World Turtle Day 2023: Meet Team Turtle!

World Turtle Day was created as a yearly observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and their habitats across the world. This #WorldTurtleDay2023 we are celebrating the University of Exeter early career researchers conducting amazing turtle research! Read on to meet the MSc, PhD and Postdoc researchers in our Team Turtle:

Josie Palmer – PhD Researcher

“I first started researching marine turtles during my MSc at the University of Exeter where I collaborated with the Society for the Protection of Turtles (SPOT) in Cyprus. I then worked for SPOT as a fisheries onboard observer, stranding and necropsy lab manager and a team leader during the nesting season.

I’m now a final year PhD researcher and my current research focuses on evaluating the interactions between the small-scale polyvalent fishery and marine turtle populations in Northern Cyprus. I use a variety of tools to do this including at sea and remote assessment of fishing effort and techniques, biologging, and dietary analysis to quantify and identify drivers of marine turtle bycatch, characterise marine turtle habitat utilisation and foraging ecology.”

Liliana Poggio Colman – Postdoctoral Research Associate

“My research focuses on several aspects of marine turtle ecology and conservation. I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Exeter, working on a Darwin Initiative-funded project which aims to predict the impacts of climate change on green turtles at the remote UK Overseas Territory of Ascension Island.

I am also involved in research projects on marine turtles in my home country, Brazil, where I am currently working with data analyses which include studying the impacts from a major mining dam burst over marine turtle nesting grounds in Brazil, spatial ecology using satellite tracking, and leatherback turtle ecology and conservation.”

Casper van de Geer – PhD Researcher

      Leatherback turtle rescued from bycatch

“My research is about sea turtle ecology and conservation in Kenya. Studying turtles in an area where relatively little is known about them is exciting and to then provide insights that will help protect turtles from data collected by a local conservation initiative makes it all the more special.”

Ema Breščak – MSc Conservation and Biodiversity

“I am studying MSc Conservation and Biodiversity and am currently working with the Society for the Protection of Turtles (SPOT) in Northern Cyprus to collect more data for my dissertation on sex-specific diet of loggerhead turtles. We expect to see some differences in male versus female resource use as they are under different evolutionary and energetic pressures, mainly related to reproduction. Part of my work here is also helping with stranding cases, monitoring Alagadi beach for turtle activity and helping with necropsies.”

Dr Hind Al Ameri – Recently completed PhD

Hind has recently completed her PhD on climate and marine turtles in her native Abu Dhabi. She has now returned to work for Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi. Hind is a shining light for marine conservation in the Arabian Gulf. A committed government scientist for her home government of Abu Dhabi, she has formalised much of her work over the last few years into a PhD study. In doing so, she has worked very hard to share scientific information across her region as well as raising environmental awareness with a dedicated approach to outreach activities.

Mollie Rickwood – MSc Conservation and Biodiversity

“The incubation temperature of turtles eggs is extremely important for their successful development, determining not only whether they survive but also the sex of the hatchlings. Hence, the temperature at which female turtles chose to lay their eggs is crucial for populations to persist in our warming climate.

Using data collected at Alagadi beach over the last 30 years, I will be trying to ascertain the extent to which female green turtles might be changing the timing of their nesting behaviour in order to align with optimal temperatures for egg incubation. I will be using data collected on approximately 700 individual females which will allow me to ask questions such as, are older females and younger females responding in different ways to sea surface temperature increase? This knowledge will help us to predict how the population will persist under climate change.”

Dr Rita Patricio – Postdoctoral Research Fellow

“I research sea turtle migrations and connectivity across West Africa and the Atlantic, using satellite tracking and genetic tools. In collaboration with Biodiversity Institutes in Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal, we generate spatial distribution maps to support spatial marine planning and conservation management.”

Hattie Lavender – MSc Conservation and Biodiversity

“I’m currently researching green turtles in Northern Cyprus with SPOT (Society for the Protection of Turtles) for my Masters project. I’m studying MSc Conservation and Biodiversity and my research focus is microplastic ingestion, which is unfortunately very common, especially in juveniles. This involves the not so glamorous, but incredibly interesting job of necropsying and gut content analysis of bycaught and stranded turtles reported to the project.”

Dr Zara Botterell – Postdoctoral Research Associate

“My research investigates the impacts of plastic pollution on marine animals. Plastic debris, especially microplastics, have been found almost everywhere. Turtles are particularly vulnerable as they use a number of habitats at different life stages: many turtle species feed on the seabed, post hatchlings are present in the surface layers of the ocean, and beaches are used by nesting females, eggs and hatchlings.”

Dr Emily Duncan – Postdoctoral Research Fellow

“My research focuses on the impact of plastic pollution on marine turtles; including plastic ingestion, entanglement and degradation of crucial habitats”

Want to know more about our turtle research? Take a look at last year’s World Turtle Day blog!

MSc Graduate in Focus: Pedro Warner

In our Graduate in Focus series we look at the achievements of our MSc graduates who have excelled in marine science around the world since studying with us. Today’s blog is about Pedro Warner, MSc Marine Environmental Management graduate (2021) and now a Fisheries Advisor with Cefas. 



What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?  

Nov 2021-Jan 2022: I initially worked as a research/data technician for the University of Exeter with Cornwall councils environmental growth team.

Jan – March 2022: I worked as a marine Analyst for The Strategy Works

March – July 2022: I worked as a CCAMLR Scientific Fisheries Observer working offshore around the Western Antarctic Peninsula, CCAMLR subarea 48.1.

Sept 2022 – Present: I am now a Fisheries Adviser for Cefas. 50% of the role is fisheries and fish ecology advice and the other 50% is in aiding in research and development projects for publication or policy development.

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

I love the mix of applied and academic science the role at Cefas offers. I enjoy using the current literature to advise on the impacts various anthropogenic activities have on marine ecology. Its great for identifying gaps in our current knowledge and then addressing that through research.

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what did you enjoy most about studying at the University of Exeter, Cornwall?

I love the lectures Callum Roberts gave, and how he incorporated in the most recent developments in marine conservation into our lectures on the history of marine exploitation. I enjoyed the location and professors (Julie Hawkins was especially great at making everyone feel involved and welcomed).

Why did you choose to study at Exeter?

The location and to study the MEM course which was moved there from York.

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

GIS, fisheries management, MPA science and the basic coding in R was especially useful.

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

Really try take your time when choosing your thesis research project. Think about the professor. If you don’t get the course you want, many people did a project with external institutes like PML.

What are your plans for the future?

Possibly a PhD by Research if I can get the publications….


Interested in studying with us? Our world-leading marine research underpins a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes: Research-led teaching | Exeter Marine | University of Exeter.

