MSc Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation Fieldwork Week 2022

As part of the MSc Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation Skills module, students undertake a series of fieldwork sessions within the region of Cornwall, providing them a working knowledge of key practical fieldwork skills and the ability for them to apply the developed skills in future professional settings. Below we hear from MSc Marine Vertebrate Ecology & Conservation student, Lorraine Aldridge, where she discusses her experience throughout the duration of the fieldwork and what it entailed.

Author – Lorraine Aldridge

On-board Marine Discovery, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

 

Boat trips – AK Wildlife, Atlantic Diving and Marine Discovery

As part of our fieldwork boat trips, we were split into groups and timetabled for a range of boat trips, ranging from 4 hours to 7 hours, across the course of the two weeks. The trips left from Falmouth with local wildlife watching and scuba diving companies, AK Wildlife Cruises, Atlantic Diving and a third trip from Penzance with Marine Discovery. These boat trips provided us with the opportunity to develop and improve upon our species identification skills, and practice distance sampling strategy, a widely used and powerful method to systematically assess the density and abundance of cetaceans and marine vertebrates at sea.

Common Dolphin sighted near Falmouth, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

I started the first day of the week with AK Wildlife Cruises, meeting at Falmouth Marina, prepared with waterproofs, snacks, binoculars, a camera, notebook, clipboard, pencil, and sea sickness tablets, ready to spot some marine vertebrates! Upon boarding the boats each day, we were split into groups and given a GPS to track a running log for our distance sampling. We recorded effort every 15 minutes and any sightings on a separate recording sheet.

Each boat trip brought something new, a sighting, a location, or a breakthrough in identification ability (for me at least). Some of my highlights of these half-day or full-day boat trips around the Cornish coastline were spotting a puffin, a juvenile porpoise, a huge barrel jellyfish, bow riding common dolphins and improving my seabird identification skills. Every boat trip felt magical, it was a gentle reminder to me about how lucky we are to be studying in such an amazing place for marine life.

Herring Gull sighted near Falmouth, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Juvenile Common Dolphin near Penzance, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Common Dolphins sighted near Penzance, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Another highlight was spotting a minke whale near Penzance, along with a few grey seals making a surprise appearance.

When the weather was less than ideal, we took a detour from the open sea and headed down the Fal River and up the estuary, which brought a new plethora of wildlife to enjoy and explore. Sightings ranged from a peregrine falcon, great northern diver, deer, shelduck, cormorants, terns and seals.

 

Cornish Seal sanctuary

As part of our field week, we visited the Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, where we were given a guided tour and a private Q&A session. We gained an insight into the process of the rehabilitation of over 70 grey seal pups found within local coastal waters annually.

We learned the journey that rescued seals go through, starting with the specialist seal hospital, then onto rehabilitation in the main sanctuary, alongside how they go about caring for their resident grey and common seals.

Common Seals, Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Seal Pup Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Isles of Scilly

On the 6thApril 2022, we embarked on our journey on the Scillonian, from Penzance across to the Isles of Scilly. The crossing over consisted of group distance sampling, (whilst concentrating on not feeling seasick), and took just under 3 hours. With binoculars and range sticks at the ready, we saw lots of manx shearwaters, cormorants, shags, gannets, gulls, auks and fulmar. Once we reached St Marys, the largest island of the archipelago, we boarded a smaller boat across to St Anges, where we would be camping for the following two nights.

Campsite St Agnes, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Once we arrived at the campsite, we had a guided wildlife walk tour of St. Agnes and Gugh by Will Wagstaff, a leading ornithologist and naturalist in the Isles of Scilly. Will showed us the resident lesser black-backed gull nesting colony and we explored the island before setting up our tents. In the evening, Dr Alice Trevail provided a talk on her research on British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Marine Protected Areas for habitat use of non-breeding seabirds in the Western Indian Ocean.

Wildlife guided walk Gugh, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Lesser black-backed gull nesting colony, Gugh, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

The few days following on the Isles of Scilly consisted of a boat trip around the islands, where we tested our sea bird identification skills and saw a range of species such as fulmar, puffins, razorbills, guillemots, grey seals, gannets, a talk from Jaclyn Pearson, biosecurity officer for the RSPB. Community volunteers also joined and we learned about biosecurity on St Agnes (the world’s largest community-led rat removal project) and the community effort to keep St Agnes rat-free.

Brown rats arrived on the islands in the 18th century and as the population of rats grew, they became harmful to the burrow-nesting seabirds, such as the European storm petrels and manx shearwaters. Jaclyn told us how since removing rats, storm petrels have returned to breed on St Agnes and Gugh and manx shearwater fledged chicks for the first time in living memory (back in 2013). 2015 saw the return of breeding European storm petrels, with numbers of both increasing ever since. We then had a tour of the island, meeting community volunteers, whilst also carrying out a section of the rat trap wax checks as we went.

Plastic-free lobster pot fishing, Jof Hicks Isles of Scilly, Photos: Lorraine Aldridge

We were also treated to manx playback from the burrows, which was one of my highlights of the trip.

Lundy Island 12th April 2022

The week following our trip to the Isles of Scilly, and in between a week of boat trips with AK Wildlife, Atlantic Diver and Marine Discovery, we split into two groups across two-day trips to visit Lundy Island, the first designated Marine Conservation Area in the UK.

