World Oyster Day MSc Graduate in Focus: Celine Gamble

Today, for World Oyster Day, we meet Celine Gamble, MSc Biodiversity and Conservation (2017) and BSc Zoology (2015) graduate, now working as a Project Manager at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Celine on a visit to an oyster farm on Angle Bay, Wales /ZSL

Hi Celine! Why don’t you tell us a bit about what you are up to now?

I am a Project Manager in the Conservation and Policy department at ZSL and Visiting Researcher at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Marine Sciences. I work within the ZSL Estuaries and Wetlands team, which has a varied programme of marine conservation projects, including marine habitat restoration and monitoring of marine species, such as sharks and seals, in the River Thames and outer Thames Estuaries.

During my current role I manage a new project, Wild Oysters, and a Network of restoration practitioners around the UK & Ireland. I work closely with a range of stakeholders including NGO’s, academics, oystermen, government agencies and community groups. My role is very varied, including a mix of physical restoration, science communication, networking, and scientific research.

Find out more about the ZSL Marine and Freshwater Conservation projects here.

A Native Oyster Reef in France /Stephane Pouvreau

In celebration of World Oyster Day, it would be great to understand more about native oysters and why we need to restore them?

The European native oyster (Ostrea edulis) is the only true oyster species that is native to our UK coastlines. Native oysters once formed vast reefs along the coastlines of Europe, forming a dominant ecological feature of our coastal marine habitat.

Despite being relatively small in size (5-11cm), oysters are capable of making some big changes in our marine environment! For that reason, I like to think of them as little superheroes of the sea. A single oyster can filter ~200 litres of seawater per day, which can improve both water quality and clarity. The unique three-dimensional habitats created by oysters support a higher biodiversity of species than the surrounding seabed. Oyster reefs can also increase fish production, by providing a protective nursery ground for juveniles.

Native oyster reefs are now among the most threatened marine habitats in Europe. In the UK and Ireland populations have declined by 95%, as a result of historic overfishing, pollution, and disease. You can still see some remnant populations in the south east of England, west coast of Scotland and the south coast of Ireland. Due to the vast decline of the species, native oysters need active restoration method in order to prevent the species from becoming functionally extinct.

Please could you tell us a little more about what ZSL doing towards Oyster restoration?

Today on World Oyster Day we are very excited to be launching an exciting new marine habitat restoration project in the UK. ZSL along with partners, Blue Marine Foundation and British Marine, we have been awarded £1.18m to deliver the Wild Oysters project.

Wild Oysters is aiming to recover native oyster populations in the UK, and in turn bring back the ecosystem services they provide. Bringing conservation and industry together we will make a space for nature within marina sites. By installing oyster nurseries suspended underneath marina pontoons, we will release the next generation of oyster larvae to the seabed. The oyster larvae will then settle across three new oyster reefs created in British estuaries. In addition, the oyster nurseries will provide us with a “unique window into the ocean” acting as an engagement and education tool.

ZSL are co-founders of the Native Oyster Network, along with the University of Portsmouth, aiming to facilitate the ecologically coherent and collaborative approach to native oyster restoration in the UK & Ireland. ZSL also chair the Essex Native Oyster Restoration Initiative (ENORI), a collaboration between oystermen, government, conservationists and academia. Working towards the Essex estuaries having self-sustaining populations of native oysters, increased biodiversity and sustainable fisheries whilst recognising their cultural importance.

Osytermen in Essex who are part of the ENORI project /ZSL
Oyster reef deployment in Essex as part of ENORI project /ZSL

How did your studies at the University of Exeter shape where you work today?

I have developed a focused interest in the restoration of unique marine habitats around the UK. Many of these habitats such as seagrass beds, kelp forests, saltmarshes, and oyster reefs, are often overlooked. I developed a passion for both science communication and marine conservation whilst working and studying at the University of Exeter. My interests and skillset have been developed throughout my degrees, from carrying out UK based marine fieldwork, learning to dive in Cornwall and the extracurricular opportunities available at the university.