A Magical Maldives Experience – MSc Marine Environmental Management Fieldcourse

Our University of Exeter MSc Marine Environmental Management students recently returned home from their fieldtrip to the Maldives. Read on to hear from Monica Mayorga all about their amazing experience:

Day 1

As our plane descended into Malé, the capital city of the Maldives, we were amazed by the natural beauty that lay before us. The deep blue ocean below was dotted with clusters of islands with golden sand and turquoise waters. After arriving in Malé, we embarked on a three-hour boat ride to Magoodhoo, the island which would be our home for the next nine days. As we stepped off the boat, we were welcomed by a team of researchers from the marine research organization MaRHE Center. Inga, Fede, Jacopo and Enrico took us on a tour of the island, where we experienced its unique charm and tranquil atmosphere. The lives of Magoodhoo people are intricately intertwined with the ocean, and we really gained an appreciation for this when we discovered the walls of many of their houses are constructed from the very coral reefs they are surrounded by.


Views from the airplane as we descend. Photo by Beth Lewis.


A house with coral reef walls. Photo by Will Robson.


The streets of Magoodhoo. Photo by Will Robson.


Day 2

The next morning, Callum and Julie gave us an in-depth lecture about coral reef ecosystems. We discovered the Maldives sits atop an underwater mountain ridge that formed 55 million years ago, and its reefs have been shaped by various weather events like the monsoon. That afternoon, we eagerly prepared for our first dive of the trip to MaRHE’s coral restoration site in Magoodhoo. As we swam between the metal structures with small fragile coral fragments attached, I watched Jacopo carefully inspect and remove the macroalgae growing on some of the frames and admired the hard work and dedication behind coral restoration.


Callum shows us an aerial photograph of the Maldives revealing how monsoons shape its coral reefs. Photo by Monica Mayorga.


Acropora corals hang in MaRHE Centre’s coral restoration site. Photo by Ben Pearce.


Day 3

As the first rays of the sun peeked over the horizon, Quillie and I were already up, eager to begin our first sunrise snorkel. The lagoon that sat in front of the research centre was rich with butterflyfish and angelfish along with large shoals of fusiliers. As we dived down to get a closer look, we spotted gobies and lizardfish with wide eyes and striking poses and a vigilant octopus nestled between rocks. As we ventured further away from land, we saw outlines of steephead parrotfish and bigeye emperors which hung out in the deeper sections below. Later that day, Callum and Julie’s lecture on reef fish ecology, diversity, and behaviour made us even more excited for our upcoming dive that afternoon. As we eagerly put on our diving gear, we couldn’t wait to explore the underwater world again. As we began the dive, the theory from Callum and Julie’s lecture was playing out right before us, and I had newfound appreciation for the parrotfish that were grazing on macroalgae as we had been informed of the vital role that this behaviour plays in maintaining the health of reef ecosystems just hours before. On our second dive, we counted butterflyfish on a belt transect as we swam slowly. Our attention, however, was momentarily diverted when we caught sight of a nurse shark!


Gobies on a coral. Photo by Mike Clarke.


An octopus in the Magoodhoo lagoon. Photo by Quillie Erskine.


Everyone gets ready for a dive or a snorkel. Photo by Monica Mayorga.


Day 4

The next morning, we learnt a new reef monitoring technique, the stationary point count! We boarded the boat, setting off to explore a new site called the Blue Cove to conduct a census of the various species of grouper that inhabited a designated section of the reef. Our search for these fish proved to be quite challenging, as groupers are known to be timid, requiring us to explore behind rocks and crevices to find them. In the afternoon, our focus shifted to the impacts of human activities on coral reefs, ranging from plastic pollution to overfishing and disease. In the case of Maldivian reefs, they are particularly threatened by land reclamation. The impact of land reclamation can be seen in the north of Magoodhoo, where suction dredgers deposit sand on former reefs to expand the land and construct the first airport in the Faafu Atoll. Evidence of the destruction can be seen in the fragments of corals and shells within the deposited sand. As the day drew to a close, we gathered on the reclaimed land to watch the sunset. Though the sight was beautiful, it was tinged with sadness, as we reflected on the impact of our actions on nature.

A plastic bottle floats on the coral reef. Photo by Mike Clarke.


An organ pipe coral buried in the reclaimed land sand. Photo by Monica Mayorga.


Day 5

Rhiannon Davies, an excellent PhD student from Exeter University, gave us an interesting talk on coral ecology and identification. Intending to put theory into practice, we went on a dive and used quadrats to assess the cover of corals, macro-algae, crown of thorns starfish, and giant clams. Despite it being a challenging task, we were fascinated by the intricate differences between coral genera like Porites, Acropora, and Pocillopora, which we could now identify by observing them closely during our dive.


A soft coral. Photo by Justin Luk.


A coral of the genus Galaxea. Photo by Monica Mayorga.


Day 6

We had a lecture on the wonderful world of coral, invertebrates, sponges, and plants, and put our knowledge into practice underwater by recording coral and sponge cover using quadrats. With only a few days remaining before our field trip exam, that evening, we gathered at the pier in Magoodhoo to go over the lecture content we’d already covered. As we tested our knowledge, I was struck by how lively the water around the pier was at night. Within a span of a few hours, we witnessed a ray, a couple of juvenile black-tip sharks, and a majestic white-tip shark with fish in its mouth.


Imogen collects data from quadrats. Photo by Monica Mayorga.


A sponge we found in a quadrat. Photo by Monica Mayorga.


Day 7

We went on a boat journey to an uninhabited island known as Aganda. As we jumped from the boat to snorkel towards the island, we discovered a vibrant reef. Shoals of bannerfish floated below us, unicorn fish hovered at the surface, and I occasionally spotted a charismatic anemonefish -anemone pairs. Upon arrival, we indulged in a picnic under the warm sun, and I admired the scenery of pearly white sand and crystal-clear waters. When we made our way back to Magoodhoo, we were treated to a night of traditional Maldivian cuisine of flavoursome fried pastries filled with fish and vegetables, and a sweet coconut pudding for dessert.


Tessa jumps off the boat. Photo by Monica Mayorga.


An anemonefish in its host anemone. Photo by Monica Mayorga.


Eating traditional Maldivian cuisine. Photo by Quillie Erskine.


Day 8

After delving deep into the effects of climate change on coral reefs, we had the opportunity to witness its devastating effects on a reef severely affected by the last bleaching event. It was a stark contrast compared to the vibrant sites we had visited before. When we sampled the reef with quadrats, we found that it was mostly comprised of coral rubble, remnants of the coral reef that once thrived in the past. Fortunately, we discovered numerous recruits, which are juvenile corals smaller than five centimetres in diameter, giving us hope for a brighter future for the reef. Our moods were also lightened when we saw a pod of bottlenose dolphins swimming near the boat on our way back to Magoodhoo. That evening, Enrico from MaRHE Centre shared his PhD research on ways to increase coral resistance to bleaching, showing us the potential of science to save reefs from the impact of climate change.

A pod of bottlenose dolphins. Photo by Monica Mayorga.


