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!

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!

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!

#WorldOceansDay – gender and the oceans

This #WorldOceansDay we want to celebrate our academics who are working on understanding gender roles and how this impacts both the individual and society in coastal communities. In this post we introduce you to four researchers who are all working on different aspects of the influence gender has on roles, livelihoods and wellbeing within coastal communities.

 

Dr Tomas Chaigneau

Lecturer in Social Sciences for our Environment at the University of Exeter, Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) in Cornwall.

I am a social scientist who studies the relationship between the natural environment and peoples’ wellbeing. This involves understanding how individuals derive wellbeing from the coast but also how their actions can impact their adjacent environment. Through an interdisciplinary approach, I explore how conservation and natural resource management measures are contributing to wellbeing and poverty alleviation. In particular, the disaggregated and gendered nature of this work uncovers important trade-offs between the needs and wants of different individuals within communities and environmental management. This work seeks to find ways to reconcile these whilst minimising negative consequences for current and future generations.

You can find out more about Tomas’ research here

http://www.espa-spaces.org/

https://www.blue-communities.org/Home

https://www.navigating-complexity.com/home

Follow him on Twitter: @Tomas_Chaigneau

 

Dr Madeleine Gustavsson

Research Fellow at the Univeristy of ExeterMedical School, European Centre for Environment and Human Heath (ECEHH) in Cornwall.

My research focuses on fishing families and communities – particularly concentrating on the small-scale fishing sector. I hold an ESRC New Investigator research grant titled: “Exploring the changing role(s), identities and wellbeing of women in small-scale fishing families.” The study focuses on how women in both the UK and Newfoundland, Canada, are sustaining small-scale fishing families. The project’s main goal is to investigate the role of women in responding to financial pressures in the fishing sector and to understand what this means to these women in terms of identity and wellbeing. 

We’ll be collecting data by interviewing people and listening to their experiences. This kind of research is called a qualitative study and our participants are the experts. We listen to their voices so we can include their knowledge in our research. We will talk to women about their experiences in the forefront of fishing businesses, and also learn about their roles in areas related to fishing—such as working in fish processing, markets, and restaurants

In the coming year we will conduct semi-structured interviews with policy makers and government representatives in the UK. We will explore how women can be supported by future fishing policies, particularly those following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

A further goal of the project is to establish a UK-wide network for women in fishing families. The Women in Fishing Network will help women to connect with each other, share experiences, and offer support.

More information is available here.

You can find out more about Madeleine on the Exeter website or on google scholar.

Follow her on Twitter: @mcgustavsson

Timur Jack-Kadioglu

PhD researcher at the University of Exeter Medical School, European Centre for Environment and Human Heath (ECEHH) in Cornwall.

My research, part of the UKRI GCRF Blue Communities Programme, is focused on how coastal communities in Palawan, the Philippines, perceive and experience livelihoods, and how these are linked with people’s wellbeing. In particular I am exploring how these are shaped by people’s gender, age, ethnicity, and class background.

Through empirical research in a municipality undergoing rapid change, I am seeking to explore how government and NGO narratives compare and contrast with the perceptions and experiences of different community members, and whether there are barriers or facilitators that influence people’s livelihood choice, in particular the most marginalised community members.

You can find Timur online or on Twitter here: @TimurJK

 

Dr Rebecca Short

Research Associate at the University of Exeter Medical School, European Centre for Environment and Human Heath (ECEHH) in Cornwall.

Coming from a marine biology background I have developed an interest in how people and the oceans interact, particularly the balances between the benefits we derive and the impacts we have on the oceans. Recently this has focused on the role women play in the fisheries sector; how we can improve gender equity and generate win-wins for coastal communities. My PhD focused on the use of mosquito nets as fishing gear, an activity of underappreciated importance to women in developing nations which represents both and ecological risk and a socioeconomic opportunity. I am now additionally researching broadly across topics linking human health and the oceans with the European centre for Environment and Human Health SOPHIE project where we aim to set an agenda for the EU that secures the health services we critically rely on from the oceans. 

As I continue my research, both further in to mosquito net fisheries elsewhere and also more generally in to links between the oceans and human health with the SOPHIE project at ECEHH, I know that gender will be a key focus for me. Importantly I also believe it should be a key focus in all research of this kind; whilst I may seem obvious to us now that leaving out half of the picture leads to terrible policies and results we have several centuries of half-baked research to backfill with the full picture!

You can find out more about Rebecca’s research here, and follow her on Twitter, @BeccaEShort