Getty. Brixham. Fishing community, maritime, marine, devon
Applications for Cohort 3 of the CDT SuMMeR are now closed for this year’s PhD Studentships. 
The opportunities that have been offered by our host institutions for Cohort 3 can still be browsed via the information below.
The closing date for applications was 23:59 GMT on 16 January 2024.

Information for applicants

Applications are now closed for Cohort 3 

Shortlisted candidates will be contacted by email and invited for interview, with interviews expected to take place from the week commencing 5 February 2024. We regret that we may not be able to respond to every applicant. Applicants who have not received a response by this date should consider their application unsuccessful on this occasion. 

Eligibility

Applicants should have a first or upper second-class honours degree in an appropriate subject and either a relevant masters qualification or a wider range of experience in a relevant career path (which is equally as important).
Each applicant may apply for a studentship on up to three projects. Where more than one project is applied for, the supervisors of all those projects will be made aware that other applications have been made.
CDT SuMMeR studentships are partially funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which applies the eligibility criteria laid down by its parent body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and co-funded by the respective Hosting Partner institutes. UKRI provides details on its training grants in its Terms and Conditions for Training Funding document, including its Training Grant Guide, which can be found on the UKRI website.
The studentship is supported for 3 years and 8 months. All UKRI-funded PhD students (UK, EU, International) will be eligible for the full award – both the stipend to support living costs (£18,622 per academic year at full time equivalent at the 2023/24 rate), and fees at the research organisation’s UK rate. International students are eligible for UKRI-funded postgraduate studentships but UKRI will limit the proportion of international students appointed each year through individual doctoral training programmes to 30% of the intake per cohort. CDT SuMMeR’s funding will not cover international fees set by universities; applicants normally required to pay international fees may have to cover the difference between the home and the international tuition fee rates (approximately £12,697 per annum). Please enquire with the lead supervisor on the situation regarding international fees for the project you are interested in. CDT SuMMeR’s funding will not cover costs associated with visa application or health surcharges, or additional costs associated with entry to, and living in, the UK. For EU and international eligibility for UKRI studentships, see UKRI’s guidance.
In case of uncertainty, applicants should contact the planned university of registration for eligibility advice, or the CDT SuMMeR Programme Office: cdt-summer-pgrs@plymouth.ac.uk 
 
 

University of Plymouth projects

CDTS305: “Ocean Sediments” Quantifying the interaction of anthropogenic impacts and hydrodynamics on Ocean Sediment habitats to inform ecosystem-based management of an understudied habitat

Lead Supervisor: Emma Sheehan (emma.sheehan@plymouth.ac.uk)
2nd Supervisor: Marija Sciberras (m.sciberras@hw.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Natural England (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/natural-england)

Project description

Ocean sediments provide essential habitats for species of both conservation and commercial importance, however, due to their perceived mobile nature are often considered to be appropriate for all kinds of destructive  human activities, such as dredging and trawling. Such activities may reduce the habitat quality and could compromise the retention of carbon. Due to shifting baselines associated with the historical extent of demersal trawling around the British Isles it is almost impossible to know what sediment habitats are like in the absence of human impact. In the Isles of Scilly, there is an opportunity to assess the impact of new trawling activity on relatively pristine ocean sediment habitat. This PhD will assess the impacts and recovery timescales of this habitat and associated ecosystem services in the Isles of Scilly and around the UK to inform and advise new ambitious ecosystem-based fisheries and conservation management. The interaction between ecosystem service provision, hydrodynamics and climatic variables such as extreme storms and marine heatwaves will also be explored.

Aim 

Quantify the impact of bottom-towed fishing on ocean sediment habitats and the potential for recovering ocean sediments to form structurally complex habitats under different hydrodynamic settings, human levels of disturbance, and climate change related drivers. 

Objectives 

  1. Collate existing ecological data and Ocean Sediment habitat classification schemes. 
  2. Comprehensive assessment on the impact and subsequent recovery of bottom-towed fishing on pristine Ocean Sediments habitats, species and ecosystem services in the Isles of Scilly. 
  3. Analyse long-term ecological and oceanographic datasets to assess sediment habitat recovery potential. 
  4. Assess current and future threats (fishing, offshore renewables) and management solutions to optimise ecosystem services for the UK’s Ocean Sediment habitats. 

Training 

The candidate will be trained in semi-structured interviews, BRUV, ROV, and oceanographic surveys. The candidate will have access to state-of-the-art facilities and technical support at the University of Plymouth and will receive training in a variety of geostatistical models in the R statistical suite to model species multivariate data with oceanographic variables. Crucially, the candidate will learn on placements with Marine Conservation Society and Natural England’s senior marine advisors about translating socio-ecological and oceanographic data into impactful management and policy. 

Project structure 

The candidate will be based at the University of Plymouth within a lively marine research focused environment with direct access to research vessels, laboratories and field-survey equipment. The city is centrally placed in the south-west with easy access to a number of fishing ports across Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. The PhD data collection activities will be split between working at sea off fishing boats, and travelling to meet stakeholders around the south-west. 
The project will be supervised by Dr Emma Sheehan Associate Professor of Marine Ecology (UoP, lead supervisor), Dr Marija Sciberras Associate Professor of Marine Sciences (Heriot Watt University), Dr Tim Scott Associate Professor of Oceanography (UoP); Dr Sian Rees Associate Professor of Social Sciences (UoP), Dr Bryce Stewart Associate Professor of Fisheries Science (UoP/MBA) and an advisory group including fisheries experts, NGOs, government, and regulators. 

CDTS306: Sustainable management of marine resources through national marine park establishment

Lead Supervisor: Lynda Rodwell (lynda.rodwell@plymouth.ac.uk)
2
nd Supervisor: Tomas Chaigneau (t.w.b.chaigneau@exeter.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Plymouth Sound National Marine Park, Plymouth City Council (https://plymouthsoundnationalmarinepark.com/)

Project description 

The sustainable management of marine resources requires greater understanding of social and ecological systems. How humans choose to use the environment is influenced by their connection with it, their understanding, knowledge and respect for it. National Marine Parks (NMPs) are a tool for enhancing that connection. If developed well and in collaboration with local communities these can be used for the enhancement of ecological, social and economic benefits. This PhD aims to determine how to optimise the benefits associated with the establishment of National Marine Parks whilst minimising the costs to vulnerable communities. Plymouth Sound National Marine Park, UK’s first NMP, will be used as a case study example. The findings will inform the development and establishment of future national marine parks in the UK to achieve optimal outcomes in terms of the management of marine resources in UK waters.

Key research questions to be addressed include: 

What are the likely additional benefit flows from NMP establishment? How can an equitable flow of benefits be achieved? What are the most appropriate metrics of well-being for NMPs? How do the socio-economic drivers for NMP establishment link to metrics of ecological enhancement? How can NMPs achieve ecologically positive outcomes? What interventions in the current system are required to optimise the benefits and minimise the costs of NMP status?