Day 9

This was the day of the exam!  We celebrated its completion with a fun dive and a snorkel, in which I noticed how much better at free diving we had all become. The day came to an end with a beautiful sunset from the boat which I savoured as the completion of the last day of our trip. That evening, we all presented the best pictures we had taken throughout the trip for the photography competition. All the entries were incredible, each capturing a unique aspect of the Magoodhoo’s beauty and our experiences here. As the night began, we danced and laughed as we were immersed in the rhythm of traditional Maldivian music.


Georgia free diving. Photo by Monica Mayorga.


Winning photograph of a shoal of powder-blue surgeonfish. Photo by Jess Willis.


Day 10

On our last snorkel that morning, I observed the Picasso triggerfish, a name which suitably describes its pattern of brown, yellow and black strokes, charging at another fish in a display of territorial behaviour, and I reflected on our new depth of understanding on coral reefs. As we swam along, we no longer only appreciated the reef’s beauty, but we were also able to identify many of its species, their behaviours, and feeding patterns. As I looked out to sea on our boat ride to Malé, I marvelled at the views one last time and felt deep gratitude for the incredible opportunity we had to visit this magical place. I want to give my sincerest thanks to Callum and Julie for organizing such an incredible trip, Chris for joining us, and Jacopo, Inga, Fede, and Enrico for making this island feel like home. And, finally, to all my fellow MEM students, it could not have been a better group!


Quillie dives down on our last sunrise snorkel in Magoodhoo. Photo by Monica Mayorga.


Chris and Tropical Dave. Photo by Poppy Tully.


Group photo in Aganda island. Photo by Beth Lewis.


Thank you for reading!


Graduate in Focus: Padraig Cregg

padraig cregg - Senior Ornithologist - McCarthy Keville O’Sullivan Ltd ...

In our Graduate in Focus series we look at the achievements of our graduates who have excelled in marine and conservation science around the world since studying with us. Today we meet Padraig Cregg, MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology graduate. Padraig is now a senior ornithologist at MKO, Ireland’s largest planning and environmental consultancy.

Hi Padraig, thanks for joining me. Can you tell us about your time at the University of Exeter?

Yes, I did my primary degree in Ireland in Zoology. Following that, I completed the Masters in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology in the biosciences department at the University of Exeter in Penryn. I really enjoyed the course. The faculty were very energetic and had a great open-door policy. Everyone was welcoming and had no issues with us coming in and talking through aspects of the course and making sure we understood the content. We had the taught content in the first half of the year and then the project in the second part. I opted for a lab-based project studying the heritability of a particular trait in a species of moth. I really felt like I learnt a lot.

What did you do after you graduated?

My Masters was in 07/08 and I came out right in the middle of the recession so there weren’t many jobs. I ended up doing a lot of volunteering; I began working as a research assistant with a sparrow project associated with the University of Exeter, based in South Africa. I went out there for six months and helped two PhD students whose projects were based on sparrow-weavers. They had a number of different research assistants over the season and we learnt a lot about experimental design and what was involved with working in the field for an extended period of time. It was a very remote location in the Kalahari Desert in northern South Africa. I love the outdoors, so I really enjoyed it as it was very immersive with lots of wildlife.

After that I did various other bits and pieces of work, picking up whatever I could. I did a similar stint in East Poland at a mammal research institute, where I was working on a wild boar project. This involved radio telemetry. The boar had radio collars on them, and we would follow them around the forest to identify which habitat they were using. Another fun element to the work was catching the boar to put the collars on them – we used drop-down nets and baited traps. It was the middle of winter, so I went in the same calendar year from over 40 degrees in South Africa to minus 30 in Poland. Which was a bit of a shock to the system.

Following that work abroad, I started working with Birdwatch Ireland, which is the Irish equivalent of the RSPB or BTO. This was my first ornithology-based job, which is the industry I am still in now. Birdwatch Ireland as a wildlife charity is reliant on funding, so they often only have the funds to give short-term contracts to their staff. I worked several contracts with them until I emigrated to Scotland, where I lived for two and half years.

In Scotland I worked in environmental consultancies as a field ornithologist, doing surveys and learning the ropes so to speak, which is the foundations of my current career today. I really enjoyed the diverse habitats up in the Highlands of Scotland and across the Cairngorms, the beautiful scenery, and the outdoor nature of the work. We would get assigned our work on a Monday and then would be gone up into the Highlands for a week at a time observing and hiking. Ornithology as a career path is quite solitary doing all the surveys so I think certain personalities are more suited to it than others.

After 2 ½ years there I was contacted by MKO in Ireland, which is where I work today. They rang me up and offered me a job and I’ve been working with them now for about 7 or 8 years. I’m one of the senior ornithologists. There are a number of different departments in the company spanning the environment, planning, ecology and ornithology. We primarily work in the renewable energy industry, undertaking the surveys to inform wind farm planning applications. There is a requirement for a lot of bird surveying associated with these projects.  As a senior ornithologist I am tasked with designing the surveys and writing the bird chapters of the environmental impact assessment reports that support the planning application for those wind farms.

Were there any particular skills/experiences you gained from studying at Exeter that you feel you have taken forward in your career?

I would say there are several things. The first thing that comes to mind is the leadership style. Going back to what I said earlier about the open-door policy of the faculty in Exeter, I try to be that way with the staff I manage. I manage 30 people now and I’d like to think I have a similar attitude to the people i work with as I received at the university. I also learnt a great deal about the experimental design side of things from my thesis. Although I studied a very different organism, there were the same requirements for rigour, repetition and following standardized methodologies that hold true in my current position. The same scientific writing style that I was taught in writing my thesis is also useful now as I spend much of my time writing up reports in my role with MKO.

Would you have any advice for current students who are interested in ornithology?

Number one, work on your bird ID skills, there are a lot of resources out there.  There’s the Collins bird guidebook and app, which are both great, and the BTO do ID videos on YouTube where they compare similar species and give you tips and tricks to tell them apart. All that being said, there is no replacing getting out with your binoculars and spending time bird watching. In my experience, (presuming an initial level of interest) the more you bird watch the better your bird identification skills get the more interested you become. For those who enjoy the outdoors and bird watching, undertaking bird surveys for a living can be very rewarding.

Are there any opportunities at MKO that our students should keep an eye out for?

There is a lot of work for field ornithologists in Ireland at the moment. This is largely due to the commitment of the Irish government to the acceleration of the delivery of wind energy to combat climate change. Before a wind farm can be built, planning permission must be secured. To apply for planning permission for a wind farm there is a requirement to undertake a large amount, and a diverse range of bird surveys. Undertaking these bird surveys is where companies like MKO come in.

If you’re interested in working as a field ornithologist, why not apply for one of MKO’s positions and try working in Ireland for the summer? Please follow the link for details on how to apply: Field Ornithologist – MKO (

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World Seal Day: An interview with Dr Luis Huckstadt – Pt. 2

Welcome to part 2 of our chat with Dr Luis Huckstadt this #WorldSealDay. Luis is a Senior Lecturer from the University of Exeter, Centre for Ecology and Conservation. Read on to hear about his work on pinnipeds around the world:


Dr Luis Huckstadt, Senior Lecturer at University of Exeter


Talk to us about your work on seals in Cornwall:

I moved to Cornwall about a year ago and I am really interested in trying to understand what is happening with the local population of grey seals. I’ve been working with the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St Andrews and when I moved here, I was asked to join the scientific committee on seals, which is an entity that advises the UK government on everything that has to do with seal populations and management. We had our first meeting this last January up in Scotland and it was an interesting opportunity for me to get familiar with what’s happening on the seal research front in the UK.

