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: Liliana Poggio Colman

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 Liliana Colman, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate (2013) and now a postdoctoral researcher at projeto TAMAR in Brazil and the University of Exeter!

Hi Lili! First off, why don’t you tell us a bit about what you have been up to since studying your MSc with us?

After graduating from my MSc, I returned 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). I was granted a scholarship from the Brazilian Government through a programme called Science Without Borders, and I went back to the UK to conduct my PhD studies, investigating the ecology and conservation of leatherback sea turtles in Brazil. I have recently finished my PhD and I am currently starting a postdoctoral research to continue the research with the leatherbacks in Brazil.

Photo with thanks from Henrique Filgueras

We’re glad you are still working with us! How did you find the move to Cornwall from Brazil?

It was my first experience living abroad and 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. Being able to continue surfing while conducting my studies was an amazing part of being at the Penryn Campus and I believe it helped me a lot to stay positive and a great way of making new friends.

I had a great experience while living in Cornwall. I loved it so much that I decided to come back and conduct a PhD for four years in Cornwall. I think the University is very committed into ensuring students are well supported. I had English tutors who helped me a lot with the language both in academic and social aspects. The campus surroundings are super calm and easy going. Falmouth has a great student vibe, with lots going on for people to enjoy during their time off.

For me it was a great personal and life experience. I had the chance to live in a different country, experience a new culture and make new friends. I learned how to improve my language skills and be able to communicate in my second language (including making jokes!).


We’re glad you had such a great time in Cornwall! How do you think your time here has helped you in your career?

I believe the MSc Conservation and Biodiversity definitely helped me to prepare for my current role. During the MSc I learned I wanted to be a researcher and the programme helped me to gain skills which were key for conducting my PhD. I particularly benefitted from an improved academic English (which is my second language), GIS, statistics and from data analysis during my research project.

The campus is great as it is surrounded by nature. The University has modern facilities (lecture and seminar rooms, laboratories, library). There is a great variety of research being conducted at the University which makes it a place for cutting-edge research with loads of seminars, talks, workshops. And being in Cornwall makes it even better, because it is such a unique place to visit and to live.

Finally, Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of applying to any of our programmes at the University of Exeter and pursuing a career in conservation?

Do it!

Thanks Lili!

You can follow Lili and Projeto TAMAR on Twitter (@lilipcolman, @Projeto_TAMAR) and Instagram (lilicolman, projeto_tamar_oficial) ! 


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!

Developing a New Floating Wind Turbine

Model Tests with a Novel Floating Wind Turbine Concept

Dr Ed Mackay & Prof. Lars Johanning, Offshore Renewable Energy Group

Dr Ed Mackay (Left) and Prof Lars Johanning (Right)

Floating offshore wind energy has been identified as being able to provide a significant contribution to meeting future renewable energy generation targets. Compared to traditional offshore wind turbines, which are fixed to the seabed, floating turbines can access deeper waters and areas with a higher wind resource. Current floating wind turbines are at the pre-commercial stage, with small arrays of up to five turbines being demonstrated. The cost of floating offshore wind turbines is currently significantly higher than fixed offshore wind. One of the main areas identified for reducing the cost of the structure is in the design of the platform. The platform must be designed to withstand large wave loads and keep the wind turbine as stable as possible. Large platform motions lead to reduced energy yield and increased loads on the wind turbine and drive train.

As part of the EPSRC funded RESIN project, the University of Exeter has been working with Dalian University of Technology (DUT) in China to investigate the use of porous materials in the floating platform for an offshore wind turbine, as a passive means of reducing platform motions. Porous materials are commonly used in offshore and coastal structures such as breakwaters or offshore oil platforms. As a wave passes through the porous material, energy is dissipated, reducing the wave height and wave-induced forces. The question posed by the RESIN project is: can porous materials be beneficial for floating offshore wind?

Examples of porous structures used in coastal and offshore engineering

The project has investigated this question using a combination of physical and numerical modelling. A range of analytical and numerical models have been developed [1-3] and validated against scale model tests in wave tanks. Two tests campaigns were conducted at the large wave flume at DUT in the summers of 2018 and 2019. The initial tests last year considered simple cases with flat porous plates with various porosities and hole sizes [4] and tests with fixed porous cylinders. These tests were used to validate the numerical predictions in a range of simple scenarios and gain an understanding of the effect of the porosity on the wave-induced loads.