MS Oldenburg, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Lundy lies off the coast of North Devon, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Bristol Channel, and is owned by the National Trust and managed by the Landmark Trust. The two charities have worked together since 1969 to restore and protect all that is cherished and special about Lundy departing from Ilfracombe Harbour on the MS Oldenburg, which took approximately 2 hours each way. The boat trip over was a great way to start homing in our identification skills, spotting a range of sea birds already mentioned in this blog, as well as enjoying some bow-riding dolphins and grey seals.

Lundy Island, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Once we arrived on the island, we were taken on a guided tour up and across the island to the nesting bird colony where we were lucky enough to see some puffins, lots of gulls, and even a grey phalarope.

Wheatear, Lundy Island, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Highland cattle, Lundy Island, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Grey Seal, Lundy Island, Photo: Lorraine Aldridge

Field week

These two weeks of fieldwork allowed us to bond as a course and spend time with each other outside of a lecture setting, network and develop as marine scientists, in an organic fieldwork setting. From carrying out distance sampling, experiencing long days out at sea, sharpening sea bird and marine mammal identification, and developing teamwork/field group communication skills. The two weeks allowed us to develop as marine conservationists and in practical fieldwork environments, which has been a highlight of the degree!

MSc Graduate In Focus: Fletcher Noble

We are looking at the achievements of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine science around the world since studying with us. Today we meet Fletcher Noble, MSc Marine Vertebrate Ecology & Conservation graduate (2021) and now a Marine Science Officer at Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (Eastern IFCA). 

What did you enjoy most about studying at the University of Exeter?  

It’s hard to narrow down, but I would say the lecturers were excellent! They have the ability to engage you and grow your interests in topics that you may not have given much thought to previously. Their ability to engage you and draw your attention for an entire lecture really motivates you to go and do that extra work to learn more about the subject in your own time. It made learning the course easy and enjoyable. 

What were the best aspects of studying your course?  

As I mentioned previously the lecturers were excellent, but the field courses and the experiences they provided were absolutely top tier. From local trips on the waters and lands around Falmouth and then big trips further afield.  

Having also studied my undergraduate degree here at Exeter, the undergraduate trips to Wales and the Azores gave me great practical experience and the chance to see wildlife I would never have seen – like 40 sperm whales in a single day! During my masters they had provided additional qualifications too, such as becoming a WiSe Accredited Wildlife Safe Operator, BDMLR Mammal Medic, and JNCC Marine Mammal Observer. 

What skills and experiences did you gain that will/have been useful for job/internship applications? 

I think the research projects I undertook during my studies provided a whole range of skills that have become relevant in my current job. Being able to take part in active research within the conservation field, tackling the challenges which come with it, and overcoming them by developing a greater understanding of the statistical analysis software RStudio, statistics as a subject and managing databases, along with planning and executing it within a project were critical in securing my role.  

 

Why did you choose to study at the University of Exeter?  

I chose the University of Exeter because it was a top-tier Russell Group University, with a particular focus on conservation and the marine realm, and as an added bonus, I could study at the Cornwall campus! Having visited the Duchy many times throughout my childhood, I jumped at the chance to live and study in such a beautiful and fun part of the country. 

Do you think there are any factors that make the University of Exeter a unique place to study?  

I would say the lifestyle and experiences that come from living in Cornwall certainly make it unique. Living within a stone’s throw away from multiple gorgeous beaches and being able to go for a quick afternoon swim after studying really revitalises you. Then going to one of the many excellent pubs for a pint with friends to warm up and relax after drying off. There aren’t many places where you can do all of that in the UK, especially not under the Cornish sunshine!  

What skills and experience have been most useful for your career? And how do you think your programme prepared you for your career/current role? 

I think my ability to manage both my time and work while being involved in big projects has really helped. In my current role, I am participating in (and now leading!) multiple projects at the same time, from new research to the constant environmental and stock monitoring that comes with fisheries management. My master’s thesis really helped prepare me for this, it was a large database project which had two big tasks within it. Being able to balance multiple sets of information, of equal importance, and be able to complete both to a high standard has likely been one of the most important, (if slightly less flashy) skills I have gained from my studies.  

Why did you choose this career?  

Since graduating I wanted to follow a career that would give me the opportunity to partake in active research and practical conservation. This has been a tricky mix to find, especially as a graduate! But the IFCAs provide exactly that! Eastern IFCA gives me the opportunity to do that in spades and more! Since joining I have undertaken cockle surveys in The Wash aboard R.V. Three Counties, performed monthly environmental health observations, and started my own research project examining the economic benefits of the unique chalk reef at Cromer. I am especially happy with this last one, as the area is currently at the heart of practical conservation and fisheries management. It’s a prime example of the work that can be done through co-management of fishers, conservationists, with IFCA at the core, to protect both the unique habitat and those who earn their lifestyles by fishing those grounds.  

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?  

I would say be open to unexpected opportunities and then chase them with full enthusiasm! I was teaching scuba diving in Sri Lanka when I saw my role advertised, I applied on a bit of a hopeful whim and am now loving my new job! By having enthusiasm for your studies, you will gain a wide range of knowledge and experience, but you must make sure not to put the blinders on afterwards. You will be capable of almost anything when you carry that enthusiasm forwards to your career and welcome new opportunities with open arms! 

What are your plans for the future?  

In the immediate future, I plan to stick with my role at Eastern IFCA, but I would eventually love to complete a PhD! Either here in the UK, or back in Australia where I took my study abroad year. In the meantime, I plan to keep learning and experiencing new things in my role, like using side-scan sonar and flying an underwater remotely operated vehicle!  

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?  

Do it! You won’t regret it! The only bit you will have trouble with is deciding what you love more, studying in Penryn or the Duchy itself! One thing I am 100% confident of is that you won’t regret it! 