During my master’s I had an introduction to many different marine NGO’s and researchers via the Marine Biodiversity and Conservation module. I met Dr Heather Koldewey, who at the time was the Head of ZSL Marine and Freshwater, through this module. I later approached her to be my MSc thesis supervisor, which meant that I learnt a lot more about her research and the wider work of her team.

Any advice for anyone looking to pursue a career in marine conservation?

Reaching out to contacts that you have built throughout your degree, including fellow classmates and recent alumni, is a great place to start. Having a casual chat with someone who is working at an organisation you are keen to work for in the future, provides you with that initial step in the door. I also find that social media and online networking tools work very well for building your knowledge of the types of marine conservation organisations out there. I followed the ZSL Marine and Freshwater social media pages throughout my university degrees, which helped my understanding of the scope of work delivered by the team. This information later became very useful when applying for jobs that came up within the organisation.

Finally, I would say do not let an unsuccessful interview (or a few) put you off applying to the same organisation again if another job comes up. I was offered my first position at ZSL after applying to a few different roles and my third interview attempt.

Graduating on Gyllyngvase Beach, Cornwall /Celine Gamble

Thanks Celine!

You can keep up to date with Celine on Twitter (@CelineGamble) and Instagram (@celineg_marine)

MSc Graduate In Focus: Catherine Hart

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 Catherine Hart, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2009) and now scientific director for the Red Tortguera (Sea Turtle Network) in Mexico!

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

I moved to Mexico when I was 19 after having been a volunteer on a sea turtle conservation project in Nayarit state and then undertaking an undergraduate degree there. It had always been my intention to go straight back after the master’s course. On arriving back, I began to run the field conservation work for a small NGO and then when it was low sea turtle season taught secondary school science and did a little gardening/child minding on the side. In 2010 I decided that a PhD would be beneficial and allow me to continue my sea turtle conservation and research activities. The PhD was with the Universidad de Guadalajara in Puerto Vallarta and was supported through a scholarship from the Mexican government. During that period, I increased the number of nesting beach conservation projects that I was managing from one to seven and co-founded an NGO “Red Tortuguera” (sea turtle network). After the PhD I was accepted into the Mexican Researchers System (Sistema Nacional de Investigadores) which allows me to continue my research while conducting sea turtle conservation activities.

What did you enjoy most about studying your MSc with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

I loved being by the sea. I am from Northampton so that’s about as far from the ocean as you can get in the UK. I loved how dynamic the UK tides are and I even loved the seagulls (which are not that popular).

Everyone on the course were amazing and had all done different conservation and research activities either during their undergraduate degrees or as volunteers. It was a great opportunity to learn about different places and conservation issues. The researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation are world class and very approachable. I always felt that I could ask questions and didn’t have to be embarrassed for having no idea about some things that others knew from their undergraduate degrees in the UK.

What skills and experiences from the MSc have been most useful in your career?

I would say everything I learnt at Exeter has been useful. Firstly, having studied at a university known for its research on sea turtles has opened many doors not to mention that my masters project was on Mexican sea turtles and I was put in contact with some of the top researchers worldwide for East Pacific green sea turtles who I may not have gotten to know so early in my career if it hadn’t been for the introductions made by the Exeter researchers. This is something I am very grateful for as not only has it been great for my research and conservation activities but also for the friendships I have made. On a more academic note the courses on statistics and mapping software have come in very useful! Perhaps the most important thing that I learnt at Exeter is to have the confidence in myself and the experience that I had gained from years of fieldwork in Mexico.

Finally, why did you choose your career path and do you have any advice for those looking to pursue something similar?

It’s great to be able to help study and protect sea turtles and other local wildlife where I live. I like to think that I am making a difference. I have been in the same place long enough to see some of the results of our conservation activities and that is very rewarding.