Training 

The student will have training opportunities in social science, economic and ecological data collection and analysis techniques. They will also develop skills in systems thinking approaches and analysis to determining best outcomes for environmental management issues related to NMP establishment and beyond.

Project structure

Figure 1 shows the intended structure of the project which will be carried out over 3 years and 8 months. The first year will primarily be a literature review, training, stakeholder engagement, secondary data collection and planning of primary data collection and analysis. Year 2 will be primarily data collection and analysis for the social and economic components of the project. Year 3 will be primarily data collection and analysis for the ecological components of the project and Year 4 will be the synthesis, systems analysis and final write up. 
The project will be supervised by Dr Lynda Rodwell, Dr Tomas Chaigneau, Dr Emma Sheehan and Professor Martin Attrill.

CDTS308: I do like to be beside the seaside: Understanding how environmental assets influence who and how people engage with the coast and its wellbeing benefits

Lead Supervisor: Kayleigh Wyles (Kayleigh.Wyles@plymouth.ac.uk)
2
nd Supervisor: Ian Baxter (I.Baxter@hw.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) (https://jncc.gov.uk/)

Project description

The UK coastal and marine environment has a rich recreational and cultural value. It facilitates many ways in which people can engage and use it, and studies have shown this has many benefits to people’s health and wellbeing. However, these benefits are not shared equally and means different things to different people. This poses a challenge when managing these environments to promote access for and enhance wellbeing of multiple communities. A further key gap in the literature is whether management decisions influence these experiences. For example, there are unknowns regarding how dependant these benefits are on the extent and condition of natural capital assets such as charismatic species for wildlife watching or coastal intertidal and subtidal habitats with which people might engage. By taking a transdisciplinary approach, this PhD will apply social science (environmental psychology, recreation/visitor experience studies), health science (applied health) and natural science (natural capital (ecological) assessment) to understand who is engaging recreationally with the UK coastal and marine environment and how (and in contrast, who is not) and what role the different features or assets have on these engagements and experiences.

Aims and objectives

Working closely with JNCC and Natural England, this PhD will conduct a policy-relevant investigation into how environmental assets influence who engages with the coast, how, and the wellbeing benefits of such engagement. Specifically:
  • Who is recreationally engaging with the UK coastal and marine environment (i.e., demographic profile), how(what activities are they engaging in), and what is the benefit (i.e., health and wellbeing outcomes)?
  • Who is not engaging with the coast? And why?
  • How important is the ecological quality of the environment for these recreational users and non-users? What are the assets that are particularly important to our experiences with the coast (e.g., the benefits we derive)? What is the optimum dose (e.g., if looking at biodiversity, which species are more influential, how many need to be seen)? 
  • What types of interventions or management strategies can be put in place to achieve an equitable balance between recreational and cultural benefits and environmental protection?

Project structure

The PhD will take a mixed-method approach, including quantitative analysis of large datasets to identify who is engaging with the UK coast, in what way, and to what benefit; qualitative interviews to further unpick the key reasons and features why people engage and don’t engage with the coast and marine environment; and experimental studies to manipulate and test the role certain environmental features have on people’s engagement and experiences. 
The project will therefore contribute to science and provide recommendations for decision makers. The project will be supervised by Dr Kayleigh Wyles, Professor Melanie Austen, Dr Nicolas Farina (University of Plymouth), Professor Ian Baxter (Heriot-Watt University), Lauren Molloy (JNCC), and Dr Tara Hooper (Natural England). In addition to the wealth of training opportunities provided by the CDT SuMMeR programme and the associated universities, the student will also be offered specialist skill development and to complete internships within JNCC and/or Natural England. 

CDTS309: Sustainable lighting for coastal cities

Lead Supervisor: Thomas Davies (Thomas.W.Davies@plymouth.ac.uk)
2
nd Supervisor: Olivia Rendon (ore@plymouth.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Plymouth City Council

Project description

Artificial Light at Night has demonstrated impacts on biological processes in the sea. Of particular concern in marine ecosystems is the growing use of modern energy efficient Light Emitting Diode (LED) lamps, since they emit more light at wavelengths of the visible spectrum that penetrate deeper into the water column and to which marine organisms are most sensitive. The high energy efficiency of LEDs however, makes them very popular with local authorities for lighting up our streets. 
Opportunities exist to reduce the ecological harm caused by street lighting using a variety of alternative lighting strategies. This project will provide critical information for reducing natural capital losses caused by existing street lighting infrastructure as it is replaced over the next ten years. The student will undertake an interdisciplinary, holistic studentship involving natural and social sciences in collaboration with Plymouth City Council. The student will develop and deploy skills in social science, community ecology and hydrological modelling to quantify the social and ecological trade-offs of coastal city lighting.

Aims and objectives

The aim of the project is to quantify the social and ecological trade-offs of alternative street lighting strategies. The student will:
  1. Review our current understanding of mitigating the ecological impacts of ALAN.
  2. Refine the project, its design and implementation with Plymouth City Council.
  3. Model how alternative lighting strategies change natural light regimes in the sea.
  4. Model and quantify how alternative lighting strategies change marine visual ecology.
  5. Quantify public perceptions of alternative lighting strategies.
  6. Complete the write up of their final PhD thesis.

Training

The student will have access to the ALICE (Artificial Light Impacts on Coastal Ecosystems) project laboratories and equipment for conducting physical measurements of light and ecological experiments. They will be trained in the collection and interpretation of radiometric light data. The student will have access to the Jisc online survey platform for designing and implementing social science surveys. They will receive guidance in social science techniques, hydrological optics, visual models and ecological experiments. They will become proficient in data handling and analysis in R. The student will be invited to take part in relevant meetings and research of the AquaPLAN and FOCUS projects, to provide learning and networking opportunities.

Project structure 

The project will be mostly desk based with approximately 6 months of field and laboratory work. The student will be expected to develop and maintain positive stakeholder relationships.
The project will be supervised by Dr Thomas Davies (University of Plymouth), Olivia Rendon (Plymouth Marine Laboratory) and Tim Smyth (Plymouth Marine Laboratory).