World Turtle Day 2022 with ExeterMarine

World Turtle Day was created as a yearly observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and their habitats across the world. Today, ExeterMarine is celebrating World Turtle Day, by showcasing 8 turtle publications from the last year, from some of our lead academics in the marine science field.  

Publication 1 of 8: Plastic pollution and small juvenile marine turtles: a potential evolutionary trap’ 

Lead author: Dr Emily Duncan 

Photography: Eleanor Church

Plastic pollution could create an “evolutionary trap” for juvenile sea turtles. Stranded turtles (five of the world´s species) found on the east (Pacific) and west (Indian Ocean) coasts of Australia had ingested plastic pieces, mostly hard fragments and fibres. Juvenile turtles travel in currents and develop in the open ocean, but the same currents now accumulate vast quantities of plastic. These turtles show surface and non-selective feeding, therefore are at high risk of ingestion. The next stage of research is to find out if and how plastic ingestion affects the health and survival of these turtles.

Link to paper:  

http://seaturtle.org/library/?v=15583  

Publication 2 of 8:Climate Change and Marine Turtles: Recent Advances and Future Directions’ 

Lead author: Dr Ana Patricio

“Climate change can impact sea turtles at all life stages, being one of the major challenges for conservation managers in the near future. For decades, research was focused on the nesting beach, where turtles are more easily accessible, with recent years seeing more studies extending to the marine realm, using novel approaches and technologies. In the latest literature review on this topic, we summarise main findings, highlight knowledge gains and research gaps, and make a list of research priorities for an improved understanding of how climate change may impact marine turtles, to guide future works.”

Link to paper:  

http://seaturtle.org/library/?v=14385  

Publication 3 of 8:  Green Turtles Highlight Connectivity Across a Regional Marine Protected Area Network in West Africa

Lead author: Dr Ana Patricio

“We investigate the movements of green turtles from the largest Eastern Atlantic population with satellite tracking, to assess the level of protection afforded by the Regional Network of Marine Protected Areas in West Africa. We found that nesting females of this population connect at least five West African nations through their migrations, from Guinea to Mauritania, reinforcing the need of international collaborations for their effective conservation! Turtles stayed mostly within MPAs across the network, underscoring the importance of this sites for this major population. Based on our results we provide recommendations for conservation managers on how they may enhance protection.”

Link to paper:  

http://seaturtle.org/library/?v=16094  

Publication 4 of 8:Marine turtles of the African east coast: current knowledge and priorities for conservation and research 

 Lead author: Casper van de Geer

In this research we worked with a team from across the Western Indian Ocean region to bring together everything that is currently known about turtles along the continental East coast of Africa. Clearly, there is a lot of work left to do, and our findings also highlight the vulnerability of the populations that nest, migrate and forage along the continental coast. Fortunately, there are some great examples of conservation efforts and there is growing recognition of the need to implement effective protection across the region.” 

Link to paper:  

http://seaturtle.org/library/?v=16138 

Publication 5 of 8: Green turtle population recovery at Aldabra Atoll continues after 50 yr of protection 

Lead author: Adam Pritchard

“It’s been an honour to record the inspiring population increase of Aldabra’s green turtles and help deliver a much-needed “good news” conservation message which will hopefully encourage similar programmes. It just goes to show that, given the opportunity, animals have an astonishing capacity to recover from exploitation.”

Link to paper: 

http://seaturtle.org/library/?v=16073 

Publication 6 of 8:Fulfilling global marine commitments; lessons learned from Gabon 

Lead author: Dr Kristian Metcalfe

Link to paper: 

http://seaturtle.org/library/?v=16182 

Publication 7 of 8: Investigating differences in population recovery rates of two sympatrically nesting sea turtle species 

Lead author: Dr Lucy Omeyer

“After 30 years of consistent, intensive monitoring of sea turtles in Cyprus, it is great to see such an increase in green turtles. On the other hand, loggerhead turtles are not doing as well, potentially because of incidental bycatch in fisheries in the Mediterranean region. Understanding the threats faced by juveniles will be important for the effective management of these threatened species.”

Link to paper:  

http://seaturtle.org/library/?v=16183

Publication 8 of 8: ‘Dietary analysis of two sympatric marine turtle species in the eastern Mediterranean 

Lead author: Josie Palmer

“In this study we investigated diet of stranded and bycaught green and loggerhead turtles in North Cyprus. Green turtle diet was dominated by an invasive seagrass from the Red Sea. In other regions where it has invaded, green turtles still prefer native seagrasses which are rapidly being displaced by the Red Sea invasive leading to concerns over their long-term persistence. This paper documented the highest consumption levels of this invasive seagrass in Mediterranean green turtles to date potentially indicating they are better adjusting. Loggerhead turtles were more opportunistic and carnivorous, placing them at risk to different fishing methods such as baited gears in deeper waters, whereas green turtles forage in shallower water where static set nets are more common. As part of my larger PhD study into the impacts of small-scale fisheries on marine turtle populations in the eastern Mediterranean, these data will be combined with satellite tracking of foraging turtles, fisheries monitoring data and habitat modelling to better inform the level of overlap in habitat use with fisheries and highlight key areas of conflict and opportunities for mitigation.”

