, I have 2 young children and work part-time – it wasn’t realistic for me to travel to the conference and support my family during my sons first week at school. Attending the conference remotely meant I didn’t have to choose between work and family at this important time.

I do appreciate that by not attending the conference in person I missed hearing about new research from others as I couldn’t see the presentation sessions (something the event hosts hope to do in future) and developing relationships and projects with colleague over several days. However, I do feel that I was able to benefit from the conference experience as a remote attendee due to the openness and enthusiasm of colleagues in engaging and sharing ideas with me. Thank you ICES!

 

So, on to the practicalities!

Initially I planned to attend the conference and submitted my abstract as normal, through the web portal.

Once I had been accepted to present my poster I notified the conference hosts that I was keen to trial remote attendance, well before the application deadline. The hosts responded promptly and positively. As I was a guinea pig and the only link was for the poster session they agreed to waive the conference attendance fee in full.

The session relied on the openness of the hosts to set up a remote link and provide equipment. Next to my poster they supplied a laptop, high table and headset with a speaker. And on the day we tested the technology was working before the session started. I was set up in a quiet and well lit room with a strong internet connection (See above image).

To encourage people to come and talk to me I used the event #hashtag on Twitter to share my research and to encourage people to come and find me (on-screen!). In addition to this my presence and the relevance of my work was shared with appropriate people by word of mouth during the session (my thanks to the pushers!).

Louise used social media and the conference hashtag to encourage people to visit her and her poster

 

At the end of the session the team from ICES came and had a debrief chat which saved me from waiting for more delegates when they’d all headed out to the pub…!

I was busy talking to people for most of the poster session and alongside meeting people outside of my specialism, who provided a novel perspective on my work, I also connected with at least 5 people who are well equipped to critique and help to develop my work alongside theirs, some of whom I am in touch with, and picking the brains of, still.

#greatfortheplanet #greatforfamily #stillgoodforscience

Louise was still able connect with other delegates while attending remotely

For future opportunities like this it would be good to:

  • Make sure the internet connection is really strong as a few times the screen froze and conversation was disjointed.
  • Provide sound cancelling headphones with a speaker at the conference end to ensure delegates could hear over the hubbub.
  • Use a reliable courier service for the poster to be sent (Post Office failed me this time… but the venue (Gothia Towers) team pulled it out of the bag – THANK YOU!)
  • Include sign-posting to highlight the presenter on the screen so that people know where to look (mine was lost with the poster…)
  • Encourage use of the text messaging facility of the call service – this was a great way to get accurate spelling of names and links to papers etc. You can’t see past the shiny reflections on name tags.
  • Possibly host remotely presented posters in a small, low echo space so that people at the conference end can hear – as long as delegates are encouraged to use the space and engage.

Thanks Louise! 

You can keep up to date with Louise’s work on Twitter @LouRutters

#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:

  1. Eco passenger. 2019 [cited 2019 14.10.19]; Available from: http://www.ecopassenger.org/bin/query.exe/en?ld=uic-eco&L=vs_uic&seqnr=3&ident=33.0267491.1571047646&OK#focus.

 

MSc Graduate in Focus: Kelly Atkins

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 Kelly Atkins, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2014) and now completing his PhD at the University of Exeter!

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

I am currently back at University of Exeter pursuing a Bioscience PhD funded by a Global Excellence Studentship. My research examines how food subsidies (discards from commercial fisheries) influence the foraging behaviour and spatial ecology of northern gannets (Morus bassanus), across age classes, during the breeding and non-breeding seasons.

After completing my MSc I returned to the United States where I worked for the National Park Service as a Bear Management Ranger in Yellowstone National Park for three years. In this role I was involved in the research and management of Yellowstone’s population of threatened grizzly bears. Following that, I worked in Olympic National Park where I assisted in the management and removal/translocation of non-native mountain goats. My professional interests have always been focused around the influence of human activities on wildlife behavior and the ecological consequences of human/wildlife interactions on land and at sea. When I decided it was time to further develop my skills through a PhD, I turned back to University of Exeter and CEC because of the small but vibrant research community, world-leading academics, and of course, the lovely location in Cornwall!

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

I liked living in Cornwall and studying at the Penryn Campus enough to come back and do it again for my PhD! The countryside and beaches are really lovely when you need to unwind and the campus is full of friendly and engaging people.