CDTS310: Harnessing AI for enhanced underwater biodiversity monitoring

Lead Supervisor: Dena Bazazian (Dena.Bazazian@plymouth.ac.uk)
2
nd Supervisor: Kerry Howell (Kerry.Howell@plymouth.ac.uk)
Additional Supervisors: Amir Aly (amir.aly@plymouth.ac.uk) and Katie Shanks (k.shanks2@exeter.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Fugro (www.fugro.com

Project description

The twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change are possibly the greatest threats to human survival on our planet. Observations of species, assemblages, and ecosystems provide the fundamental data that support our ability to model, predict, and act to mitigate potential future outcomes in terms of biodiversity loss and climate change. However, at present biological observations are limited and biased in their spatial extent. Technological innovation in the form of marine autonomous and robotic systems has the potential to expand our observing capability rapidly, and dramatically. However, while these systems are now routinely deployed, progress in realising their benefits is impeded by the need for human interpretation of the imagery they collect, and their limited decision-making capabilities while on a mission. Artificial intelligence and deep learning have the potential to revolutionise marine biodiversity monitoring by unlocking the full potential of these platforms.

Aims and objectives 

The aim of this studentship is to conduct research on the application of AI to biodiversity monitoring to increase the efficiency and endurance of marine autonomous and robotic systems, ultimately reducing the cost and time involved in data gathering.

Training

Training will be provided on all basic theories, methods, software, and equipment required to successfully carry out the project. Opportunities for other internal and external training beneficial to the project and the candidate’s career skills will also be sought.

Project structure

The project will conduct research across four key areas addressing questions on 1) effective taxon identification from imagery, 2) effective tracking of animals to provide accurate count data, 3) use of sensory information (e.g., visual, position, velocity, and sonar range data) for on-the-fly smart platform decision-making, and 4) maximising endurance of the observation platforms through the use of solar charging.
The student will be based in the School of Engineering, Computing, and Mathematics at the University of Plymouth, but will benefit from the experience of a multidisciplinary team focused on the application of this research to real-world biodiversity monitoring challenges.

Supervisory team

The project will be supervised by Dr Dena Bazazian, Dr Amir Aly, Professor Kerry Howell, and Dr Katie Shanks with the industrial partnership of Fugro. 

CDTS312: Trade-offs or win-wins? Perception and reality in saltmarsh conservation for biodiversity and sustainable environmental management

Lead Supervisor: Gillian Glegg (G.Glegg@plymouth.ac.uk)
2
nd Supervisor: Mike Perring (mikper@ceh.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Natural England (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/natural-england)

Project description

Saltmarshes are valuable habitats which may provide a biodiverse habitat, coastal protection and a sink for nutrient pollution and carbon. However, their biodiversity and structural integrity are vulnerable to many human activities including nutrient pollution which results largely from farming and urban wastewaters. Conservation of such habitats requires not only strong Government policies but also scientific understanding of the problem and the commitment of stakeholders to the solutions. 

Aims and objectives 

The aim of this project is to develop a better understanding of nutrient pollution dynamics and implications for saltmarshes and to determine if this understanding can support improved stakeholder engagement in their conservation. You will be finding out whether there is context dependency in the response of saltmarshes to nutrient pollution, and whether evidence you collect can inform stakeholder opinions as to the benefits provided by saltmarshes. 
Working with the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and Natural England, saltmarsh case study sites with differing characteristics (such as urban or rural; polluted or not; muddy or sandy) will be identified. At these sites, in-situ observations and experiments will be carried out to determine saltmarsh biodiversity dynamics and nutrient behaviour in relation to nutrient pollution. Simultaneously, the perceptions of stakeholders in relation to the benefits of saltmarsh habitats and the impacts of their activities will be assessed using questionnaires. The findings from the natural science will then be presented to the stakeholders in focus groups to explore how this knowledge may change their willingness to engage in conservation measures in the long term. The key outcomes from this project will inform the work of Natural England and other agencies, and support long term conservation measures. 

Training

Ecological field studies to test underlying theory; laboratory analytical techniques for nutrient analyses; social scientific methods for characterising opinion of stakeholder groups; data analysis and interpretation techniques; scientific writing.

Project structure

The student will be based at University of Plymouth but the work will involve several field surveys in years 1-3, and the opportunity to be located in Bangor, North Wales for extended periods, if desired. The project will be supervised by Dr Gillian Glegg (UoP), Dr Mike Perring (UKCEH) and Dr. Louise Denning (Natural England), all of whom will support fieldwork. In addition, you will be able to capitalise on the skills and knowledge of an Advisory Group of marine coastal specialists from across these and other organisations. 

CDTS314: Enabling biodiversity credits for the protection and restoration of subtidal seagrass beds

Lead Supervisor: Sian Rees (sian.rees@plymouth.ac.uk)
2nd Supervisor: Ethan Addicott (E.T.Addicott@exeter.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Ocean Conservation Trust (https://oceanconservationtrust.org/

Project description

This exciting interdisciplinary project will generate the evidence for sustainably financing seagrass protection and restoration at scale.

Aims and objectives 

The aim of this PhD is to provide the evidence base for marketable biodiversity credits for subtidal seagrass through addressing the following research questions: 
  1. What is the current status and trends in the development of the biodiversity credit market to date and whatlessons can be learned? 
  2. How can a seagrass biodiversity credit be defined and measured for a seagrass bed in ‘favourable condition’. 
  3. What is the biodiversity uplift across subtidal seagrass beds under 4 different conditions ‘favourable condition’; ‘Unfavourable condition’; Restored seagrass (yr 1-3); potential restoration site and how does this change the availability or flows of ecosystem services. 
  4. What is the potential for scaling seagrass biodiversity credits across the UK to support seagrass protection and restoration and what are the benefits? 
  5. How does the new research on biodiversity credits inform the development of both the statutory (BNG) and voluntary (biodiversity tokens) approach? 

Training

You will receive training in ecological research (video analysis, biodiversity metrics), Statistical Packages (NVivo, R); ArcGIS/QGIS, Economic modelling, ecosystem services and social research methods.

Project structure 

The project is stepwise and will be undertaken in chapters with each component lasting for 6-9 months. The team will support you to develop publishable content from each chapter.
The project will be supervised by Dr Sian Rees (UoP), De Ethan Addicott (UoE), Professor Martin Attrill (UoP) and Andy Cameron (OCT).

CDTS317: Establishing drivers of accelerating estuary siltation to help co-design adaptation and mitigation measures

Lead Supervisor: William Blake (William.blake@plymouth.ac.uk)
2nd Supervisor: Claire Kelly (claire.kelly@plymouth.ac.uk)
Associate Partner: 
Exe Estuary Management Partnership, Devon County Council (www.exe-estuary.org) 

Project description

The changing dynamics of siltation in ria-type estuaries is both an ecological and socio-economic concern. At the interface between land and sea, estuaries are complex systems responding to drivers from catchment and coastal processes and perturbations linked to management decisions that rarely take a holistic catchment to coast systemwide approach. With increased pressure on natural resources, land management and climate change, there is a pressing need to take a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to better understand the dynamics of estuarine siltation for informed adaptation and mitigation strategies. This PhD project seeks to fill that gap.