Link to paper:  

http://seaturtle.org/library/?v=15494  

 

To follow the work of these authors, please see their Twitter handles below: 

Dr Emily Duncan – @EmilyDuncan34 

Dr Rita Patricio – @arcpatricio 

Casper van de Geer – @CasperGeer

Adam Pritchard – @AdamPritchard5

Dr Kristian Metcalfe – @K_METCALFE

Dr Lucy Omeyer – @LucyOmeyer

MSc Graduate in Focus: Steph Trapp

We are looking at the achievements of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine science around the world since studying with us. Today we meet Steph Trapp, MSc Marine Vertebrate Ecology & Conservation graduate (2021) and now undertaking her PhD here at The University of Exeter.

What did you enjoy most about studying at the University of Exeter?  

Having the opportunity to learn from such a wide range of researchers and professionals from all over the world. This was definitely one of the biggest advantages of online learning during the pandemic, also living in Cornwall and being 10 minutes from the beach is pretty sweet. 

What were the best aspects of studying your course?  

I really liked how the course was split between structured, taught modules in the first half of the year and then completely independent project work in the second half. It gave us the chance to learn and develop academic skills like statistical modelling and GIS and then put them into practice for our own projects. The lecturers are all fantastic and super enthusiastic. We were able to explore some of the UK’s marine wildlife, including puffins, basking sharks and Risso’s dolphins. It was the perfect way to round off the taught part of the course. 

What skills and experiences did you gain that will/have been useful for job/internship applications? 

Learning statistical and spatial analysis techniques, using R and GIS software, whilst developing writing concise and logical scientific material have all proved useful. Additionally, gaining practical experience such as seabird and cetacean identification, alongside boat and land-based survey techniques have better prepared me for the industry. The combination of these have given me a good foundation for both practical fieldwork and more academic careers.   

Why did you choose to study at the University of Exeter? 

I did my undergraduate degree here too and loved living in Cornwall. Finishing my degree mid-pandemic, the chances of getting a graduate job seemed pretty slim, but conveniently that was also when the new MVEC masters was being launched. I had been taught and supervised by some of the academics involved so knew it would be brilliant, and it seemed like the logical choice!  

Do you think there are any factors that make the University of Exeter a unique place to study? 

I think the location of the campus and the whole Biosciences research community make it a very special place. It’s a very welcoming and supportive group to be part of, with so many world-class researchers doing amazing work. Everyone from undergraduate level to professors seems to have a shared love of being outdoors and exploring the Cornish coast. 

What skills and experience have been most useful for your career? And how do you think your programme prepared you for your career/current role? 

The programme gave me a solid academic grounding, especially in effective scientific communication and statistical analysis, which are vital if you want to do any kind of research job. However, for me the key to being offered my PhD was talking to lecturers and taking opportunities as they came up. Much more so than undergrad, the masters degree gave me the chance to get to know the academics and researchers in the department better and find opportunities to help out with fieldwork etc. 

Why did you choose this career? 

I still don’t feel as if I have actually “chosen” a career, although I have always wanted to work in conservation. Different opportunities kept popping up throughout my time at university, none of which I could have foreseen, which in turn led to other opportunities. I volunteered on a local wildlife tour boat, helping with dolphin and penguin research during my study abroad year. I also spent a summer on a seabird island as a research assistant. My idea for a career seems to change every few months depending on what I’m doing at that moment in time, which I personally find really exciting as I never know what might come up next! 

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career? 

Be open to every opportunity, even if it’s not exactly what you thought you would be doing. I think having your career plans really set in stone means you could miss out on a whole load of great experiences. In the same vein, try to make the most of everything you do – I got my first paid research assistant job through working as a cleaner in a hostel. Just being enthusiastic and keen can work wonders!  

What are your plans for the future? 

I don’t have too many plans for now. I’d like to do some more fieldwork, probably with seabirds, possibly somewhere cool like the Subantarctic, and get my bird ringing license. Other than that, I’ll wait and see what opportunities pop up during the PhD. 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter? 

Do it, there’s nothing to lose! Come and see the campus and explore the area, have a good look at the course descriptions, and don’t be afraid to contact lecturers and staff, or even ex-students on social media, with any questions. 

MSc Graduate in Focus: Rachael Thomson

We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine science around the world since studying with us. Today we meet Rachael Thomson, MSc Marine Vertebrate Ecology & Conservation graduate (2021) and now a Marine Wildlife Analyst for APEM which is an environmental and geospatial ecology company based in the UK.

What did you enjoy most about studying at the University of Exeter? 

One of the things I enjoyed the most about studying at the University of Exeter was hearing about the careers and experiences of other scientists who had previously studied here or have some sort of affiliation with Exeter. They do a lot of great research, taking a global collaborative approach which, I think is exciting. 

What were the best aspects of studying your course? 

Going on the boat trips around Cornwall and spotting basking sharks, seeing Risso’s dolphins and gannets were one of the highlights of studying my course. It was made even better that we were able to share these experiences with lecturers and other key staff in the department, giving us the chance to learn from them. We were also given a great range of research projects to choose from. My research project assessed whether marine turtles nesting in Panama may be somehow buffered from the effects of climate change, as research is suggesting higher temperatures produce more female hatchlings. I really hope to further collaborate with the Sea Turtle Conservancy which is based in Costa Rica and Panama to publish my project.

What skills and experiences did you gain that will/have been useful for job/internship applications? 

We were able to learn about the variety of technology that can be used to help solve conservation issues, which was something I found very fascinating and innovative. For example, the use of drones, baited remote underwater video (BRUVS), biologging tags, temperature loggers and aerial survey photography. Learning about these technologies and how to analyse the outputs was a great skill to have in the field of conservation. One bonus of doing my MSc in the pandemic was that it enabled me to spend more time improving my technical skills.  

Why did you choose to study at the University of Exeter? 