Never turn down an opportunity to tag along on research trips, learn a second language and perhaps take a course in marketing.

Any advice for anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?

Just do it.

Thanks Catherine!!

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: Joana Hanock

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 Joana Hancock, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2011) and now working with the Olive Ridley Project as a Sea Turtle Biologist!

 

 

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

Having graduated from an MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity in 2011 well into my career as sea turtle biologist, I decided to slowly move away from previous jobs where I coordinated sea turtle nesting programs, to study and understand other less studied life-stages such as juveniles and males, and their role in sea turtle conservation. For this reason, I initiated my PhD studies in 2014 focusing on sea turtle foraging ecology, genetics and mixed modelling to understand how these life stages link to each other and how we could integrate them in conservation plans. Following on this specific research interest (foraging ecology and genetic connectivity) I am now trying to initiate a research program on Kenya’s south coast coupling sea turtle photo-ID mark-capture-recapture study, habitat mapping and population analyses, focusing on juvenile green turtles in foraging areas.

What did you enjoy most about studying your MSc with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

The opportunity to study alongside with students from all areas of conservation and different parts of the world. Lectures from people working in different fields of conservation biology and student seminars provided valuable learning and eye-opening opportunities that were as valuable as the MSc program’s modules.

I really enjoyed the teaching system, it is very relaxed, in such way that it was very easy to interact and learn from the experienced lecturers and their support staff, who were always available and very supportive. The location is great, it is a very special campus and lab equipment as well as lecture theatres are top!

What skills and experiences from the MSc have been most useful in your career?

During the program we learn not only about topics in conservation, but also there are specific modules that teach you how to actually survive in the conservation world: from writing grant proposals, giving oral presentations, writing research papers, attending and preparing job interviews, etc. Extremely important!

Finally, why did you choose your career path and do you have any advice for those looking to pursue something similar?

I choose sea turtle biology and conservation nearly 20 years ago, and there was no turning back. Every day I learn from my interaction with turtles, with people who work with them, and mostly people who live of them. I could not imagine many more careers that can be so inter-disciplinary as working with marine vertebrates such as sea turtles. It can be hard at times, but most of the time it is a pleasure as sea turtle research progresses, turtles become even more fascinating. It is a humbling experience and always extremely rewarding!

This is a career to make your life richer, not necessarily your wallet 😉 With this in mind, keep your expectations low, accept all learning opportunities, but don’t get unmotivated. As you gain more experience things will start falling into place, and it will be a life-changing decision you will never regret!

Any advice for anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?

Go for it, it is worth it!

Thanks Joana!

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: Dr Kristian Metcalfe

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 Dr Kristian Metcalfe, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2008) and now working as a Lecturer at the University of Exeter CEC in Cornwall!

Hi Kristian! First off, why don’t you tell us a bit about your career since studying your MSc with us?

After completing the MSc in Conservation & Biodiversity at the University of Exeter I spent 12 months undertaking various roles from volunteering for local wildlife organisations, to being a paid research assistant. In 2009 I secured a PhD at the Durrell Institute of Conservation & Ecology (DICE) supervised by the wonderful Dr Bob Smith, where I also continued onto my first Post-Doc. In 2013 I returned to the University of Exeter as a Post-doc for Prof Brendan Godley, a role I continued in for 6 years prior to becoming a member of staff within the Centre for Ecology & Conservation in 2019.

What made you choose to study your MSc with us at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus?

I chose to the study at the University of Exeter Penryn Campus because it had many internationally renowned marine academics that had an established reputation of working with industry, policy makers and conservation agencies.

The Centre for Ecology and Conservation hosts a thriving community of staff who are very accessible, supportive and extremely interested in helping you to develop your skills and experiences to enhance your future employment opportunities.

The Penryn campus is situated in beautiful surroundings – a perfect setting for undertaking a MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity with coast and countryside on your doorstep.

How did the MSc help prepare you for your career in academia?