 In Cornwall there is a lack of studies on local seal populations. We don’t quite have the knowledge of movement patterns of these animals, the foraging behaviours, and that’s a bit worrisome because there is a potential for a lot of interaction with fishers in the south west as the seals go for the same species of commercial interest. Additionally, there is a strange situation here where, from the numbers that we have from the few studies that have been done as a census of seals in the south west, the number of pups that are being born in this area shouldn’t be enough to support the population. We can actually see that the population is stable to increasing. So, there must be immigration from somewhere further north, but we don’t know the magnitude or the genetic fluxes between the populations. So, there is huge potential to study.


Grey seal, UK. Photo credit: Lauren Storer


I started working with the Cornish Seal Sanctuary on a couple of validation studies with the animals that they have in captivity, to validate the use of drones to estimate the mass and the body condition of the seals. We started early last year, and we are continuing this project working to create a 3D model with lidar technology and flying the drone so we can measure the animal. We have an ultrasound so we can measure the blubber thickness of the animal. Then we can build a model that we can use later on to collect data from the colonies in the wild and apply that model to see how animals are doing along the entirety of the coast. This week in fact we are starting our sampling. We will be going to Godrevy to fly the drones and collect our first set of data. Later on, we will then design a long term study where we are going to be monitoring the changes in the population, the number of pups that are born, and also body condition.


Grey Seal, UK. Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts / Ocean Image Bank


We also have a collaboration with the UK strandings investigation programme. For years they have been collecting data on strandings (animals that have been found ashore dead). We are going to start processing these samples through stable isotopes to try to understand the ecology of the population, but in a historical context. We want to see if we can detect changes in what these animals have been doing, the environment that they have been using and the prey they have been trying to get. We have a PhD student who is going to start next autumn and that is going to be their job, trying to process samples that have been collected over many years to try to understand how we can use the local population of pinnipeds, and cetaceans as well, to tell us something about changes in the ecosystem.

Additionally, we have a collaboration with the Sea Mammal Research Unit where we are processing samples from the Shetland Islands and from Eastern England. The idea here is trying to see whether there is competition between the populations of grey seals and common seals. Grey seals are doing really well all over the UK, some of them might be showing signs of reaching the maximum population size. However, the common seal (harbour seal) are starting to show signs of decline and we don’t understand what is happening there. One of the hypotheses is that there might be competition for resources with grey seals. We’ll address that using stable isotope analysis on samples from animals that the sea mammal research unit have been handling. There are a lot of studies being done, trying to understand if it could be a regime shift, oceanographic conditions, whether it could potentially be predation by orca. This is hopefully the beginning of a long running programme on pinnipeds in the south west of England and work later on that will build up collaborations with local organisations that work with seals. Eventually we would like to form a common front and address the ecology of the species here. As I mentioned earlier, we have a huge gap of information.

What is your favourite species of seal to work with?

It would have to be the Weddell seal in Antarctica. It is one of the most studied species of seal; I think that the longest dataset on population dynamics of any large mammal is on a population of Weddell seals in the Ross Sea in Antarctica. The reason why I like them so much is that they are one of the most mellow and, I hate to use the word cute, but they are really cute animals and they are very curious about anything that comes up to them. The reason for that is that they don’t have any land-based predators, unlike the seals in the Arctic where there’s polar bears. In the Antarctic predators are in the water not on the ice or land. So, they are very naturally curious when hauled out. They don’t have the instinct to run away and when we approach them to do any work, we can sometimes see them rolling on their back and exposing their belly.


Weddell seal with CTD Tag. Credit: Luis Huckstadt

The other thing I like about them is the sounds that they make. When we are working on the frozen ocean and driving our snow machines, if you kill the engine and wait you can hear the Weddell seals through the ice as they are swimming underneath you. They have the most incredible sounds, almost like spaceships from Star Wars. By far they are my favourite species of seal to work with.


Weddell seal after release. Credit: Luis Huckstadt


It’s also interesting working with sea lions. Sea lions are more aware of the situation so it’s more of a challenge to capture them. Once you capture them once, they know you are coming back as well. You can see how they are related to dogs and bears for example because you can see in their minds that they understand what is happening. True seals tend to be a little bit less aware and a bit less sharp than sea lions.

Working with elephant seals is also an amazing opportunity, just because they are such good divers. They are diving machines and can just spend hours underwater. They’re also really easy to work with. Even though it might look challenging they are really safe for us to work with. Overall, though Weddell seals are my favourite.


Working with Elephant seals in Mexico. Photo Credit: Luis Huckstadt
Want to hear more from Luis about seals? Listen to his episode on the Ologies podcast with Alie Ward: Pinnipedology (SEALS & WALRUSES) with Luis A. Hückstädt — alie ward

World Seal Day: An interview with Dr Luis Huckstadt – Pt. 1

Pinnipeds (Seals, sea lions and walruses) are a widely distributed and diverse group of marine mammals. This #WorldSealDay we talk to Dr Luis Huckstadt, Senior Lecturer from the University of Exeter, Centre for Ecology and Conservation about his work on pinnipeds around the world. Read on for more:


Dr Luis Huckstadt


Hi Luis. Tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up researching seals!

I decided that I wanted to work with marine mammals when I was a kid. I was one of the few children who knew from age 12 that I wanted to be a marine biologist and work with marine mammals. My career was focused on that from day 1. I am from Chile originally and I did my undergraduate degree at the Universidad de Concepción in Marine Biology, followed by my Master’s in Oceanography. I started working with pinnipeds while I was doing my undergraduate course and my thesis was on the interactions between fishers and Southern sea lions in Chile. That research project continued for my Masters. After that, I got a Fulbright Fellowship and went to do my PhD at UC Santa Cruz in California, where I worked with one of the biggest labs studying pinnipeds in the world. That gave me the opportunity to expand my research. I started working with northern elephant seals, Californian sea lions, Galapagos sea lions, South American sea lions, crabeater seals in Antarctica, Weddell Seals in Antarctica and southern elephant seals. This means I travel all over the place for my work.


Tagging South American sea lions. Credit: Luis Huckstadt


I originally started working on the topic of pinniped interactions with fishers but since then I have moved onto more pure ecology. I am interested in the foraging behaviour of pinnipeds, how they move, how they find prey, and the associations we can draw between their presence and the environmental covariates. I work a lot in Antarctica – currently I am working on two projects where we are researching Weddell seals and crabeater seals. We have also just had a new project funded where we will work on southern elephant seals in Chilean Patagonia.