A wave interacting with a fixed porous cylinder

Following the successful validation of the numerical models with simple fixed structures, a design was developed for a 1:50 scale model of a floating turbine, which could be tested with and without external porous columns. The model was tested at DUT this summer and further tests were conducted in the FlowWave tank at the University of Edinburgh this autumn. The test results showed that the motion response could be reduced by up to 40% in some sea states by adding a porous outer column to the platform. Work is ongoing to analyse the test results and optimise the design a platform using porous materials. However, initial results indicate that using porous materials in floating offshore wind turbines offers potential for reducing the loading on the turbine and mooring lines and improving energy capture.

1:50 scale model of a floating platform for an offshore wind turbine in various configurations. Left: inner column only. Middle: medium porous outer column. Right: Large porous outer column. The turbine rotor and nacelle are modelled as a lumped mass at the top of the tower.
The scale model installed at the FloWave tank at the Univeristy of Edinburgh

Thanks Ed!

To keep up to date with the Renewable Energy team, give them a follow on Twitter @Renewables_UoE 

For information on the Offshore Renewable Energy research group, check out their webpages.


  • Mackay EBL, Feichtner A, Smith R, Thies P, Johanning L. (2018) Verification of a Boundary Element Model for Wave Forces on Structures with Porous Elements, RENEW 2018, 3rd International Conference on Renewable Energies Offshore, Lisbon, Portugal, 8th – 10th Oct 2018.
  • Feichtner A, Mackay EBL, Tabor G, Thies P, Johanning L. (2019) Modelling Wave Interaction with Thin Porous Structures using OpenFOAM, 13th European Wave and Tidal Energy Conference, Napoli, Italy, 1st – 6th Sep 2019.
  • Mackay E, Johanning L, (2019). Comparison of Analytical and Numerical Solutions for Wave Interaction with a Vertical Porous Barrier. Ocean Engineering (submitted)
  • Mackay E, Johanning L, Ning D, Qiao D (2019). Numerical and experimental modelling of wave loads on thin porous sheets. Proc. ASME 2019 38th International Conference on Ocean, Offshore and Arctic Engineering OMAE2019, 2019, pp. 1-10.

#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 Emily Easman or visit our website!


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!

IPCC Research Confidence in the field of Coral Reef Futures – Jennifer McWhorter

Research Confidence in the field of Coral Reef Futures

(Based on IPCC 2019 Report, Chapter 5, Changing Ocean, Marine Ecosystems, and Dependent Communities)

Author, Jennifer McWhorter, PhD Candidate QUEX (Universities of Queensland and Exeter)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consists of a team of top researchers and scientists advising global climate action. Recently, the IPCC wrote a special report updating research findings pertaining to 1.5 ℃ of warming, of particular interest to my field of research is the section on coral reefs. Based on Chapter 5 of the latest IPCC report (Bindoff, N.L et al., 2019), I have highlighted the consensus of scientific research by summarizing key topics of coral reef research by research confidence. In italics are statements summarized from the report.


Very High Confidence Overview of Research

Some alarming numbers on the future of coral reefs were confidently stated in the latest IPCC report, “coral reefs are projected to decline by a further 70-90% at 1.5 ℃ with larger losses (>99%) at 2 ℃ ”. Since the industrial revolution in the 19th century, human activities have contributed to approximately 1.0 ℃ of global warming. At our current rate of emissions, global warming is estimated to reach 1.5 ℃ between 2030 and 2052. (IPCC, 2019: Summary for Policymakers). To give you some perspective on those numbers, future generations will have a difficult time finding coral reefs in the state in which we have had the privilege of experiencing them.

The corals in the image above were photographed two months apart showing the effect of the last warming event at Pixie Reef, just north of Cairns, on the Great Barrier Reef. On the left, the corals are healthy and then two months later, the image on the right shows many of the same corals are stressed and near mortality (bleached or white in colour). (Photo credit: Brett Monroe Garner)


High Confidence Overview of Research

When the human body has a weakened immune system, such as experiencing chemotherapy from cancer treatment, a common cold or flu can be detrimental, leading to a worsened state or even death. Coral reefs facing multiple disturbances such as warming and ocean acidification, reef dissolution and bioerosion, enhanced storm intensity, enhanced turbidity, and/or enhanced run-off have a lower chance of recovery. In the future, when faced with multiple threats, there will be a shift in species composition and biodiversity. This shift will be towards soft corals and algal dominated reefs as opposed to reef building corals. Albeit, regional differences in levels of reef vulnerability exist on a scale of 100 km or by latitudinal gradients.