I liked the design and content of the MSc Conservation and Biodiversity Programme. It offered the focus I was looking for in taking the next step in my professional development. The fact that the Penryn campus is relatively small was also appealing; it’s hard to beat the access and quality of interactions one can have with academics in a small campus setting like this.

I think the Penryn Campus of UoE, specifically, is rather unique. Being a small campus in a relatively rural setting that houses world-leading researchers and has the resources of a large University seem to me to be a unique and winning combination.

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

I had quite a bit of work experience by the time I came to study for my MSc and my wandering career path had left me with a broad set of research skills. The MSc helped me refocus and update those skills in a way that better prepared me to take the next step and pursue a PhD.

I first got into working in wildlife biology through an internship during my undergraduate years. Volunteer experiences and internships are a good way to build a professional network, try things out, and bolster your CV. I think it is important to be open to, and pursue, as many opportunities as you can. Doing so will broaden your way of thinking and give you a sense of what you enjoy most, while building a diverse and transferrable skillset. I’ve dabbled in everything from microbial oceanography to ungulate biology and that diversity of knowledge has opened a lot of doors.

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

Apply! Apply early and often for anything that interests you and worry about deciding what the best fit is once you have real options on the table.

Thanks Kelly!

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: Matt Nicholson

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 Nicholson, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2014) and now completing his PhD at Arkansas State University!

Hi Matt! 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?

I was having a really tough time finding a program to continue my academic adventure. I had never considered going overseas until I saw a post from Brendan [Godley] on the Coral-List where they were advertising their program. I emailed him and told him my situation and aspirations, he replied saying that I was exactly the kind of student they were looking for. The rest, as they say, is history. It was one of the best and most important decisions I have ever made in my life.

Once I opened myself to the option of studying overseas and realized that the University of Exeter was an option, the decision really made itself. The reputation of the program and the faculty make it a target destination. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to study there.

Coming from Florida, I was unsure how I would adapt to England. You always hear about the overcast days and rainy weather (which I came to refer to as a “constant mist”), but I absolutely loved life there. Cornwall is such a comfortable coastal area, with plenty to offer in the way of coastal walks, coffee shops and restaurants, and pubs. The campus also has a variety of locations to work or socialize. So, wherever you are, there is a place for you that will be exactly what you’re looking for.

 

It must have been quite a change coming from Florida to Cornwall! How did the MSc help prepare you for your next steps to undertake a PhD?

In the time since I graduated, I have always said I grew more as a person and scientist during my time at the University of Exeter than any other time in my life. It was my first time really feeling like a “researcher”. I was able to greatly develop my scientific writing in addition to learning how to build a schedule around research (incorporating things like data analysis and writing alongside other work responsibilities).

It may sound odd but the feeling of “being a researcher”, as in believing that I am actually something of a “scientist” or “researcher”, is something that was so important for my confidence in academia. That happened for me during my time at Exeter, being around my coursemates (who were all brilliant) and around professors who truly treat you like professionals let me feel like I was more than a student.

 

What are your highlights from studying at the University of Exeter?

The vibe all around the campus is so special. There was such a sense of community, which was really vital for me as an international student. I was always comfortable and happy on campus (and in Cornwall in general) which definitely made me more productive.

The lecturers from the CEC go beyond simply being stellar academics, they’re just good people. Everyone was very accessible, down to earth, and a delight to be around. You can’t ask for more than being surrounded by individuals like that.

Both the field course in Kenya and gannet sampling on Grassholm Island were incredible field experiences. However, my highlight was attending our post-Kenya get-together in Cornwall and debuting the video I put together about our trip. I went through hours and hours of footage from our trip, making sure that each and every person made it into the video. Seeing everyone react so positively and enjoy the video was a very special feeling for me and was probably my personal highlight.

I don’t know if any single factor is unique to the University of Exeter, rather it’s the combination of factors that really makes it a special place. You could certainly find institutions that have successful researchers, nice individuals, a good location, or wonderful facilities/resources. But, to string them all together in a single place is something that I find unique and special.

 

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

Do it, just do it.

Thanks Matt! You can follow Matt and his adventures on his Twitter account @SharkyNichol

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.

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!