Measuring the blubber of Weddell seals. Credit: Luis Huckstadt


After I finished my PhD I did a couple of post docs in Santa Cruz and I moved to the University of Exeter last year. Since moving here, I have started a project on the local population of grey seals in Cornwall and I also have a collaboration going on with the Sea Mammal Research Unit up at St Andrews University where we are working on the foraging ecology of grey seals and common seals on the Shetland Islands and in eastern England.

Tell us all about your work with seals in Antarctica:

I work on a project funded by the National Science Foundation in the US – it is a big collaboration between ourselves, the University of California Santa Cruz, the University of North Carolina, Wilmington and the British Antarctic Survey. The idea is to try to understand how climate change is impacting the crabeater seal off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.


Studying crabeater seals in Antarctica. Photo Credit: Dan Costa


Crab eater seals are probably one of the most highly specialised species of mammals on the planet. 98% of their diet is Antarctic krill alone. They have very highly modified teeth that work as a sieve to actually filter krill out of the water. So this species depends on this one important resource, which is one of the most abundant animals on the planet its true, but we do not know how climate change will affect both their relationship between their prey and the environment. These seals are dependent upon krill to feed exclusively but they also need ice. They are what we call pack-ice seals and they need this substrate to haul out, to moult, to rest, to breed, etc. The West Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming parts of the planet. It is well above the average. Because of that, we have seen a dramatic change in the sea ice extent. What we think is happening is that these two main habitat requirements, the ice and the krill, are separating apart. As the ice moves further back and the krill potentially do not, the crab eater seals are likely to have to move farther to get to their prey and that incurs higher energetic costs for this species.


Aerial photo of crabeater seal studies in Antarctica. Credit: Luis Huckstadt


To answer this question, we have a project where we are deploying satellite tags and behavioural tags on crabeater seals to monitor their movement patterns and their diving behaviour. The tags transmit the data through satellites. We are also doing a series of measurements on every individual that we capture including diving physiology. So, we are estimating how much oxygen they have in their bodies and their body condition. We are also using drones to validate our assessments of body conditions at the entire population level. Additionally, we are using stable isotopes to look at the foraging ecology, to see what they might be incorporating into their diets. We are doing this along a latitudinal gradient along the peninsula. So we are going to the northern tip of the Peninsula and then as far south as we can. We would predict that the animals in the north are doing worse than the animals in the south and we want to see if that is the case.


Taking measurements of body condition of crabeater seals in Antarctica. Photo credit: Matt Cabell


We had our first field season last year, which unfortunately didn’t go very well because there was no ice. Last year was the lowest sea ice occurrence on record, this year is even lower. We are crossing our fingers that things will get better in the next two months because we’re supposed to be down there in May/June which is the start of winter in Antarctica. This has been a very dramatic year in terms of sea ice. We might get some good data but our sample size might be limited because we can’t really get to the seals. So, we’ll see what happens this year! We will be down in Antarctica for 2 months studying the crabeater seals. We’ll also take samples of fish and krill to understand the prey dynamics and sample phytoplankton to understand the productivity that these animals depend upon.


Taking measurements of body condition of crabeater seals in Antarctica. Photo credit: Matt Cabell


Our collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey will take things to the next level, which is where we will use remote sensing technologies to study both the distribution and abundance of crab eater seals and their body condition. We’ll be flying drones all over the peninsula so we will be able to tell on a larger scale, on a populational scale, what’s happening with the animals from north to south. We’re also using high resolution satellite imagery to count the number of seals which is something that we can use to estimate population size for crabeater seals in Antarctica. We don’t currently have a good estimate of how many there are – we know they are the most abundant species of seal and probably the most abundant species of non-domestic large mammal. But because of the difficulties to get to Antarctica and the technologies we have available, the confidence interval in our population estimates for crab eater seals are off the charts. We know that there’s somewhere between 7 and 15 million of them but the variance there is huge and we have no idea how many there are exactly. Hopefully by using this high-resolution satellite technology we can conduct a census of the entire population on the Antarctic continent.


 Aerial photo of crabeater seal studies in Antarctica. Credit: Luis Huckstadt


Check back later to read part 2 of our interview with Luis! We talk about his work on seals in the UK plus his favourite species to work with!
Want to hear more from Luis about seals? Listen to his episode on the Ologies podcast with Alie Ward: Pinnipedology (SEALS & WALRUSES) with Luis A. Hückstädt — alie ward

Graduate in Focus – Nadia Tomsa

In our Graduate in Focus series we look at the achievements of our graduates who have excelled in marine science around the world since studying with us. Today we meet Nadia Tomsa, BSc Marine Biology graduate, who is now an Education and Outreach Officer at Sea Trust Wales. 



Hi Nadia, thanks for joining me! Can you tell us a bit about your time at the University of Exeter?

I studied BSc Marine Biology with a year abroad. In my third year I went across to Tasmania, Australia, which was unfortunately cut a bit short because of the pandemic, but other than that was amazing. Whilst I was there, I was able to do some Antarctic studies and that is probably one of my highlights of my time at university. After that I came back to Falmouth for my final year and graduated in 2021. My undergraduate research project investigated the compatibility of shark encounter tourism in shark sanctuaries. I analysed tour operator websites and determined how they met the WWF Criteria for Responsible Shark and Ray Tourism, such as whether the tour operator adhered to a code of conduct for shark welfare.

Wow, that sounds great! What have you been doing since then?

Straight after I graduated, I stayed in Cornwall for a little while, working in a café and saving up to go travelling. In my final year of university, I was supposed to go to the Galapagos, but this was cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead, some close friends and I decided to plan a trip ourselves. I worked for 5-6 months in Cornwall and went out to Galapagos in January of last year for a month, followed by several months of travelling around Central America. Then I came back home to Wales and started to work for Sea Trust, which is where I am now.



Tell us more about your current role:

Sea Trust Wales is a small marine conservation charity based in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire. I am the Education and Outreach Officer, which covers a variety of things. A large part of my role is within the FINtastic Fauna project. This concentrates on Pembrokeshire’s local marine wildlife, with the aim to get local people connected to wildlife conservation and to raise awareness of the wildlife we have here. We carry out porpoise photo-ID surveys which I am involved with, plus a seal photo ID project alongside other megafauna surveys.

My role consists of working a lot with local schools. We run enrichment courses where kids come to us and learn how to survey wildlife and develop their identification skills. We also visit schools – I have created a programme of the threats to marine life, where we visit schools to talk about our local marine life and the threats they face, plus how the kids can get involved in protecting them. This goes all the way from 3/4-year-olds in reception, to students at the end of secondary school. I have also set up a free marine biology club for 10–14-year-olds which runs weekly. We cover a range of subjects, teaching them numerous scientific research skills and survey methods and interesting marine biology facts, to develop their passion for conservation.

One of our other projects deals with recycling end of life fishing gear. We get the kids involved in helping us to sort and weigh the fishing gear, before we then send it down to Waterhaul in Cornwall who use the fishing gear to create products such as sunglasses and litter pickers. This is a great way of involving young people directly with marine conservation, giving them hands-on experience with current issues. In this role I also run the social media and do a lot of publicity and setting up events, where I try to get the local community involved as much as possible.