Aims and objectives 

As an exemplar case of estuarine siltation, this PhD programme aims to understand sources and sinks for sedimentation in the Exe, evaluate sediment transport and identify where management intervention could be targeted. The work programme will be based around three interlinked objectives: (1) Elucidating local environmental knowledge from stakeholders and integrating with natural science evidence; (2) Evaluating sedimentary archives of sedimentation (silt) source, rates and quality in key habitats under pressure (mussel beds, seagrass beds and saltmarsh); (3) Modelling patterns of sediment transfers (sand and silt) at the catchment-coast interface.

Training

Training will be provided in qualitative methods for stakeholder engagement and evaluating local environmental knowledge, sediment coring techniques, gamma spectrometry and geochronology, sediment quality assessment, remote sensing, modelling and environmental management planning. Noting the challenges for transdisciplinary working at a PhD studentship scale (i.e. the central role of the student at the intersection of disciplines and sectors compared to a larger project with multiple researchers), the student will also be mentored in interdisciplinary research and transdisciplinary working drawing on the rich experience of the supervisory team.
Structured around the objectives, the project will blend evidence bases for social and natural sciences to support stakeholder vision for future management interventions and co-design pathways to implementation.

Supervisory team

The project will be supervised by Professor Will Blake (University of Plymouth), Mrs Stephanie Harper-Chung (Exe Estuary Management Partnership, Devon County Council), Dr Claire Kelly (University of Plymouth), Dr Barend Van Maarnen (University of Exeter), and Dr Ross Brown (University of Exeter), Professor Rolf Alto, (University of Exeter). 

CDTS327: Can habitat restoration deliver effective mitigation for marine and estuarine fish?

Lead Supervisor: Benjamin Ciotti (Benjamin.ciotti@plymouth.ac.uk)
2nd Supervisor: Melanie Austen (Melanie.Austen@plymouth.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Natural Resources Wales (https://www.naturalresources.wales/)

Project description

Numerous restoration projects are currently seeking to reverse losses of seagrass, saltmarsh and other coastal habitats. These habitats are considered to be important nurseries for juvenile fish and therefore critical for sustaining coastal fish populations. However, it is unknown whether restorations offer similar benefits as natural counterparts. This field-based project involves working directly with managers and policy makers to deliver key evidence on the nursery role of restored habitats and guide effective decision-making in conservation and fisheries management.

Aims and objectives

This PhD aims to investigate whether habitat restoration can deliver effective mitigation for marine and estuarine fish, specifically by addressing three objectives:
  1. Review threats to marine and estuarine juvenile fish habitats, the diversity of fish species affected and the potential for compensation by existing natural or restored habitat.
  2. Combine traditional netting surveys with novel camera surveys and biochemical indicators of growth rate to quantify fish production from restored habitats relative to natural counterparts. 
  3. Work with fishing and coastal communities to evaluate the broader socioeconomic values of different natural and restored habitat types.

Project structure

The student will initially work under close guidance of the academic supervisors, the associate partners (Natural Resources Wales, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Wildlife Trusts) and a wider forum of stakeholders to review threats to coastal habitats, status of knowledge about the role of restored habitat as juvenile fish habitat and priorities for research in this area. There will follow the opportunity for field studies investigating the value of selected restoration projects relative to natural reference habitats. These field studies will take place in Cornwall and North Wales and will involve traditional netting techniques, application of biochemical growth indices and deployment of a smart camera system. The final step will be to implement socioeconomic research tools that put estimates of ecological habitat quality in context of the broader economic and cultural values. 

Training 

The student will be trained in a range of skills to estimate the juvenile fish habitat quality, building on core expertise of the supervisors in juvenile fish ID, fish netting techniques, benthic invertebrate surveys, biochemical growth indices and underwater camera technology. They will also learn how to perform economic and cultural evaluation of ecological systems. Finally, by working closely alongside management and regulatory organisations the student will acquire a firm appreciation of stakeholder evidence needs and how to direct research towards meeting them. The PhD is therefore an unrivalled opportunity to develop and apply expertise in a suite of interdisciplinary research tools and work with key management bodies to support the sustainable management of natural resources.

Supervisory team 

The project will be supervised by Dr Benjamin Ciotti, University of Plymouth; Professor Melanie Austen, University of Plymouth; Ms Ida Nielsen, Natural Resources Wales; Prof Jan Hiddink, Bangor University; Mr Robert Hillman, Environment Agency; Mr Adam Waugh, Natural England.
 
 

Bangor University projects

CDTS301: Sustainable restoration of the European Oyster in the face of environmental change

Lead Supervisor: Svenja Tidau (s.tidau@bangor.ac.uk)
2nd Supervisor: Lynda Rodwell (Lynda.rodwell@plymouth.ac.uk)
Associate Partner: Natural Resources Wales (https://naturalresourceswales.gov.uk)

Project description

Marine biogenic reefs are ecologically important habitats and provide society with key ecosystem services (ESs). Yet, they are among the most degraded habitats. The 21st century has seen a global surge in large-scale restoration with the native oyster Ostrea edulis being at the forefront. Predicting climate adaptation and building resilience are critical for sustainable restoration. 
Current restoration lacks conclusive evidence on how Ostrea will cope with climate change in delivering ESs and biodiversity gains, particularly relative to the warm water tolerant and already widespread non-native Pacific oyster Magallana gigas (introduced for aquaculture). Somewhat surprisingly, Ostrea appears to cope physiologically better with warmer temperatures than Magallana. However, little is known about the relative performance of populations over critical life-stages and reproduction. 
We will test two approaches for building more resilient Ostrea restoration. First, we will examine the benefits of mitigating additional stressors known to adversely affect organismal health, namely artificial light at night (ALAN). Second, we will assess the perceptions of key stakeholder and the public to contribute towards Ostrea restoration. 
This transdisciplinary project is co-designed between Bangor University, the University of Plymouth, and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and will address one of NRW’s evidence priorities “Understanding impacts of climate change on vulnerable species and habitats”. 

Aims and objectives 

The aim of this PhD is to assess the current socio-ecological climate resilience of Ostrea restoration and explore the feasibility of two approaches to build resilience. The project will: i) quantify relative performance of Ostrea and Magallana adults and larvae under increased temperature and ALAN; ii) identify stakeholder and broader public perception, knowledge, and willingness to contribute towards Ostrea restoration (such as through Restorative Aquaculture). 
The project will suit a student interested in developing skills in both ecological and socio-economic research. 