The research project – this was the point where I realized that I wanted to go onto study a PhD. I really enjoyed working with my supervisor to develop a question, collecting data, analyzing my findings and writing it up in the format of a scientific paper.  With so many academics with interests across marine and terrestrial realms there are so many potential projects to choose from you will not be disappointed.

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

Take every opportunity to develop your skills and experiences there are so many options available to you in the conservation sector – who knows who you will meet at workshops, conferences, meetings, or whilst volunteering and what further opportunities may appear as a result.

Thanks Kristian!

You can follow Kristian on Twitter, @_KMETCALFE

 

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 Carter

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 Carter, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2014) and now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of St. Andrews!

Hi Matt! First off, why don’t you tell us a bit about what you are up to now?

I am a postdoctoral research fellow at the Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of St Andrews. My research entails tracking seals at-sea using animal-borne devices to study their behaviour and habitat requirements.

After my MSc I applied for a PhD studentship at the University of Plymouth to study how grey seal pups develop foraging behaviour. The unique skillset that I had developed at Exeter made me a strong candidate for the role and I was offered the position. I had always wanted to be a professional researcher but had a serious lack of self-confidence. My MSc supervisor was instrumental in giving me the confidence and ambition to undertake this journey. During my PhD I collaborated with the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews. After completing my PhD I was offered a postdoctoral position by my supervisor at SMRU to continue studying seal ecology.

So, what did you enjoy most about studying your MSc?

Exeter has a great reputation for ecology and conservation, but the thing that really separates it from other top universities is the staff. I chose Exeter because I wanted to learn from exciting people who are leading their field and doing interesting research, making a difference in the world.

A strength of MSc courses is that students typically come from many different backgrounds. There is a strong focus on developing a peer group where you can share ideas and work with each other and get feedback in a friendly collegiate manner. I was nervous at the start of the course that I would not fit in with other students with a more relevant academic background, but I found that the course leaders were great at helping me to recognise my strengths and gain the confidence to be an active part of group discussions.

The academic climate at the Penryn campus is progressive, relaxed and inclusive, and you are encouraged to engage in seminars and research group meetings alongside professional academics. The setting in one of the most beautiful parts of the country means that this is the perfect place for people who are passionate about the environment and the outdoors. The Penryn Campus feels more like a vibrant community than an institution. Having grown up in Falmouth I can say that the campus has breathed new life into the town.

 

How did the MSc help prepare you for your career in research?

During the course I developed a number of analytical skills, such as using GIS and R, that have proved to be valuable assets in job applications. Also, being around so many good academic role models made me want to continue a career in scientific research.

The lecturers are an enthusiastic, passionate and creative group of people who will treat you as an equal. The facilities at the Penryn Campus are cutting edge, whether you are interested in laboratory or field techniques. The staff also have a wide network of connections to NGOs and local stakeholder groups that will help you to meet inspiring people and engage with different possible future career paths.

I think when employers see an application from a UofE Penryn Campus alumnus, they know to expect someone who has had world class training from experts in their field. Studying an MSc at Exeter’s Penryn Campus gave me a unique mix of skills from data analysis, to delivering poster and oral presentations, and even grant writing.

Any advice for students who might want to pursue a similar career?

When you choose your student project, think carefully about what you want out of it. Don’t just study something that is familiar to you. Pick a project that will give you a new skillset and take you out of your comfort zone. Often we choose to study certain species because we feel a particular connection to them. It’s good to be passionate, but think beyond the species, think about what transferable skills you can develop that make you a well-rounded scientist. Also, get used to discussing your work and ideas with your peers and be generous with your time if you can offer help to others. Peer review is an important principle in academia and it starts here. Having a strong support network as a student will help you through the tough times, and the people you study with on your MSc may well be colleagues in the future.