A lot of skills and experiences offered on the Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation MSc seemed practical and useful for the current job market and I really wanted to take advantage of the opportunities. Additionally, I admired a lot of the staff and research that came from the university. Especially their involvement in working with sea turtles, marine mammals, basking sharks, and tuna. There is also a focus on international collaborations, and I enjoy travelling and understanding conservation issues on a global scale. 

Do you think there are any factors that make the University of Exeter a unique place to study? 

Studying at the Cornwall campus and living in here has been essential to my enjoyment and wellbeing. Choosing where you study is an important part of any undergraduate, postgraduate or PhD decision. Since living here, I have found a new appreciation for UK wildlife and the coastline, with some great opportunities to get out on the water via boat, paddleboard, surfboard or even going for a refreshing cold-water snorkel. I even got the chance to see bioluminescence which I would have never thought was possible in the UK. 

What skills and experience have been most useful for your career? And how do you think your programme prepared you for your career/current role? 

I think the MSc programmes at Exeter provide excellent networking opportunities and the chance to see what your career could truly look like if you want it enough. Most importantly, the programme encourages independent learning and gives you the confidence to trust your knowledge and skills.  

Why did you choose this career? 

I have had a natural curiosity for as long as I remember and as soon as I realised science could give me answers, (or answers that lead to more questions), I knew it was for me. As well as collecting anything small and living – from woodlice to limpets. Choosing to pursue conservation began when I volunteered at my first sea turtle project in Kefalonia in Greece where I gained an understanding of the many ways we as humans negatively impact wildlife. After that, I wanted to help be part of the solution.  

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career? 

Always make time for people and be approachable and friendly, as conservation needs people to work collaboratively. I would say to take advantage of the opportunities you are given and be open to working with different species or in different locations that might put you out of your comfort zone. Lastly, although easier said than done, don’t spend energy obsessing over how well others are doing in the field as you devalue your own achievements, and you deserve to be proud of those.

What are your plans for the future? 

I don’t like to plan too much but the most important thing to me is working with passionate people and working towards conservation that aims to solve one or multiple conservation issues. And hopefully improving the conservation of marine vertebrates such as turtles, sharks, marine mammals, and seabirds.  If this opportunity doesn’t exist, I will just have to create it!  

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter? 

Don’t even hesitate! Reach out to staff at the university or to people like myself who are very accessible on social media platforms like Twitter.  

 

The Eᶜ simulator – A tool for helping us make sustainable investments in Floating Offshore Wind Farms (FLOW)

Authors – Justin Olosunde (Project Lead) and Professor Lars Johanning (the Deputy Head of Engineering and Co-Director Centre for Doctoral Training in Offshore Renewable Energy at the University of Exeter)

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (CIOS LEP) have identified the Cornwall and Scillies region as the birthplace of commercial wind generation in the UK. It has one of the best wind climates in Europe and has committed to the UK Government agenda as one of only two places in the UK singled out by the Government’s Net Zero Strategy for large-scale FLOW deployment. Some 300MW of projects are already moving forward, with a 30–40MW demonstrator expected to be on-site by 2025.

“The LEP has set a target of 3GW of installed capacity, which could support more than 11,000 jobs and generate £900 million of net additional gross value added.”

~ Mark Duddridge, Chair of The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, 2021

Celtic Sea Power is leading the Cornwall Floating Offshore Wind Accelerator, a part European Regional Development Funded project, which will develop tools, knowledge, and data to accelerate the Celtic Sea FLOW opportunity. They hope to lay the significant groundwork to develop a pipeline at both a FLOW project and supply chain level. The University of Exeter, University of Plymouth, and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult have partnered to achieve this. Here at the University of Exeter, we are working toward designing, developing, and building a floating offshore wind simulator as a vehicle to help provide research-led expertise to reduce carbon footprints and underpin the FLOW service.

Partnerships created between the University of Exeter and external partners are contributing toward the development of tools, knowledge, and data that accelerate the Celtic Sea FLOW opportunity. These partnerships are laying significant groundwork, with respect to developing a pipeline at both a FLOW project and supply chain level.

A team within the University of Exeter are undertaking research on Floating Offshore Wind via the Cornwall FLOW accelerator, which is a part of The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme. The programme is led by Celtic Sea Power, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cornwall Council. Justin Olosunde, The Impact and Partnership Development Manager for Cornwall FLOW Accelerator and Lars Johanning, the Deputy Head of Engineering and Co-Director Centre for Doctoral Training in Offshore Renewable Energy at the University of Exeter, are part of the Exeter team leading on the design of the tool, to develop a floating offshore wind simulator as a vehicle.

¹ Team photo for the Exeter floating offshore wind simulator team. Left to right: Jessye Boulton, me, Dr Hailun Xie, Dr Barton Chen, Professor Lars Johanning, Dr Mi Tian, Dr Kanchan Joshi and Dr Shuya Zhong.

² Floating offshore wind turbines identified for Hexicon Celtic Sea development site (RenewablesNow

The Eᶜ simulator is a software tool, used to assess economic values and the environmental impacts of floating offshore wind farms. The assessment is based on life cycle analyses, which include five development stages: pre-development, manufacturing, assembly and installation, operations and maintenance, and decommissioning.

This tool is designed to help stakeholders such as wind farm developers and policymakers in decision-making processes in FLOW development. The aim is to enable the effective optimization of the maximum energy yield from any proposed development locations, while minimising the carbon intensity, associated net environmental impact and cost of electricity generation.