The image above portrays an example of the shift in dominance from reef building corals to a dominance of non-coral organisms, such as the pictured ascidian, Didemnum molle and algae in Palau, Micronesia. (Photo credit: Dr. Kennedy Wolfe)


Medium Confidence Overview of Research

Record breaking warm water temperatures during 2014-2017 resulted in severe and wide-spread global coral mortality (Eakin et al., 2019). The reefs that have survived this event have a higher thermal threshold resulting in a dominance of species that are not as sensitive and have a high adaptive capacity. Is this a glimmer of hope? Perhaps but, it is important to note that this is the category of medium confidence of an overview of the research.

Branching corals are typically less resilient in warm water conditions than stony, non-branching corals (Hughes et al., 2018). This juvenile Acropora (branching coral) offers hope of recovery on a reef in Palau, Micronesia. (Photo credit: Dr. Kennedy Wolfe)

In a physical world, the ocean is complex, different zones of the ocean experience various conditions in space and time. Coral reef habitats are not uniform. Deeper coral reefs (30-150m) and upwelling zones may serve as a refuge and source of larval supply to disturbed reefs. On the contrary, these reefs could be more at risk than suggested.

Low Confidence Overview of Research

Coral reefs require certain light and temperature conditions in order to grow. The rate of sea level rise may outpace coral growth. Sea level rise would send corals into deeper habitats potentially limiting these ideal light and temperature conditions.

Resilience and adaptation is broadly still unknown, few reefs are showing resilience. Luckily, some of the best in the world are working hard to close this gap.

In Palau, Micronesia, Professor Peter Mumby descends onto the reef. Pete’s Marine Spatial Ecology Lab conducts research into coral reef ecosystems, fisheries, modeling, and socioeconomics. (Photo credit: Dr. Kennedy Wolfe)

Support climate change research initially by learning about it. Thank you for reading.

You can follow Jen on Twitter to keep up to date with her research!

#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!



Bindoff, N.L., W.W.L. Cheung, J.G. Kairo, J. Arístegui, V.A. Guinder, R. Hallberg, N. Hilmi, N. Jiao, M.S. Karim, L. Levin, S. O’Donoghue, S.R. Purca Cuicapusa, B. Rinkevich, T. Suga, A. Tagliabue, and P. Williamson, 2019: Changing Ocean, Marine Ecosystems, and Dependent Communities. In: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N.M. Weyer (eds.)]. In press.

Eakin, C. Mark, Hugh PA Sweatman, and Russel E. Brainard. “The 2014–2017 global-scale coral bleaching event: insights and impacts.” Coral Reefs 38.4 (2019): 539-545.

Hughes, T. P., Kerry, J. T., Baird, A. H., Connolly, S. R., Dietzel, A., Eakin, C. M., … & McWilliam, M. J. (2018). Global warming transforms coral reef assemblages. Nature, 556(7702), 492.

IPCC, 2019: Summary for Policymakers. In: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N.M. Weyer (eds.)]. In press.

My Exeter PhD: Understanding marine citizenship, Pamela Buchan

To make change happen, we need to understand what motivates people to act. Today we hear from Pamela Buchan, PhD student with the University of Exeter who is studying Marine Citizenship.

Words by Pamela Buchan, PhD researcher at University of Exeter and elected councillor with Plymouth City Council.

There is a new environmental movement sweeping the world, spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, and carried forward by young people who are demanding a better future. Climate change concern in the UK is polling higher than it ever has before, and even the British government has caught wind of the desire to reduce plastic consumption. The global climate strike saw 7.6 million people around the world take to the streets. People are protesting, signing petitions, switching to electric vehicles, changing their behaviours, and making more sustainable choices to create cleaner seas and a sustainable future for everyone. This is environmental citizenship in action.

School children strike for climate, 20th September 2019. Credit: Pamela Buchan


Global climate strike in Plymouth, 20th September 2019. Credit: Pamela Buchan

For three years I’ve been investigating the idea of marine citizenship in a bid to better understand what drives people to become active marine citizens, what it is about the sea that is particularly motivating, and how do policies and legislation work to promote or hinder marine citizenship actions. Actions that benefit the marine environment are likely to benefit the climate also, and this might be a gateway to broader environmental citizenship. As someone who grew up in the middle of the moors with little access to the sea, it was the desire to be near the sea that first took me to Newcastle University to study marine biology and later relocate with my family to Plymouth to benefit from the ocean culture in this city and region. For me, it’s all about the sea, but what about others who are active in marine environmentalism? Does the sea as a place occupy others’ hearts in the same way?