Life in academia is not for everyone. Don’t be ashamed if you decide it’s not for you, there are many other options. But, if you do think it’s for you, find a PhD that you really care about. You will be completely invested in this project for years so be sure that it is something that will hold your interest and allow you to grow as a scientist. Take every opportunity to learn from other people’s experiences and make use of the contacts you develop during your MSc. Maintain an open channel of communication with your supervisor and be honest about your ambitions and limitations.

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

If you want world-class education from inspiring researchers in one of the most beautiful corners of the country then you are in the right place…

Thanks Matt!

You can follow Matt  @MattIDCarter  and the Sea Mammal Research Unit @_SMRU_ on Twitter!

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

MSc Graduate in Focus: Elizabeth Campbell

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

Today we meet Elizabeth Campbell, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2014) and now an associate researcher with ProDelphinus and PhD student at the University of Exeter!

Hi Elizabeth! First off, why don’t you tell us what attracted you to study your MSc at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus?

I grew up close to the ocean, enjoyed it and wanted to have a career that was related to it. I enjoy having a job with a purpose, a job that has a positive impact in the world and that improves it in some measurable way.

The University of Exeter offered a programme that aligned to my interests and the faculty had experience working in areas that were of my interest (small scale fisheries, developing countries, vertebrates). In the MSc at Penryn I found an advisor that was interested in my research topic, and a course that would strengthen my knowledge and future work. The MSc teaches you how to plan a project, to fundraise, implement, present and share your results as well as publish them. You finish your MSc with experience in every project aspect

So, what did you enjoy most about studying your MSc?

The biggest highlights for me, include the Field Course in Kenya, the wide variety of practical methods classes throughout the degree and being able to complete my thesis on river dolphins!

Cornwall is a fantastic place to study! Everything you need is close. Natural surroundings inspire your work and give you space to relax. University courses take advantage of their natural surroundings as well.

How did the MSc help prepare you for your career in research?

The Key Skills module has given me many important tools! From delivering presentations, how to network at conferences and branding yourself online to writing a grant and writing and publish a paper.

The staff are approachable and available to answer questions. The course environment is friendly amongst students and teachers.

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

To not hesitate, apply and take advantage of a great course set in a beautiful location

Thanks Elizabeth!

You can follow Elizabeth (@Eliicampbell) and ProDelphinus (@prodelphinus) on Twitter

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

MSc Graduate in Focus: Owen Exeter

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

Today we meet Owen Exeter, MSc Conservation Science and Policy graduate (2017) and now working as a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Exeter!

 

Hi Owen! We’re glad that you are still working with us at the University of Exeter, why don’t you tell us a bit what you’re up to now?

 

I’m now a Graduate research assistant for Dr Rachel Turner and Dr Matthew Witt at the University of Exeter. I really love the possibilities in research. My areas of interest are constantly evolving and there is a lot of variety in the world of marine vertebrates. I spend weekends off Falmouth helping tag tuna, weeks in Scotland with basking sharks then periods working with big data and making maps. It’s a fantastic mix and I am always looking forward to new experiences.  

Shortly after graduating I was contacted by Dr Matthew Witt and asked if I wanted to on one of his new projects the ‘English Marine Spatial Planning and the Ocean Health Index’. I knew Matt from various projects during my MSc and we had stayed in contact after graduation. 

I was incredibly fortunate to spend a week working with Matt and Dr Lucy Hawkes in Scotland deploying high resolution ‘Daily Diary’ tags to basking sharks. It was literally my last couple of weeks when Matt asked if I could come and work as a field assistant. It was an incredible experience and a chance to contribute towards groundbreaking research into the fine-scale movements of these iconic sharks. My research thesis with Matt had been desk based as I had wanted to focus applying and refining the GIS skills I had learnt during the MSc. It might not happen to everyone, but I think it shows that if you work hard, even if you don’t have many field opportunities, you learn more vocational skills and supervisors will recognize your potential. They might just ask you to be more involved in the research group activities if possible.  

 

We’re glad you had such great opportunities! What did you enjoy most about studying in Penryn?