What would you say the skills/experiences are from your course at the University of Exeter that you’ve taken into your current role?

I think one of the main skills I’ve taken from my degree, through writing discussions and popular science articles, is the ability to explain difficult scientific concepts or research in a way that is accessible to a wider audience. I’ve learnt to synthesise facts and to adapt how I am speaking to suit different ages. This has been really useful in my role and probably helped me to get this job. I also worked throughout my time at university. I was a student ambassador and then a senior student ambassador. One of the main reasons I was able to get my current role was likely because of the ambassador position, I was involved with environmental education, such as week-long science residentials. The residential was carried out online due to the pandemic, but students from local schools participated in online discussions and a range of activities regarding endangered species which led to them creating a group presentation. I think this involvement in environmental education through this programme helped me to secure my current position.



Did you do any volunteering outside of your studies?

I did. I completed the British Divers Marine Life Rescue Course in the first year and carried out some volunteering with them throughout my time at university.

Would you have any advice to give to current students who might be wanting to pursue a similar career?

The Student Ambassador Scheme is an amazing opportunity that Exeter offers, so I would recommend taking advantage of that while you are there. I would also encourage just talking to your lecturers lots and asking loads of questions about how they got to where they are, because it’s really inspiring. Sometimes, hearing from your lecturers that they weren’t sure what they wanted to do when they were in your position can help to take the pressure off a little bit, and can help you to figure out your path after university. Whilst I was at university, I didn’t know I would want to go into the education and outreach side of things. I hadn’t really thought about going down that road and working with young people. With the student ambassador role and working in schools, I realised I really enjoyed it and loved the science communication aspect also. I would recommend getting involved in as much as you can and taking any opportunities, as you never know when the experience will come in handy down the line.

Have you got any plans for the future? 

I am really looking forward to continuing my work with Sea Trust. Currently I’ve been working 21 hours a week and doing some other jobs alongside, but from April I will be working with them full-time. We’ve got lots of exciting projects coming up. I really want to continue down the route of outreach and working with communities and young people. I also want to keep doing more science communication as I think it’s important that we get everyone on board and involved. The current scientific research that is coming out is amazing, but it will not make any headway with conservation on a large scale unless we have the community backing, and the younger generations to come through and continue it.

Interested in our degree programmes? Take a look at our website. 

Want to learn more about Sea Trust Wales? Click here.

World Seagrass Day – A Conversation with Dr Chris Laing

World Seagrass Day

Cornwall: A Stronghold for Seagrass in the UK 

Seagrass ecosystems are vitally important marine habitats. They store carbon, improve water quality and are hotspots for marine biodiversity. This #WorldSeagrassDay we talk to Dr Chris Laing from the University of Exeter, Centre for Ecology and Conservation about his work on seagrass beds in Cornwall. Read on for more:


Dr Chris Laing laying a transect in the Helford Estuary. Photo Credit: Lewis M Jefferies.


How much seagrass do we have around Cornwall?

With the discovery of the seagrass beds in St Austell Bay and Mount’s Bay it is now clear that Cornwall is a stronghold for seagrass in the UK. The West Coast of Scotland is probably the only other place that has as much as we do down here, with the caveat to that being that you don’t really find seagrass until you look for it and it so happens we have been looking for it quite a lot. But everyone is excited, as on paper we’ve got a large amount and it seems to be in very good condition. Our project in 2021 mapped 170 hectares in the Fal and Helford SAC alone and since then two other beds have been mapped – 200+ hectares in Mount’s Bay and 350 hectares in St Austell. In the Fal and Helford SAC in particular, seagrass represents a large proportion of the habitat.

 Snakelocks anemone on seagrass, Cornwall UK. Photo credit: Lewis M Jefferies.


Why is Cornwall a stronghold for seagrass?

Nationally, nutrient levels in seagrass have been identified as one reason the habitats are in decline and in general, the water quality around here is good, which is probably why we’ve got so much. Our analyses of seagrass plants here tell us that nitrogen levels are similar to those in the Isles of Scilly. We have been comparing these numbers through a project which ran last summer. Seagrass is however only found on the south coast. The north coast doesn’t have the right sediment and is too exposed generally. Estuarine conditions and the bays in the south coast are well suited to seagrass.

Seagrass bed in Mount’s Bay, Cornwall. Photo Credit: Lewis M Jefferies. 


What research have you been carrying out on Cornwall’s seagrass beds?

I have been working on seagrass beds for about 6 years now locally. Initially it started with research students who wanted to do a project on how water quality might effect seagrass health in two different locations. They got some really interesting results and so I continued that work and started to think about seagrass more from a research perspective. My background is in carbon cycling and my PhD was in biogeochemistry and so I studied carbon cycling in those environments.

Quite a lot of the literature in the last two years has been focused on the role of seagrass in blue carbon storage and their importance globally. I was keen to get involved in that work locally. We know that we have seagrass beds in Cornwall but they are quite different to tropical seagrass beds, and so their role in terms of blue carbon might also be quite different. I was approached by the Council to do a blue carbon assessment for their Cornwall Habitat Bank project, where they are valuing ecosystems in a number of ways. One of these ways is through carbon capture because they want to achieve net zero by 2030. Therefore, they commissioned me to do some work on the carbon budget of the seagrass beds here in the Fal and Helford SAC (Special Areas of Conservation) in 2021.

I have been working with local groups like the Wildlife Trusts and Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), who have done some of the habitat mapping for me and published that report for the Council last year. This has led to a number of contacts and work with people like Natural England, the Environment Agency and the MMO who are all interested in understanding natural capital, which places some emphasis on blue carbon as well as biodiversity stocks. I think everyone is understanding that we will struggle to meet our 2030 commitments without some form of offsetting. We’re looking to marine habitats now to see whether they can offer some of that offsetting.

Seagrass bed in Cornwall, UK. Photo credit Lewis M Jefferies.


Can Cornwall’s seagrass beds offer much as carbon stores?

To me the picture is quite mixed really. The seagrass beds do seem to be valuable carbon stores but possibly not as valuable as other marine ecosystems, which is something I have started to look at now, expanding our focus to mearl, kelp and saltmarsh. However, the quantification of seagrass from a carbon perspective might not actually be the most important thing. We’re now talking about valuing the other ecosystem services those habitats offer. We know from the literature that many commercial fish species spend their juvenile stages sheltering in seagrass beds and so the value of the habitat is extensive simply because of that. There are also general biodiversity benefits to having the three-dimensional structure of seagrass available to juvenile species. For example, it is one of the few environments you’re likely to find seahorses in, because they seek the protection of the beds. Cuttlefish, nursehounds and other animals are attracted to the meadows to lay their eggs or shelter there.

