MSc Graduate in Focus: Megan Chevis

This year we are launching a new MSc in Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation and applications are open now for 2020 start. We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine vertebrate ecology and conservation around the world since studying with us.

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

Megan Chevis                                                                        Photo Credit: Pete Oxford/MarAlliance

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Thanks Megan!

Photo Credit: Pete Oxford/MarAlliance

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

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

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

Words by Owen Exeter, Christopher Kerry and Jessica Rudd.

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

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

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

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

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

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute REMUS

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

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

Left: REMUS. Right: MR ROV towed camera.

Towed camera deployment

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

Footage acquired from 2018 MR ROV towed cameras.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the paper here

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

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

References:

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

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

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Kris on Twitter.

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

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

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

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

Tiger shark awaiting sale by shark traders in the early morning

Words by Claire Collins, University of Exeter PhD student.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishers are regularly gone for trips of over 2 months

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

You can follow Claire on Twitter.

 

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

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Investigating Coral Reef Acoustics to Aid Reef Restoration

Words by Ben Williams, 2019 BioScience Graduate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

A Day in the Life of a Marine Bioacoustics Intern

Words by Ellie May and Ben Williams, ExeterMarine Undergraduate Students

 

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

The spider structures used by MARS to promote coral growth.

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

Our daily commute!

 

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

Part of our Speaker system that needs to stay dry!

 

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

Ben setting up our hydrophone and GoPro system.

 

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

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

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

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

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

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

Ceren Barlas, PhD student 

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

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

 

Dr Ana Nuno, Research Fellow

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

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

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

 

 

Julia Haywood, PhD Student

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

Follow Julia on twitter!

 

 

Dr Rita Patricio, Postdoctoral Researcher

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

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

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

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

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

Sea Turtles in Guinea Bissau

Atlantic Migrants Marine Research Group  

 

 

Casper van de Geer, PhD student

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

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

Check out Casper and Local Ocean Conservation on Twitter!

 

Dr Liliana Poggio-Colman, Postdoctoral Researcher

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

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

 

 

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

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

#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

 

It’s #WorldOceansDay! A focus on gender and fisheries in Mozambique

This #World oceans Day, Dr Rebecca Short from the University of Exeter Medical School, European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) talks to us about her PhD research focusing on gender roles in coastal fishing communities in Mozambique.

Words by Dr Rebecca Short, Research Associate, ECEHH, University of Exeter

I did not know that the women of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique would be so central to my PhD research when I began investigating the coastal fishing communities of this remote part of the country. I was there to take a first look at an issue that has been in the background for a long time, but seldom a main focus for those interested in fisheries; the use of mosquito nets as fishing gear. This is assumed to be a terrible idea. By putting your net in the water with a goal of feeding your family or making a small income you are not only reducing protection from malaria-carrying mosquitoes, but also jeopardising the future sustainability of the fishery by sieving the fragile coral reef waters of fish of any size. This has been much discussed, though little scrutinised, with the result usually being to make it illegal – the case in Mozambique despite this impacting some of the poorest people. This I did know when I began and I must admit I presumed was a necessary evil to preserve the fish stocks for future generations.

It was therefore a bit of a surprise when on my very first day in the city of Pemba, having some lunch near the beach, when I saw a group of women very obviously fishing with their bright blue mosquito nets right by the shore. Surely this was quite risky? When I arrived in the much smaller villages north of the city which were to be my focus much of the same; women in the shallow waters, up to about chest height fishing with several mosquito nets sewn together in groups of three or four. Some days, groups of women fishing as far as the eye could see. Not an objection to be heard or fisheries official to be seen.

My first objective was to try to understand better the who, what, why and how of mosquito net fishing the only way I could think of; by going fishing with them. Whilst making a complete idiot of myself by apparently hauling in the net like a hapless baby, I saw a totally different side of the activity; it was fun. The groups of women were clearly good friends and laughed and joked whilst fishing (with or without my influence I should mention). This, I reflected, was in such contrast to their other main occupation of farming where they spend much of their time alone or with family on a small plot of land.

Early on in my research it was obvious there was more to it for women in what is a very conservative, patriarchal culture. Enabled by the free availability, lack of necessary fishing skills, and importantly perception of mosquito net fishing as acceptable ‘women’s work’ this has become their opportunity to make their own money (which can be more likely to contribute to community development than patriarchal income), to feed their children what is actually particularly a nutritious meal (Kawarazuka &  Béné, 2011), and of course a chance to have a break from the demands of their families! On top of this they had figured out their own economics; allotting catch according to net ownership, friendship loans of cash and food, and divisions of labour. Generating their own small industry. The significance of this should not be underestimated. Mozambique was recently rated 15th lowest in the world in the Girl’s Opportunity Index (Save The Children, 2016), and Cabo Delgado so remote from the capital of Maputo has some catching up to do with the rest of the country. Girls grow up here told that their best bet at a good life is to find a good husband, though divorce is not uncommon. To have an independent way to support your family can be more than survival but a way out of abject poverty.

If you’re wondering where the men are in this story – good question. I couldn’t really find them, and this alludes to the crux of the issue with mosquito net fishing. Because the men were using mosquito nets for fishing, you just probably won’t see them. They are further offshore, fishing with much bigger nets adapted for use over coral reefs where they would normally snag and tear, fishing in bigger groups with much larger catch sizes. This is what is seen as the problem with mosquito net fishing. Accordingly, a taboo is attached to this activity which does not exist for the women and the men hide what they are doing.

These differences are well known to the local people, and women fish so brazenly because they are not seen as a threat to the fishery. Yet nowhere in my preparation for this research, within the media, peer review literature or indeed by talking to officials did this come up. And I shouldn’t have been surprised – women are so often excluded from fisheries research. This may be because globally they play mostly secondary roles as traders, processors or indeed cooks. But even primary activities such as mosquito net fishing and what is probably one of the most widespread activities in small-scale fisheries, gleaning, are routinely disregarded in management and policy formation, whatever the governance system. This is reflected in research which focuses almost exclusively on male fisheries. But we are wising up! The field of gender and fisheries, and indeed gender and the oceans is rapidly growing. Not just as an area of interest, but driven by our increasing understanding of the critical role women play in successful development, conservation and sustainable management.

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 and the European Centre for Environment and Human Health here.

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, 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!