 

It took me a little while to work out what career I wanted in life. I studied politics as an undergraduate and years abroad working in hospitality. But traveling exposed me to some incredible places and marine life, so I decided to take a few chances and enroll in the MSc and I am so glad I did!

There aren’t many better places in the UK to study marine conservation science. It has a fantastic mix of world leading researchers and opportunities to volunteer for external conservation organizations. I was able to spend free time surveying for the Cornwall Seal Group which is a fantastic charity. I also helped at the Seal Sanctuary and got further GIS experience at the Cornish Wildlife Trust.

The University is constantly growing and there are more and more opportunities to be involved in cutting-edge research. The marine vertebrate team is especially strong and there are so many incredible researchers to learn from. 

I love living in Cornwall. The Penryn Campus is located with access to beautiful beaches and incredible marine life. Just last week I took a trip not far off offshore in Falmouth bay freediving with blue sharks. On the way out we saw bluefin tuna, minke whales and hundreds of dolphins. If you love marine life it really is a dream location.  

Underwater cameras used this summer by the team to study Basking Sharks

 

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

Field work with basking sharks was incredible, but the analytical skills taught in the MSc are what have really prepared me for my current role. If you have an idea of what you want to do after your studies start looking at positions early. You don’t need to apply for anything, but you can get an idea of the skills you will need for the future. Also make use of the career zone on campus. They are so helpful and transformed my CV when I started applications.  

Have an open mind. My interests have evolved since I began my MSc. You might discover new field of research that interest you. Fisheries also now fascinate me and I have definitely gone from being completely obsessed only with sharks to being obsessed with a huge variety of commercial and conservation concern fish (but mostly sharks).

Also get involved in as many opportunities as possible. Studying gives you a great platform and skill set. But by showing enthusiasm and interest you meet new people and get new ideas. I am only where I am now by reaching out to researchers and asking to help out in my spare time. It gave me an opportunity to learn some basic GIS skills and each project led to more responsibility, ultimately leading to a job.

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

 

Any advice for anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter? 

Just go for it! I wasn’t sure I had enough experience for a science-based MSc but there is plenty of support if you are willing to put the hard work in. I didn’t have a huge scientific background and was worried I would struggle to keep up. The reality was there are so many varied opportunities and I found working with geospatial data just made sense. 

Thanks Owen!

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

MSc Graduate in Focus: Phil Doherty

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

Today we meet Phil Doherty, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2011) and now a Post Doctoral Research Associate with the University of Exeter!

 

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

Upon finishing my MSc I was offered a short-term contract (3 months) in Penryn as a field assistant analysing video data captured from Baited Remote Underwater Videos (BRUVs) at renewable energy testing sites. This turned into a longer contract (18 months) continuing to develop methodology and analysis of the BRUV project. During this time I was part of applying for funding with the Scottish Government to satellite track basking sharks with the aim of designating a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Scottish waters. This bid was successful and became my PhD. I completed my PhD in 2017 and worked short-term on a few ongoing projects within the wider ExeterMarine group as a research assistant before acquiring my current postdoctoral position. I have been very lucky in being given the chance to work on a wide range of projects and to be supported in roles within the research group.

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

The location itself is a massive draw. The campus and surrounding towns are very close to many beautiful beaches. I think the fact that the CEC is actively involved in cutting edge research is a huge plus in terms of conducting a masters within the department. This access to research groups and data makes for exciting projects from which to write your thesis. It can also provide opportunities to work on real data that may contribute to ongoing research projects on the whole. For me this was the best part of my MSc, conducting fieldwork with a NGO.

I was looking to broaden my skillset, but also be exposed to academic research. I was unsure of the exact route I wanted to take in the sector and so experience in different facets of research and research groups, NGO’s, consultancies etc. sounded like a good opportunity to find out which aspects suited me to pursue further.