We’ve also got the ocean health benefits. One of them is obviously cleaning the water – there is evidence that seagrass in close proximity to coral reefs performs a really important antimicrobial function. I don’t look at this particularly, but I am looking at the seagrass holistically from the creatures that live in the sediment to the creatures that live on or in the seagrass.

Pollock in seagrass meadow, Cornwall UK. Photo Credit: Lewis M Jefferies. 


What other seagrass research is being undertaken in Cornwall?

We’re using baited remote underwater video cameras with other teams from the university, like Kristian Metcalfe and Owen Exeter, to try and catalogue the kind of species you might find in seagrass and quantify that ecosystem service. How many species are of commercial value and are they as biodiverse as the literature makes them out to be? If they are performing that function, it’s interesting to know which species are benefiting the most.

My work also intersects with various harbour authorities – I’ve been working with Falmouth Harbour Authority who are proactive with protecting seagrass habitats within the water they have jurisdiction over. From Flushing to St Mawes bank they’ve been doing some cool stuff, like trialling restoration and prototypes for breaking down seagrass seeds in natural environments, in a floating buoy. We are also working together with the Wildlife Trusts on how water quality might affect the seagrass, looking forward and moving away from carbon slightly. If we think about these habitats persisting and expanding over time which is what we want, the best way to do that is to improve water quality and the 2nd way to do that might be to restore these beds.

On the water quality front, I’m working with Falmouth Harbour Authority to install a turbidity measurement system in Flushing to try and link sewage outflow to declines in water quality. There’s a well-known problem in the Fal and Helford with storm sewage overflow which is above the number of legislated releases every single year. It’s a big problem I think for the seagrass. In a threat assessment I did I classed it as probably the greatest threat to the persistence of seagrass here in the Fal and Helford. It definitely needs to be studied, but the Environment Agency data on water quality isn’t high enough resolution or consistently measured enough to actually give us that data. We’re going to try and measure it ourselves and link it to seagrass health.

In terms of restoration, we are now working with the Council on a NEIRF project (Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund) that will start in the coming months. I’ll be working with Regan Early to understand more about the carbon budget of Mounts Bay, as that’s the 2nd largest seagrass bed in Cornwall behind St Austell. We’ll be working with the Ocean Conservation Trust on that one as well. Regan will use some habitat mapping approaches which we applied to a ReMEDIES project in 2019 to identify where suitable habitat might exist to restore those beds and increase the size of them. The general approach to seagrass restoration is to pick a seagrass bed with lots of other suitable habitat around it and try to expand the extent of that existing bed because you’ve got a lot more chance of success. This makes the focus protecting and expanding what we have. That project will start soon and run until the end of the year.

Seahare on seagrass, Cornwall UK. Photo Credit: Lewis M Jefferies


Are local communities aware of the importance of these habitats?

Communities in the Fal and Helford SAC areas are proactive and engaged in sharing public information on seagrass and its value and protection. There are now a few no anchor zones to protect the seagrass, and the Ocean Conservation Trust are planning to add identification buoys to demarcate the seagrass bed in Mounts Bay to make recreational boat users aware of it, which we are supporting.

If you would like to learn more about seagrass in Cornwall take a look at:

The fantastic photos used in this article were kindly provided by Lewis Jefferies. Instagram:

#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 Lauren Storer ( or visit our website! See the rest of our blogs here.

A Year with MarineWatch Society

University of Exeter student society MarineWatch aims to celebrate and protect our local and amazing marine wildlife. Read on to find out from them what they have been up to in the past year: 

MarineWatch, the society for all things marine, had a great start to the 2022/23 year, from a night time rockpool causing a local sensation, to boat trips with large pods of dolphins, to marine talks with popcorn! These are some of our favourite moments from term one:

1. Freshers Week kicked off with a night time rockpool, with over 70 people showing up to find all the tiny squishy things and, with the help of some UV torches, some glowing things as well! There were even queries on a local Facebook group asking what all the people with torches were doing on Gylly Beach.

Night time rockpool on Gylly Beach

Snakelocks anemone ‘glowing’ under UV light

2. Other daytime rockpools, that we run regularly and are unrestricted in numbers, have found amazing creatures like a solar-powered sea slug, a cowrie and an orange clubbed sea slug.

Solar-Powered Sea Slug


Orange Clubbed Sea Slug

3. We did some Shore Watches, some teaming up with Ecosoc, Birdsoc, Falmouth Marine Conservation and ExeterMarine, to see seals, porpoises, dolphins, gannets, gulls and oystercatchers, often from stunning headlands.

Our shore watches from stunning headlands

An adult gannet spotted on a shorewatch
An oystercatcher spotted on a shorewatch

4. We are most known for our boat trips though. We added snorkelling trips for the first time this year, to get up close and intimate with wonderful animals like these female grey seals, but we’ve also seen pods of dolphins, porpoises and many birds on these boat trips as well.

Grey Seals

Common Dolphins

5. We also enjoy our socials, from beach BBQs on Gylly (back in the days of warmth outside), to pubs inside for our Midwinter Blues night.

Beach BBQ on Gylly

6. Finally we have also run several on-off events, like wildlife talks, MARINELife training weekends, crochet sessions and more.

Crochet marine life!

Thanks to everyone for taking part in these adventures so far, there is plenty more to come this year!

Author: MarineWatch Society

Want to join MarineWatch? Click here. 

Graduate in Focus – Isla Hely

In our Graduate in Focus series we look at the achievements of our graduates who have excelled in marine science around the world since studying with us. Today we meet Isla Hely, Masters by Research graduate, who is now a junior researcher with the BBC working on Blue Planet 3.



Hi Isla, thanks for joining me! Can you start by giving us a bit of background about yourself? 

Hey! I came to Exeter in 2015 for my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences which was a four-year course (I spent my third year abroad in Denmark at Aarhus University). After my undergraduate degree I was ready to take my first step into the world of science communication and so applied for jobs in London. I was really keen to get to London, start working and earn some money! However, at the same time as being offered a job in medical sci comms, I was also offered a Master’s by Research with Professor Steve Simpson’s research group (who is now at the University of Bristol). Steve explained that this Master’s would involve studying reef fish in Mauritius, learning to scuba-dive and drive a boat. So really, it was a no brainer – I had to go for the adventure! So I chose the Master’s and, although I am replaying some hefty student loans, I can 100% say I’d make that choice again in a heartbeat!



So tell us some more about your experience of your Masters degree:

So I started my Master’s, went to Mauritius, started my literature review and was fully focused on my research. I was there for two months and then COVID hit. I had to be emergency repatriated back to the UK in February and for the next few months it was fairly stagnant, not knowing what was going on. It was clearly not possible to go back to Mauritius, so Steve and I thought, what can we do? We decided to change my project as Steve had collaborators in French Polynesia looking at clownfish and the effect of artificial light on clownfish. Whenever I went on dives, I was always, always drawn to clownfish, not just because of Nemo, but because they’re just the most charismatic creatures. When I was diving in Mauritius, the Mauritian endemic species would come right up to your mask and vocalise at you, whilst biting and pulling your hair. Even though they’re so small and you’re so big, they just don’t care. They’re really aggressive. So I thought absolutely, French Polynesia, let’s do this.