Training 

A bespoke training will equip the student with skills, knowledge, and experiences to become an independent, creative, and competitive researcher for multiple roles in and outside academia. The student will be trained to design, execute, and analyse biological experiments and socio-economic studies. The experiments provide the opportunity to learn how and when to use biological and socio-economic approaches. The student will gain theoretical and practical insight into the management of marine resources, actively engage with stakeholders 

Project structure 

The student will be jointly based at Bangor University and NRW and also undertake visits to the University of Plymouth throughout the project. The student will conduct the biological experiments at Bangor University while starting to engagement with stakeholders. Informed by the findings, the student will carry out surveys, face-toface interviews, and focus group consultation. Finally, the student will synthesize the findings identifying key points of intervention to improve the sustainability of the Ostrea restoration and aquaculture system. 
The project will be supervised by Dr Svenja Tidau and Professor Stuart Jenkins (Bangor University), Dr Lynda Rodwell (University of Plymouth), Dr Karen Robinson, Dr Ben Wray and Dr Rowland Sharp from Natural Resources Wales and Dr Thomas Galley and Dr Nicholas Jones (Bangor University). 

CDTS303: Coastal Vigilance: Harnessing AI, Remote Sensing, and Citizen Science for Enhanced Observation and Monitoring of Land-to-Coastal Pollutant Transport

Lead Supervisor: Iestyn Woolway (Iestyn.woolway@bangor.ac.uk
2nd Supervisor: Stefan Simis (stsi@pml.ac.uk)
Associate Partner: Dwr Cymry Welsh Water (https://www.dwrcymru.com/en)

Project description

Our world's coastal zones, brimming with vital ecosystems, face a pressing threat: the unrelenting transport of pollutants from land to sea. Dive into the cutting-edge realm of our PhD project, where we are at the forefront of change, marrying Artificial Intelligence (AI), remote sensing technologies, and the power of citizen science to revolutionise the way we observe and monitor the movement of pollutants. By harnessing these ground-breaking forces, we're on a mission to safeguard these delicate ecosystems, empower informed decision-making, and shape a more sustainable future.

Aims and objectives

Our project's core aim is clear: to enhance the observation and monitoring of land-to-coastal pollutant transport using a triad of cutting-edge tools. With this foundation, we set forth the following objectives:
AI Empowerment: Forge an AI-driven framework that predicts pollutant movement with precision. By harnessing historical data and incorporating diverse datasets, we aim to create robust models capable of real-time prediction. 
Remote Sensing Mastery: Unveil pollution's intricate tapestry using remote sensing. Satellite imagery will spotlight pollution sources and patterns across vast coastal landscapes. In tandem, drone technology will provide detailed, high-resolution insights, enriching our understanding of pollutant dynamics.
Citizen Science Collaboration: Unite communities through citizen science, transforming individuals into environmental advocates. Through mobile apps and community-driven initiatives, we'll gather real-time data to validate and refine our AI and remote sensing models, all while fostering a sense of shared responsibility.

Training

Prepare for an immersive learning journey that melds scientific expertise with technological prowess. With guidance from interdisciplinary experts, you'll navigate the realms of AI algorithms, remote sensing methodologies, and community engagement strategies. Gain hands-on experience with state-of-the-art tools, equipping you to spearhead real-world change and drive advancements in environmental preservation.

Project structure

1. AI-Driven Insights: Begin by diving deep into AI's capabilities. Analyze historical data, develop predictive models, and fuse climate, hydrological, and land-use information to create an AI framework that can anticipate real-time pollutant transport. This foundational step sets the stage for the entire project's success.
2. Remote Sensing Exploration: Embark on a journey through remote sensing. Decode satellite imagery to reveal pollution hotspots and sources on a macro scale. Transition to drones, capturing intricate spatial details that enhance your pollution map's richness. By integrating various sensor data, you'll create a comprehensive narrative of pollution's journey.
3. Citizen Science Engagement: Foster a sense of belonging and empowerment through citizen science. Mobilize the public through mobile apps (including Earthtrack), encouraging data collection that bolsters AI and remote sensing models. As you engage communities, you'll not only refine your scientific understanding but also sow the seeds of environmental advocacy.
4. Integration and Impact: The finale marries AI predictions, remote sensing revelations, and citizen science participation into an integrated monitoring system. Rigorous validation cements accuracy, while iterative improvements fine-tune its effectiveness. Ultimately, this multifaceted approach empowers decision-makers, informs policy, and safeguards the coastal environments we hold dear.
The project will be supervised by Dr Iestyn Woolway at Bangor University and Dr Stefan Simis at Plymouth Marine Laboratory. 

CDTS304: The socio-ecological importance of elasmobranchs to coastal communities in a changing climate

Lead Supervisor: Peter Robins (p.robins@bangor.ac.uk)
2nd Supervisor: David Curnick (David.Curnick@ioz.ac.uk)
Associate Partner: Natural Resources Wales (https://cyfoethnaturiol.cymru/?lang=en)

Project description

Elasmobranchs are a vital part Wales’ coastal cultural heritage and livelihoods, primarily due to the socio-economic benefits of elasmobranchs within fisheries and tourism. Whilst there are widespread social, cultural, and economic benefits of participation in fishing as a leisure activity, there is a paucity of basic data – and lack of fundamental research – on the population status, behaviour and distributions of elasmobranchs and even less on their economic, cultural and social value to Welsh communities. Additionally, climate projections are for sea temperatures around the UK and Ireland to continue warming over the coming decades, with shallow coastal waters around Wales being of particular concern. Given their potential for high mobility, it is likely that elasmobranchs will shift their distributions to meet thermoregulatory needs. Thus, significant changes to the diversity, distribution, and abundance of elasmobranchs around Wales are likely with climate change. Such changes could drastically impact fisheries and the social and cultural value of elasmobranch natural capital to local communities. However, the scale and impact of these are unclear, and no work has been conducted to investigate how this will impact coastal communities reliant on fisheries resources. 

Aims and objectives

Through social science, oceanography, ecology, and climate research, this transdisciplinary project aims to improve understanding of elasmobranch behaviour, ecology, and social value within Welsh waters. Specifically, this PhD project will address the following four objectives: 1. Establish how six focal elasmobranch species are distributed throughout Welsh waters and how they associate with static and dynamic physical and bio-physical environmental indicators. 2. Project how changing environmental indicators could influence species’ behaviours and distributions, under various projected future climate change scenarios. 3. Quantify the social and cultural value of elasmobranchs to fishers and coastal communities in Wales. 4. Explore the social impacts and trade-offs of different projected elasmobranch distributions with fishers, policy-makers, managers and advisers (NRW), to co-design and inform sustainable future strategies. 
The student will be hosted and based at Bangor University. However, they will also spend significant periods of time at ZSL and NRW, as well as in the field collecting field data and building relationships within the communities that they will work. Previous experience in physical oceanography, fisheries or social science would be useful, but not essential. More important is that the student is keen and willing to learn as they will be provided with all the training and resources needed to deliver the project. This includes having access to all the facilities and training offerings at both Bangor University and IOZ/ZSL. 
Given the project’s location and the need to communicate with Welsh fishing communities, a fluent Welsh speaker is desirable, although not essential. The project will be supervised by a multidisciplinary team across some of the UKs best marine science institutions. The student will gain experience working within academia, NGO, and government sectors as well as fishing communities. In summary, the project offers unique, trans-disciplinary research training for a postgraduate student that is highly sought-after with opportunities to undertake practical research that will feed directly into UK marine policy. 