The staff’s openness and willingness to engage and help throughout the course was great, it felt like they cared and wanted you to succeed. The fieldcourse to Kenya was an obvious highlight. It was great to learn about current conservation issues and how those working in the field are attempting to manage and mitigate these issues.

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

It turns out research was the element I enjoyed most, and so the time to be able to conduct a thesis was the highlight of the course for me, but also the part which best set me up to pursue the next phase of my career. I was lucky enough to get a position with a NGO working on various aspects of applied marine conservation. Using a long-term dataset and ground-truthing results in the field provided me with many skills in which I would need to progress.

I chose to pursue applied marine ecology and conservation as a career as I’ve always been fascinated with the ocean and the animals living within it – especially when and where animals move to/from. I also feel the knowledge gained on species should be used to some extent to help update or inform other knowledge gaps and this is a great avenue for that.

 

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

I would think about what you would like to get out of obtaining a masters, and how it might shape the next move you make. Do some research, contact members of staff to enquire about ongoing research and opportunities. Treat it like a job and make the most of the expertise and experience on offer.

 

Thanks Phil!

You can see what Phil gets up to at the University of Exeter at his Profile and you can follow him on Twitter!

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

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.

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

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

My #ExeterMarine PhD: Marine Turtles of Brazil

Author – Lili Colman (PhD Student) – Centre for Ecology and Conservation, Penryn Campus

From the moment I arrived at the University of Exeter to undertake my MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity, I quickly fell in love with the University, the Campus and Cornwall. Discovering all the cutting-edge research being carried out across the University of Exeter has been a definite highlight for me. The opportunity to participate in the Africa field course was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and one I will always cherish, having helped me build a practical understanding of large-scale conservation issues. My MSc research project centred on analysing 30 years of mark-and-recapture data from juvenile green turtles on an isolated tropical archipelago in Brazil, under the supervision of Prof Brendan GodleyThis published work contributes important insights regarding demographic parameters and population trends for this species.

Lili_Kenya
Meeting the Maasai in Kenya

 

Upon my return to Brazil, and whilst working as an environmental consultant there, I applied for a PhD at Exeter to work with TAMAR (the Brazilian Sea Turtle Conservation Programme). This on-going conservation project illustrates a powerful example of how marine turtles and coastal communities can co-exist in an ever-changing world. Despite a history of over-exploitation, the five different species of marine turtles that nest in Brazil are now fully protected by law. And as a result, recent years have shown very promising signs of population recovery. Perhaps most notably, a major part of this success can be attributed to the active involvement of the surrounding coastal communities in the conservation work. What once started in the direct employment of former egg poachers, now involves a wide range of activities to encourage environmental awareness in the area. This includes environmental campaigns, alongside the support of alternative, sustainable economic opportunities for the communities living near the nesting beaches.

Tamar

Local kids talking turtle in Bahia, Brazil (Banco de imagens Projeto TAMAR)

My PhD research focuses on the highly migratory leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). This species has its major nesting site deep in the southwestern Atlantic ocean in eastern Brazil, on the northern coast of Espirito Santo. Projeto TAMAR has been monitoring the area since 1983 and there are promising signs of population recovery for the species. However, with a small population size and restricted geographical distribution, alongside the emergence of new threats – coastal development, fisheries bycatch, climate change, marine and light pollution – the population continues to be of conservation concern.

(Henrique Filgueiras)
Lili records leatherback sea turtle nesting (Henrique Filgueiras)

As part of the Marine Turtle Research Group (MTRG) at the University of Exeter, we are using a variety of techniques to investigate this population’s ecology, trends and the main impacts they are facing. This research is being done in collaboration with TAMAR in Brazil and Ciência Sem Fronteiras , a scholarship programme from the Brazilian Government. The knowledge obtained in this study will be used to design better and more effective conservation strategies for this species. I was delighted that my PhD project was chosen to feature in one of the films to celebrate TAMAR’s 35th anniversary:

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