I managed to get out to Moorea in 2021 for three months and just had the most amazing time – It was a really, really cool project. I loved it and studied clownfish on the reef every day, 10 hours just in the field. Amazing. The scientist running the project and main collaborator, Dr. Suzanne Mills, was so such a laugh and the clownfish team were amazing. I really loved it! When I came back to the UK my supervisor had moved to Bristol University. I still had my masters at the University Exeter but I wanted a change of scene and had been in Exeter for so long that I decided to move to Bristol too. I became a visiting researcher at Bristol and finished my masters there and graduated from that last summer.



Amazing! What have you been doing since you graduated?

Now I’m working at the BBC on Blue Planet 3, which is kind of bonkers because it’s the reason I got into marine biology (as well as my hugely inspiring professor Steve!). Those are the two main reasons I wanted to do anything fishy! Wildlife documentary-making came about during my masters, as my supervisor Steve has a lot of connections with many production companies based in Bristol (Bristol is a huge hub for natural history documentary making!). Steve was doing some scientific advising for a few productions and one production was really interested in clownfish, so I ended up semi-scientific advising them along with Steve. From that I managed to get a gig in filming with the company on location, acting as a Researcher. I now had a taste for wildlife production and was desperate to find another job in the scene. This search led me to where I am now, having just started on Blue Planet 3 at the beginning of this year. So, I guess it was quite an organic, serendipitous way into wildlife filmmaking. I’ve now been at the BBC working on Blue Planet 3 for a month and I absolutely love the work (and the epic team)!


Obviously, you’ve not been in the role very long, but what do you do day-to-day and what do you enjoy most about it so far?

So I am a Junior Researcher, which is basically an entry level position in the team. I have Producers that I communicate with, and they’ll maybe direct me in certain directions to find stories. They might want to find something in a certain country, or they want a big spectacle of a certain animal and I have to go into Google Scholar, Web of Science, all the usual places that I was looking at for my thesis research and I’ll look into the scientific literature, trying to find behaviours. I also have to research on YouTube, Instagram, Vimeo etc., I honestly go down the most crazy black holes of random YouTube channels! I’m constantly looking for behaviours that haven’t been seen before that are really exciting, different, bizarre or weird or colourful or just gripping. Every day I’m on the hunt for epic stories for my Producers and this involves lots of calls with scientists, dive guides and underwater photographers. They spend so much time in the water and they know so much about so many different animals, they’re a great resource to tap into. On a day-to-day basis, I get to learn a whole lot about a vast array of different animals. Whereas I’ve come from a background where I focused on one animal, a clownfish, for so long, it’s so refreshing to be able to tap into the knowledge of all these incredible people and these incredible stories, and eventually be able to share this with the world.


Going back to your study at Exeter, what would you say you enjoyed most about your course and were there any highlights?

Yes. This is showing my true colours now, but the main reason I applied to the course was because of the coral reef field trip. That was a major draw because my family don’t really dive. They are all from a business background and I was always really curious about science and biology and specifically coral reefs. And so the opportunity to be able to go on a trip to the Bahamas with a whole team of students and professors and actually getting in the water to do some research was so exciting for me when I was 17. That was a major draw and it was a major highlight of my time at Exeter.

Initially I wasn’t going to do a study abroad, but then within one or two years, I had decided, actually, no, I want to do this. One of my best friends was Scandinavian and I was part of the Scandinavian society at Exeter (even playing for the girls 6 aside football team!) and I just love Scandinavian people and the Scandinavian culture in general. So I decided to go for a maybe not-so-obvious choice of Denmark. Everyone else was going to Australia or Canada or the US but I thought I wanted to stay in Europe and so, I did a year abroad in Aarhus, Denmark. It’s the second biggest city in Denmark and it was just phenomenal. We had so much hands on experience and because a lot of the courses that were taught in English were Masters level, I basically did a mini-masters within my undergraduate degree. It was a huge learning curve because it was quite intensive material and I had just moved to a completely new country by myself. But I just loved it, we got to go out on research vessels, do fish surveys, trawls and it was just amazing. So much hands on experience. Basically, if there was any point in my degree where I could go out and be in or on the ocean, that was my highlight.



What would you say are the skills or experiences you’ve gained from your course and which ones have been most useful to get you to where you are now?

I think definitely the dive training I had through my master’s project. Having never dived before, I started diving in November 2019 and achieved my PADI Rescue Diver in February 2020. I’ve now got approximately 70 dives, having been lucky enough to dive on so many amazing coral reefs in beautiful regions of the world. I don’t think I would have been able to have done that without the backing of Exeter, along with getting my power boat licence as well. All that kind of training was hugely beneficial, especially with my job now. I don’t think I would have achieved PADI Rescue Diver without the help of Exeter. In terms of skills, just knowing the scientific lingo and the way research works, as well as the hardships behind research as well is a massive bonus. It can be quite isolating and tough and there’s so many ups and downs within research. I think having gone through a masters, I appreciate the hardships of research a lot. Whenever I’m speaking to a scientist now in my new job I have a huge respect and understanding of what they’ve gone through and how important their research is to them. Just being able to speak using specific scientific words and ask the right questions is definitely a skill I obtained from my time at Exeter. In my job now I think being able to digest scientific literature on mass is a real skill – it’s definitely been drilled into me!



Is there any advice that you’d give to a current student who wants to pursue a similar career?

I would say don’t rush and don’t be too scared if you haven’t got every single thing planned out, because a lot of the time opportunities come up that you can never foresee. Sometimes doing it in an organic, slower way, you’ll actually get further. So don’t try and rush and just be true to who you are and that will shine through. Just follow what you love. That was something I worried about, thinking ‘everyone’s got a job, everyone’s doing a PhD, everyone’s got everything sorted’. I didn’t know what I was doing! But through not rushing, I gave time for opportunities to come up and to really research into them and really think is this what I want to do. Especially when I had that moment of ‘OK do I go to London, have a good salary and do medical science communication’ or ‘do I have more student debt and go down this life-changing path’. That crossroad was tough, but I just thought to myself: What are you following? What do you actually love? You love the ocean, you love coral reefs, you love science and you love communication. Be true to you and your passion and honesty will make you successful.


What are your plans for the future, if you have any?

I am still very new to this job but I’m already just loving it! The team is such a strong team and there are some really impressive female leads here as well. Both my series producer and episode producers are female and incredibly inspirational to me. I look at them and think, I would just love to reach that level of awesomeness and understanding of how to make really special and captivating wildlife documentary. I just want to learn and absorb as much as I can from everyone in the team and everyone I’m speaking to every day to see how I can get there and what I need to do to succeed. So, I guess my plan for the future is to be just like my Producers; strong, empowered, respected women, who have achieved so much. I would be so immensely proud to reach that point one day.



Interested in our Masters programmes? Take a look at our website. 
Hear more from Isla in our previous blog!