CDTS315: Pollution from source to cetaceans – antimicrobials as a case study for One Health wastewater pollution

Lead Supervisor: Eleanor Jameson (e.jameson@bangor.ac.uk)
2nd Supervisor: Mark Fitzsimons (m.fitzsimons@plymouth.ac.uk)
Associate Partner: Natural Resources Wales
(https://cyfoethnaturiol.cymru/?lang=en)  

Project description

Marine ecosystems are of immense ecological and economic significance, under increasing threat from poorly understood pharmaceutical pollution. This project will addressing critical knowledge gaps in the persistence, accumulation, and impact of antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in marine food chains.
Using extensive datasets from wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), chemical data, and a marine mammal tissue bank the project will bridge gaps in understanding of antibiotic pollution in marine ecosystems. The student will use bioinformatics to analyse sequence data for antibiotic degradation pathways, and chemical data from wastewater, environmental and stranding samples. Integrating this data will guide targeted analysis of tissue bank samples, and new stranding, water and sediment samples. Fieldwork will focus on the well-studied Conwy outflow, in proximity to wastewater overflows. The student will use proven methods to assess antibiotics, degradation products and AMR.

Aims and objectives

Investigate the persistence, accumulation, and impact of antibiotics and AMR on the marine ecosystem in North Wales.
Characterise antibiotic and AMR pathways in WWTPs (WasteWater Treatment Plants). Analyse metagenomic data from WWTPs across Wales to identify the types and prevalence of antibiotic degradation pathways. Identify the bacteria carrying AMR genes and assess potential to persistence in marine ecosystems.
Compile and integrate of diverse datasets. Consolidate data on antibiotic and AMR pollution, including wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), prescribing data, marine mammal strandings and passive sampling.
Field sampling to fill knowledge gaps. Identify key gaps in the existing data and sites for passive sampler deployment and sampling.
Identify persistent antibiotics. Quantify, and characterise persistent antibiotics in WWTP, marine environment and mammals, using existing data, fieldwork and laboratory experiments.
Investigate pollutant interactions. Assess interactions, antagonistic impacts and parallels between antibiotics and other pollutants in marine ecosystems.
Recommendations for mitigation and management. Generate evidence-based recommendations for antibiotic pollution in marine ecosystems, including strategies for reducing contamination at source and safeguarding ecosystem health. 

Training

Training will be provided on concepts and methodologies, of each relevant discipline, to ensure the student has a solid grounding in communication, microbiology, data analysis, bioinformatics, chemistry, marine ecology, behaviour, and policy. The training will be consist of formal courses and practical skills, benefitting from diverse expertise in the supervisor team. The student will undertake EDI training, to enable them to host an In2Science/Nuffield student to promote science careers to people form underprivileged backgrounds.

Project structure

Collaboration among BU (Bangor University), ZSL (Zoological Society of London), UoP (University of Plymouth), and NRW (Natural Resources Wales), is central to the project's success.
  • Literature review to understand the background.
  • Bioinformatics analysis of AMR in wastewater datasets, BU.
  • Gap analysis, BU. 
  • Placement at NRW – operations, policy, and environmental chemistry. 
  • AMR analysis of marine mammal tissue samples, ZSL. 
  • Analytical chemistry of field and tissue samples, UoP.

Supervisory team

Dr Ellie Jameson is a microbial ecologist at BU, Professor Mark Fitzsimons is an environmental chemist at UoP, Dr James Waggitt is a marine ecologist at BU, Dr Rosie Williams is an ecotoxicologist at ZSL and Thomaz Andrade is a water policy advisor at NRW. 
 
 

Heriot-Watt University projects

CDTS307: Understanding carbon flows between seagrass, kelp forest and maerl habitat mosaics within the coastal seascape for quantification of Blue Carbon sequestration services and storage: an Orkney Islands case study

Lead Supervisor: Joanne Porter (j.s.porter@hw.ac.uk)
2
nd Supervisor: Ana Queiros (anqu@pml.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Project Seagrass (www.projectseagrass.org

Project description

The value of the marine environment as a key ally in the journey to mitigate climate change has been widely recognised in the scientific literature (Bindoff et al. 2019), and more recently, there is a push in UK policy to protect this value through conservation mechanisms (Benyon et al. 2020). Recent research has also shown that protecting the blue carbon value of marine systems cannot rely only on the conservation of unique and high carbon coastal habitats such as seagrass beds, but must include carbon flows between such habitats, across seascapes, and to the seafloor (Queiros et al 2019, 2023). In the NW of Scotland, Orkney Islands Archipelago presents a unique opportunity to study such carbon flows, harbouring pristine and extensive high carbon habitats such as seagrass, kelp beds and maerl, (Orkney Blue carbon Audit: Porter et al., 2020) which in turn support the regions’ unique biodiversity (e.g. in Sanday, one of Orkney’s Natura 2000 sites). The Blue Carbon audit has been used to model and ground truth the distribution of habitats and carbon stores in Orkney, which in turn is informing regional nature enhancement activities: the roadplan the Scottish Government wants to implement to deliver positive outcomes for biodiversity (Kent et al. 2021). From drone footage and diver in situ observations seagrass and kelp forest habitat types often exist as mosaics, and the same for seagrass and maerl. However, data gaps still exist regarding the quantification of carbon sequestration by habitats and in underlying sediments (Orkney Blue Carbon Audit: Porter et al., 2020), and there is no current understanding of carbon flows across the Orkney Seascape. A better understanding of these flows across Orcadian carbon rich habitats would thus deliver high impact for local nature enhancement policy development, the ability to better protect Orcadian blue carbon and its associated biodiversity of these habitats. 

Aim and objectives

The aim of the PhD project is to capitalise on regional knowledge on blue carbon habitats and ongoing research initiatives led by the supervisory team to try and address the following questions: 1. Is carbon sequestration higher in the mixed blue carbon habitats mosaics (e.g. Seagrass and maerl) than in individual ones? 2. How could this information be capitalised upon to design more effective conservation mechanisms in Orkney, that protect the carbon and biodiversity value of these habitats? 3. How can this impact on effective targeting of management of carbon sequestration for protection of carbon stores and usage of marine space in coastal waters in future? 