A holistic model has been established to encapsulate the whole procedure in assembly and installation of FLOW, including the transport of major FLOW components (tower, blades, nacelle, mooring system, cables, and floating platforms) from manufacturing port to assembly port. This involves the assembly

of wind turbine generators at assembly port, the transit from assembly port to installation port, and the installation at the farm site.

The installation tasks are classified into four categories, i.e., assembly at the port, offshore installation, installation on the seabed, and onshore installation. Three assembly activities at ports or shipyards are considered, including wind turbine assembly, storage of mooring chains, and storage of anchors. The offshore installation includes the transport activities from manufacturing to assembly port, transport activities between installation port and to farm site, as well as offshore operations for installing wind turbines and the mooring system. Installation on the seabed considers the installation of inter-array and export cables, being the cables connecting the wind turbines to one another.

Lastly, onshore installation is dedicated to the installation of onshore substations and export cables. Various types of vessels are employed for the installation of components, such as tugboats, cargo vessels and crane vessels, dependent on specific tasks. The impact of weather conditions on maritime operations is considered by simulating the vessel transit and operation time for wind farm installation, maintenance, and end-of-life decommissioning operations. Additionally, the fuel consumption rates of each vessel for vessel transit and operation are considered separately. A similar environmentally conscious approach is deployed for the analysis of FLOW decommissioning, where the research team considers the recycling and recovery of materials at end of life.

During the maintenance life of the floating offshore wind farms (approximately 25 years), approaches are being taken to account for uncertainties in the failure of them operating effectively. Statistical techniques are being used to determine any uncertainties in the development of the models. The team is currently exploring surrogate-based methods and representative learning approaches to achieve an effective trade-off between computational cost and model fidelity. The hope is to ensure the simulator can be used commercially and by policymakers, to inform investment decisions and future offshore industrialisation, both with confidence and within reasonable timeframes. The impacts of metocean conditions at various locations on vessel accessibility and transit time are determined for all of the offshore operations. This is to ensure the generation of real-world results in terms of both economic costs and carbon emissions. Only by adopting the “cradle to the grave” approach outlined can stakeholders be assured that the major impacts are being captured for any individual wind farm development or series of developments.

3 Cradle to grave life cycle model (University of Exeter, 2022)

Once fully developed and implemented, this tool will allow the optimisation of wind farm design and the planning of multiple windfarms at regional spatial levels. Consideration will be taken into the potential impact of installation, decommissioning, and marine maintenance operations on marine-based flora and fauna. Additionally, solid metrics will be determined on the lifetime costs of energy production, the lifetime carbon costs, and the total energy returned as a ratio to the total energy invested at an individual farm level.

There is a proposed extension of the tool, to further support the modelling of seabird habitat use and how they interact with wind farms. The aim is to use the existing tool to test a series of different wind farm configurations (orientation, spacing of turbines, etc), to provide guidance on those designs that give economic yields, while at the same time minimising their impact on seabirds. Investigations could be taken to discover how to mitigate against the potential losses of birds to wind farm installations by compensation mechanisms, such as the creation of new breeding areas, bycatch reductions methods, or invasive species eradications. The final tool output can inform the creation of a UK-wide risk map that highlights areas around the UK where wind and seabird interests align, to inform wind-farm planning and development policy at a national level.

Having a tool that allows developers and policyholders to virtually explore the interactions between one or more farms at a sea-scape level, enables us to plan wildlife corridors within a farm or between farms, enabling populations to flourish. The approach can inform where and where not to develop and evaluate the associated impact on the cost of generation and energy yield. Generally, this tool will provide valuable information to further inform policy decisions and potentially drive investment in the local supply chains. Multiple scenarios can be evaluated within the simulator, enabling the alignment of low carbon power generation, with the development of local content manufacturing, assembly, and marine operations supply bases. This tool has great potential to help guide environmental impact assessments, whilst also providing a source of energy across the region.

Many thanks to the floating offshore wind simulator team at the University of Exeter for contributing this research to and the Cornwall FLOW Accelerator for leading this project.

References:

1. Team photo for the Exeter floating offshore wind simulator team Image taken at the University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, 2022

2. Sweden’s Hexicon buys consented Celtic Sea site for floating wind demo. Renewablesnow.com. 2022. Available from: https://renewablesnow.com/news/swedens-hexicon-buys-consented-celtic-sea-site-for-floating-wind-demo-749519/

3. Cradle to grave diagram, created by the University of Exeter, 2022.

MSc Graduate in Focus: Sian Woollard

We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine science around the world since studying with us. Today we meet Sian Woollard, MSc Marine Environmental Management graduate (2021) and now a Protected Sites Advisor for Natural England. 

What did you enjoy most about studying at the University of Exeter?  

I enjoyed all of the modules we had, the beautiful setting of living in Cornwall, and the opportunities (such as volunteering opportunities) whilst being a part of the University of Exeter. 

What were the best aspects of studying your course? 

I loved the lecturers, I felt I was always supported and looked after throughout my masters degree. I also really enjoyed my research project – it was so fun developing my own project and delivering it to different audiences, I found it so fulfilling. 

What skills and experiences did you gain that will/have been useful for job/internship applications?  

I believe my academic writing improved significantly throughout my masters and has definitely helped me secure my job since finishing at Exeter. Additionally, the knowledge gained is really useful and I’m able to apply that to different aspects, post-Masters. 

Why did you choose to study at the University of Exeter?  