Greta Thunberg departs from Plymouth for the US, aboard the carbon neutral Team Malizia yacht, on 14th August 2019. Credit: Pamela Buchan

Research around creating environmental citizens is often focused on environmental education and awareness raising. If people understand, are aware, and know what to do, then they’ll crack on and do it, right? This leads to lots of research investigating the perceptions, attitudes, and knowledge held by the general public, which then provides the basis of programmes to increase pro-environmental behaviours. See, for example, the list of research informing the DEFRA Framework for Pro-Environmental Behaviours, which probably explains why the goal for reaching the “unengaged and unwilling” is to: “encourage and support more sustainable behaviours through a mix of labelling, incentive and reward, infrastructure provision and capacity building (e.g. through information, education and skills).” (Emphasis mine.)

Research contributing to DEFRA Framework for Pro-Environmental Behaviours, 2007.

Undoubtedly, knowing effective ways to act is an important part of environmental citizenship but clearly it is not the whole solution. If we only ask questions about what people know, then we will only find answers that relate to knowledge. And despite many attempts at environmental education, carbon emissions continue to rise, oceans continue to be exploited and polluted, and even littering and flytipping seem to be on the increase. Knowledge isn’t changing people’s behaviours towards the environment so we need to look more deeply and holistically for other factors.

One field to turn to is environmental psychology and theories around values and identities. Social psychologist, Susan Clayton, has developed a theory that environmental activists share an environmental identity. Other researchers have argued that environmentalism is based on self-transcendent values, such as benevolence and universalism (e.g. Stern et al. 1999 and many since). We must acknowledge that not all people hold strong environmental identities or altruistic values, yet there is a lack of evidence exploring how different kinds of people can be motivated into environmental citizenship. If we are to tackle the environmental problems of today, we need at the very least for all people to be open to policy changes.

Enjoying the sea. Credit: Pamela Buchan

My PhD[1] seeks to fill this gap, specifically for marine citizenship. I set out to create space in my research design that would accommodate all findings relevant to this idea. Though my research design draws on theories from environmental psychology, human geography, and environmental law, my use of mixed methods allows me to piece together these theories with emergent findings. In my research, I surveyed, interviewed and shadowed active marine citizens, using psychological metrics and open ended interviews side by side. I found my population through case study marine groups and the national citizen science programme Capturing Our Coast and, using my survey data, I purposefully selected as broad a range of interview participants as I could. Selecting respondents with low self-transcendent values, higher self-enhancing values, a wide range of demographic variables, and as wide a range of relationships with place as was possible from the survey population.

My goal was to find the stories of people who are different. How do people who don’t fit the existing research models come to be active marine citizens? In my final year, I am still analysing my data and pulling it all together, but I have some surprising and tantalising headline findings emerging. The data has been telling me that marine citizenship is not so much a set of pro-marine environmental behaviours, but rather such behaviours are an expression of a marine identity. This marine identity is triggered, developed, or maintained, through sensory experience of the sea that promotes attachment and dependency. It seems that for marine citizens, as with myself, it is the sea itself which motivates citizenship. But there is diversity in marine identity, with people’s values shaping their motivations and types of actions they participate in. It does seem that people with a range of value sets can and do become active marine citizens via their connection to the sea.

There is already research showing that aligning climate change messaging towards specific values will encourage concern in those who are previously unconcerned (see for example Myers et al., 2012). My research points to the potential of the sea as a means of public engagement, which is arguably exemplified in real time through the ‘Blue Planet effect’ in which people have been spurred to reduce single-use plastics. If the experiential qualities of the sea can help people develop a marine identity and, from that, a willingness to perform pro-marine environmental behaviours, then it may be a valuable pathway towards improved ocean and climate health.

South Milton, Devon. Credit: Pamela Buchan

[1] ESRC funded on the interdisciplinary Environment, Energy and Resilience pathway, now known as Sustainable Futures

Further reading:

Read more about the psychological aspects of marine citizenship in my paper Citizens of the Sea: defining marine citizenship, delivered at the International Conference on Environmental Psychology, 2019.

I’ll be presenting on my PhD research at the Coastal Futures conference in London in January 2020.

Follow Pam 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!

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!

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


  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!