Training 

The successful student will be trained in scientific diving techniques appropriate to the work. Training on appropriate laboratory analysis and statistical analysis will also be provided. Opportunities will be provided for the student to engage with stakeholders in workshop environments and to present their work at scholarly conferences. They will be supported to write appropriate content for media dissemination and to write for scholarly journal publications. Project Structure The project will involve a series of field based experimental periods, interspersed with data analysis and reporting. 

Supervisory team

The project will be supervised by Professor Joanne S Porter (HWU Orkney Campus), Professor Ana Queiros (Plymouth Marine Laboratory), Dr Richard Lilly (Project Seagrass) and Esther Thomsen (Project Seagrass). 

CDTS320: Underpinning whelk fishery co-management using bio-economic and network analysis approaches

Lead Supervisor: Michel Kaiser (m.kaiser@hw.ac.uk)
2nd Supervisor: Lynda Rodwell (Lynda.Rodwell@plymouth.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Seafish (www.seafish.co.uk

Project description

Whelk fisheries are becoming increasingly important for the UK fishing industry and were worth c. £19 million in 2019. Despite their value they are data poor. Unlike other fisheries, whelks are relatively sendentary which means they are prone to localised depletion. Catch data is complicated by the fact this is a pot fishery. 

Aims and objectives

The PhD will investigate critical knowledge gaps, ascertaining the factors affecting catch rate and using industry knowledge to inform modelling approaches that will inform how the fishery might be better managed.

Training

The student will gain training in field work, capture mark recapture studies, video analysis, bioeconomic modelling, social survey techniques, network analysis and choice experiments. The student will be supported by an experienced team of experts with strong links to the UK fishing industry, policy makers and managers. The student will emerge with a multidisciplinary training and extensive network of contacts and collaborators. The student will be embedded in UK industry science partnerships that aim to improve the way our fisheries are managed.
The student will be based in Edinburgh (Heriot Watt and Seafish) and will spend periods of time at University of Plymouth and Bangor University for field work and/or training. Field work will occur mostly in Kent and Wales. Students must be able to pass a ‘Survival at Sea Course’ for health and safety purposes and would need to be able to pass an ENG1 sea-going medical for insurance purposes. 
 
 

Marine Biological Association projects

CDTS302: Developing approaches for kelp forest restoration to futureproof UK marine biodiversity

Lead Supervisor: Daniel Smale (dansm@mba.ac.uk)
2nd Supervisor: Emma Sheehan (emma.sheehan@plymouth.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
The Fishmongers' Company (https://fishmongers.org.uk)  

Project description

Kelp forests are distributed across one-third of the world’s coastlines, where they support high levels of biodiversity and primary productivity and underpin vital coastal ecosystems. The UK and Ireland represents an important area for kelps, with 7 different species found along ~19,000 km of the UK’s coastline and predicted to inhabit an area comparable to broadleaf forests on land. Kelp forests are in decline in many regions, and are vulnerable in the UK to stress factors such as overgrazing, coastal pollution, ocean warming, disease, and fishing activities. These forests support vital important ecosystem services, including fisheries habitats, biogenic coastal protection, nutrient cycling and carbon uptake. Losses or shifts in the structure of kelp forests could have significant consequences for marine ecosystems and the services they provide to coastal communities. While much research has focussed on techniques to restore and futureproof coral, mangrove and seagrass habitats, far less attention has been given to kelp forests, despite their huge ecological and socioeconomic importance.

Aims and objectives

The ultimate goal of this project is advance our understanding of active kelp restoration methods and to help futureproof kelp forests in the UK. Specifically, the project will develop, test and refine methods for costeffectively cultivating kelp species in the laboratory and seeding them onto a range of substrates. Experimental substrates will then be out-planted at trial sites and monitored over time to evaluate the efficacy of the restoration approach. The work will also examine the social/economic benefits and challenges of kelp restoration and translate the findings to facilitate policy and decision making. Specific research activities to address the overarching aim could include:
  1. Refine and experimentally test methods to optimise cultivation, seeding and early grow-out for different kelp species. 
  2. Outplant and monitor seeded substrate at experimental test sites. 
  3. Compare the ecological structure and functioning of restored areas with natural kelp beds and unvegetated, unrestored areas. 
  4. Explore socioeconomic benefits and barriers to kelp restoration.
This project will operate at the interface between fundamental biology/ecology and applied research, with significant input from non-academic partners from industry and NGOs.

Training

In addition to opportunities through the CDT, the successful candidate will receive training in kelp biology and cultivation, sampling and survey techniques, social science methods, and statistical approaches. There will be opportunities to engage with the industry and NGO partners. 

Project structure

Following an initial period of training and planning, laboratory-based cultivation trials will be conducted, followed by out-planting and monitoring of seeded substrate at experimental test sites. Fieldwork will be interspersed with periods of sample processing and analysis, data exploration, and synthesis of existing information on socioeconomic benefits and impacts of kelp restoration. It is anticipated that the project will lead to several high quality scientific outputs as well as the development of tools to assist with decision-making, thereby having significant impact. 
The project will be supervised by Dr Dan Smale (MBA), Dr Emma Sheehan (UoP) and Dr Tomas Chaigneau (UoE), with significant input from non-academic partners (Fishmongers Company and Seaweed Generation).
 
 

University of Exeter projects

CDTS323: Socio-economic and ecological impacts of UK marine heatwaves under climate change

Lead Supervisor: Steven Palmer (s.j.palmer@exeter.ac.uk)
2
nd Supervisor: David Moffat (dmof@pml.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture (Cefas) (www.cefas.co.uk)

Project description

Record-breaking sea surface temperatures were observed around the UK in Summer 2023, and recent research has shown that the number of marine heatwaves globally has risen by more than 50% in the 30 years to 2016, compared with 1925–54. Marine heatwaves can result in the mass mortality of marine flora and fauna, leading to significant losses in habitat, biodiversity and income from fisheries and tourism. While it is clear that UK marine heatwaves will increase under climate change, the socio-economic implications and impacts on local marine ecosystems remains an important policy question. 

Aims and objectives 

This exciting project aims to evaluate the socio-economic and ecosystem impacts of marine heatwaves in the UK. The work will include analysis of both historical observations and state-of-the-art regional ocean climate projections to quantify the potential changes in frequency, intensity and duration of UK marine heatwaves over the 21st century. The potential scale and impacts of these events will be assessed through a combination of: (i) analysis of past data; (ii) literature reviews; and (iii) targeted modelling studies. A particular focus of the research will be on the increased potential for harmful algal blooms, with implications for aquaculture, water quality, tourism, and human health, alongside legal and policy aspects (e.g. health warnings) and socio-economic impacts (e.g. on the desirability and viability of existing tourist and aquaculture sites).