The University of Exeter was one of the few universities that offered masters programmes that accepted students without a science background, which I needed as I studied English Language and Linguistics for my undergrad. I had previously worked on a project that is run in partnership with Exeter (SPOT) a turtle project based in Cyprus. It was there that I met different students at Exeter who all spoke positively of their experiences. Both of these reasons were huge influences in my decision. 

Do you think there are any factors that make the University of Exeter a unique place to study? 

The University of Exeter has excellent partnerships and collaborations with organisations worldwide, as well as world-leading experts in the field who lecture there. The opportunities for brilliant field trips too were a bonus – I think these reasons make the University of Exeter really unique.  

What skills and experience have been most useful for your career? And how do you think your programme prepared you for your career/current role?  

Learning about designated sites in the Protected Areas module have been the most useful for my career so far. Additionally, the project management aspect of my research project has really refined my timekeeping and improved my communication with different stakeholders. 

Why did you choose this career?  

Natural England are a brilliant organisation who are working towards protecting and improving more of the UK’s natural environments, which is a line of work I’m particularly interested in.  

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career? 

I got this job by sending out emails to people within Natural England just as I was finishing my masters. I would 100% recommend not only applying for roles that interest you but also sending out emails and contacting people within your organisation (even if it results in a job that’s not directly related to what you want), as this shows resilience and initiative. 

What are your plans for the future?  

Currently, I’m on a temporary contract with Natural England so I’m currently in the process of interviewing for a permanent position. If I get this, it means I can continue within this organisation, and if I am not successful this time I’m going to go back to searching for environmental education and outreach positions as that is my dream line of work. 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?  

If you’re unsure, I would contact lecturers beforehand and ask if you can chat about the course and the university, especially with things being so uncertain with lockdown, as this can help so much. Other than that, I would say to just go for it and have fun!

 

MSc Graduate in Focus: Kara Rising

We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine science around the world since studying with us. Today we meet Kara Rising, an international MSc Marine Environmental Management graduate (2021) from America and now a Research Technician in Coral Biology at the University of Derby. 

 

Can you outline your pathway from graduating to where you are now?  

To be honest, there wasn’t much of a pathway for me. I saw a job post on Twitter from a coral scientist who I followed and was familiar with his work. The job was closely aligned with my prior experience and aspirations to go into research and it would allow me to gain practical experience in aquatic animal husbandry, microbiology, molecular biology and conservation.  I called this scientist that day to discuss the role and a few months, an application and two interviews later I was offered the job and moved to Derby a few days after finishing in person teaching for my masters!  

What did you enjoy most about studying at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus? 

The class discussions that we had as a group of students, alongside Professor Callum Roberts and Dr Julie Hawkins who taught the degree. They did very well to facilitate thought-provoking discussions in class and between ourselves. I think this particularly helped me to dive deeper into the research and ask more questions. This, coupled with the coursework, taught me so much in just one year at Exeter.  

What were the best aspects of studying your course?

I loved doing my research project with Professor Martin Stevens. When I started I had very little confidence in my ability to lead and carry out a full scientific study, however he guided me the right amount which allowed me to really explore, practice, ask questions and gain confidence. It was hard work, for sure, but I loved every second of it.    

What skills and experiences did you gain that will/have been useful for job/internship applications? 

For practical skills, learning statistical modelling and coding in R for data analysis has and will continue to be vital in my current job and for the rest of my career. Also, through doing my research project, undertaking a study through the phases of its concept, experimental design, data collection, analysis and write-up was something that my current job looked for in a successful candidate, as the role is heavily research-focused.  

Why did you choose to study at the University of Exeter?  

The research caliber of the lecturers and its overall reputation in ecology made me feel it would be a suitable fit for me. 

Why did you decide that the University of Exeter Penryn Campus was the best place to study your particular subject?  

Coral reef management and restoration was a big passion for me and an MSc in Marine Environmental Management that was based at the Penryn Campus seemed like the best fit for what I wanted to pursue in my career. 

How would you describe your experiences studying at the Penryn Campus and living in Cornwall (e.g. facilities, student life, campus surroundings, support).  

Cornwall is beautiful – I loved living near the coast and being able to go out and explore the rock pools, go for a swim and go surfing throughout the year I lived there. I think being near the sea just fuelled my fascination and passion for the subject I was studying! 

Do you think there are any factors that make the University of Exeter a unique place to study?  

I think just being in a place with so many great minds all there to be able to talk to and ask questions really made my experience unique. The staff listened to us during a challenging year from the COVID-19 pandemic, where for the majority of the year we worked remotely. I think their willingness to make adjustments and try to give additional opportunities was unique and really demonstrated their empathy and concern for their students. 

What skills and experience have been most useful for your career? And how do you think your programme prepared you for your career/current role?  

I think doing my research project in the field at Exeter helped to prepare me for my current career- while during my project there would constantly be things that had to be fixed, adjusted or re-planned. I think learning to think on my feet and troubleshoot creatively are skills that carried over into my current role and I use the most while taking care of a lab with several aquariums housing many different animals.  

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work? 

Sometimes I feel like a child being in science, I’m in constant fascination with how organisms function and interact with their environment. I love continuously learning and I never want to lose that sense of awe about the natural world, being a researcher gives me that chance to learn and explore. Working as a Research Technician in the Aquatic Research Centre at the University of Derby has offered me the chance to ask my own questions and develop my own research projects, whilst also helping others with their research and learning the technical skills associated with our projects. It really is the best of both worlds.  

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?  

Overall, I would say network! Go to conferences, reach out to that author on a paper you really liked, and take chances. There will be people who don’t respond, but those who do may be more likely to think of you if a position comes up that may fit your career aspirations. Or they could end up being a great collaborator in the future. Even if nothing comes of it you may still learn something just by speaking with them. 

What are your plans for the future? 

I hope to go on to do a PhD at some point! 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter? 

Firstly, I would congratulate them on a good decision. Secondly, this advice might be more specific to those switching subjects or careers, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and believe that it’s too hard to switch careers and go back to school- but I’m walking proof that it’s never too late and you can still find success.  

MSc Graduate in Focus: Tess DeSerisy

We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine science around the world since studying with us. Today we meet Tess DeSerisy, MSc Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation graduate (2021) and now a Conservation Field Supervisor at Sea Turtle Inc. 

What did you enjoy most about studying at the University of Exeter?  

The thing I value most about studying at Exeter was the connectivity it gave me to scientists around the world. Speaking with and hearing perspectives from researchers in loads of different cultures allowed me to open my mind to new and innovative ways of thinking. 

What were the best aspects of studying your course?

The best aspect of studying my course was absolutely the research project! I had an incredible opportunity to travel to Cyprus to work with the Society for the Protection of Turtles (SPOT). I was given full responsibility of my own research, which made me feel confident in my abilities to both hypothesize and produce publication-level work. 

 

What skills and experiences did you gain that will/have been useful for job/internship applications?  

Almost all the skills that I learned during my masters were transferable to my new position. Most notably, though, I use my time management and research development skills. As a supervisor, I had to think on my feet often to make sure interns’ schedules were seamless yet productive. While balancing these schedules, I had to also develop new more efficient methods of conducting my own research. 

Why did you choose to study at the University of Exeter?  

The internationally acclaimed staff led me to apply and further choose to study at the University of Exeter.  

Do you think there are any factors that make the University of Exeter a unique place to study?  

As an international student, there are so many factors that make Exeter unique. The campus location and surrounding areas are incredible. The methods of teaching, especially during the pandemic, have been instrumental in my degree program. The accessibility of the faculty is incredible and rare for a university with both undergraduate and postgraduate programs. These are just a few of many factors. 

What skills and experience have been most useful for your career? And how do you think your programme prepared you for your career/current role?  

One of the hardest things about the degree was conducting my own research with a hands-off support system. My supervisor trusted me to develop and carry out my own project, only offering support when I asked for or needed it. As someone who thought they might be a “forever intern”, trust and responsibility of this stature were unfamiliar to me. This opportunity allowed me to believe in myself and grow into a successful research scientist. I think there is no better way to be prepared for a career in research than to be given the opportunity to conduct meaningful research while knowing your supervisor would not let you fail. 

               

Why did you choose this career?  

I always knew I wanted to do field work, but it wasn’t until going through this masters program that made me sure I also wanted to conduct meaningful research from the field. This position, and this career path in general, has enabled me to collect important data, use this data for novel research and to share my passion for science with young career scientists.  

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?  

Never let anyone tell you your dreams are too big. If you put everything you have into it, you can’t go wrong. 

What are your plans for the future?  

I plan to hold the position I am currently in for several years to grow, publish, and learn. Following this position, I plan to either grow within the company or begin a PhD program to further specialise as a research scientist. 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?  

I heard in a movie once, “It only takes five seconds of courage to change your life.” Why not try? 

 

MSc Graduate in Focus: Camille Burton

We are looking back on some of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine science around the world since studying with us. Today we meet Camille Burton, MSc Marine Environmental Management graduate (2021) and now a Marine Advisor for Natural England. 

What did you enjoy most about studying at the University of Exeter? 

Being taught material from current research from some of the top scientists. 

What were the best aspects of studying your course?

Our field trip, whilst not the Maldives I thoroughly enjoyed being on campus and in the Isles of Scillies with my class for two weeks. 

What skills and experiences did you gain that will/have been useful for job/internship applications?  

My self-management and independent learning. Throughout the duration of my masters degree I developed upon the use of the mapping software QGIS and enjoyed creating a mock proposal for creating a protected area. 

Why did you choose to study at the University of Exeter? 

I felt that the course met all my requirements and what I was looking for in a masters degree. The lecturers and the familiarity that I had at the University of Exeter (as I undertook my undergradutate degree there too) meant that I managed well even during the pandemic. 

Do you think there are any factors that make the University of Exeter a unique place to study?  

I think The Exeter Marine research department along with the field trips they provide students puts them in a great position to provide people with the skills to develop and apply to future jobs and new working environments. 

What skills and experience have been most useful for your career? And how do you think your programme prepared you for your career/current role?  

Interning and then working as a freelance consultant for Safetynet technologies helped me hugely in getting the position I am now in with Natural England. This gave me experience working within the fishing industry as part of a variety of teams (business, marketing, and science). The masters degree then helped narrow and define what I am interested in from general zoology to marine environmental management, which made applying for jobs and interviewing a lot easier, as I felt more confident in my ability and knowledge within the industry. 

Why did you choose this career?  

The marine environment is fascinating and beautiful. It is also fragile and as the rest of the natural world, at risk from us. I am therefore compelled to study its complexities and work to help resolve issues. 

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career? 

If you fail at getting the job you applied for (as I first did at Safetynet), just enquire about interning, you may get lucky and they hire you as an intern for a while, which opens up opportunities to work for them in the future.  

What are your plans for the future?  

I want to see where this role takes me and at some stage take a sabbatical to travel before life gets complex! 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying to the University of Exeter?  

I’d advise students to look carefully at the modules first before deciding on which ones they want to take. If they are what you can see yourself specialising in then go for it.