Training 

Through the University of Exeter PGR supervision system, the student will have monthly supervision meetings, providing research support and ensuring sustained progress towards completing their project within 3 years and 8 months. The student will have access to the resources and support services available at the host and partner institutions. In particular, the student will receive advanced training in research design, research methodology, research ethics, and the necessary quantitative and qualitative methods, through well-established teaching modules (which will also help integrate the student into a community of learning). The University of Exeter Doctoral College stimulates, supports and sustains a vibrant research and intellectual environment across and between disciplines for postgraduate and early career researchers. The student will also be invited to be a member of relevant academic research centres and networks, including the Environmental Intelligence Network and Exeter Marine. 

Supervisory team

The project will be supervised by a transdisciplinary team of researchers from The University of Exeter, Plymouth Marine Lab, Cefas and the Met Office.

CDTS324: Investigating the ecological and systemic effects of next generation biopolymers in marine systems

Lead Supervisor: Ceri Lewis (c.n.lewis@exeter.ac.uk)
2
nd Supervisor: Helen Findlay (hefi@pml.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture (Cefas) (www.cefas.co.uk)

Project description

Marine plastic pollution is a global environmental challenge. One solution for tackling the ‘make-use-discard’ culture that has encouraged the accumulation of plastic litter is to move away from non-degradable fossil-fuel derived plastic polymers and to design bioplastics derived from organic waste products that degrade rapidly after use. Such third-generation (3G) materials offer tremendous benefits in reducing carbon footprints and preserving natural resources. Despite this, virtually nothing is known of their fate and behaviour once they reach the marine environment.
Initial reports from freshwater studies suggest low direct toxicity, but other aspects of sustainability such as their effects on ecosystem health and ocean chemistry remain unknown. Polymer degradation can change the chemical properties of the receiving environment (e.g. decreased O2, increased CO2 and decreased pH), and can leach chemical additives used to enhance the polymers’ performance in use. However, these processes are very poorly characterised for 3G bioplastics or for bioplastics in marine systems.

Aims and objectives

This project will explore the effects of novel biopolymers derived from organic waste materials on marine ecology and seawater chemistry. This knowledge is crucial for designing materials with minimal ecological impacts. We will also use systems thinking approaches for looking at the ecological (environmental), social, and economic effects of the introduction of these bioplastics. This PhD will take a holistic approach that includes experimental exposure studies, detailed chemical analysis, field work and systems modelling to explore the following research questions:
  1. What is the behaviour and fate of the biopolymers in natural marine waters?
  2. What are the effects on seawater carbonate chemistry of endogenous chemicals and the release of carbon from biomass?
  3. Do these materials enter the marine food web and what are their direct (uptake, effect on chemical signalling) and indirect (e.g. via influence on water chemistry parameters) effects on individuals and ecosystems?
  4. What are the systemic effects of 3G bioplastics?

Training

This project will suit a student with a passion for marine environmental issues and an interest in sustainability and systems thinking. You will join an expert team of marine biologists, environmental and materials chemists and systems thinkers and will benefit from interdisciplinary training in a wide range of highly employable skills.

Project structure

The student will be based largely at the University of Exeter working within their state-of-the-art aquarium facilities and the Centre for Circular Economy. They will also have full access to the research facilities available at Plymouth Marine Laboratory providing them with all the infrastructure required for the project.
The project will be supervised by Dr Ceri Lewis and Prof Tamara Galloway at the University of Exeter, and Dr Helen Findlay at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and Dr Adil Bakir at Cefas, with input from innovative materials experts at Materiom. 

CDTS325: Will food quality limit marine biomass production in a warming world?

Lead Supervisor: Daniel Mayor (d.j.mayor@exeter.ac.uk)
2
nd Supervisor: Alex Poulton (a.poulton@hw.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture (Cefas) (www.cefas.co.uk)

Project description

Maximising the harvestable production of marine biomass for human consumption is essential for delivering global food security. However, achieving this is complicated by the poorly-understood effects of environmental warming, which directly affects the physiology of cold-blooded animals, and indirectly affects the quantity and quality of their food. Using marine zooplankton as tractable model organisms, this project will determine how their biomass production is affected by the direct and indirect effects of climate change through a series of controlled laboratory experiments and field observations. This project will use a multifactorial approach to examine variability in zooplankton metabolism in the context of changing temperature and phytoplankton elemental composition. In doing so, it will provide new, fundamental understanding that can be used to improve the sustainable management of marine resources throughout the 21st century. 

Aims and objectives

This project aims to: 
  1. Generate mechanistic understanding of how future temperature-driven effects on the physiology of marine zooplankton and changes in the quantity and nutritional ‘quality’ (C:N ratio) of their phytoplankton food collectively influence the efficiency with which they convert ingested food into new biomass; 
  2. Translate this knowledge to other disciplines, including fisheries stock assessment and aquaculture nutrition, to pioneer new approaches for maximising the efficiency of harvestable biomass production. 
This will be achieved by addressing the following objectives: 
  1. Quantify how rates of ingestion, respiration and biomass turnover in marine zooplankton respond to environmental warming. 
  2. Conduct controlled factorial experiments across a thermal gradient to quantify how changing the quantity and quality of phytoplankton affect zooplankton growth and metabolism.
  3. Analyse plankton samples collected in situ from national and international research expeditions to determine how zooplankton growth responds to environmental temperatures and the quantity and quality of phytoplankton. 
  4. Work in collaboration with experts from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences (Cefas) and experts in aquaculture nutrition to translate the knowledge gained into additional disciplines, including the sustainable development of aquaculture practices. 

Training 

The candidate will join an enthusiastic and supportive research team studying how the ecology and biogeochemistry of marine ecosystems are responding to environmental change. They will receive training in a range of plankton skills, including culturing of phytoplankton and zooplankton, conducting live experiments, and sampling and preserving plankton at sea. Training in a range of highly transferrable skills will also be provided, including experimental design and data analysis, scientific writing, and public speaking. Research expedition participation is not essential. However, whilst it cannot be guaranteed, it may be possible for the candidate to collect samples and run experiments at sea through collaboration with the Associated Partner Cefas and via other funded projects that will run in parallel. 

Project structure 

The student will be hosted in Exeter, supervised locally by Mayor, Cook and Wilson, with external support and supervision by Poulton at Heriot-Watt, and Van Der Kooij and Capuzzo at Cefas. Experimental design will be supported by all supervisors, with regular project meetings via video conferencing facilities and the student hosted at Heriot-Watt and Cefas for 2–6 months and ≥3 months, respectively over the duration of the project. 

CDTS326: Mussel restoration, bioremediation and robots

Lead Supervisor: Robert Ellis (r.p.ellis@exeter.ac.uk)
2nd Supervisor: Sian Rees (Sian.Rees@plymouth.ac.uk)
Associate Partner:
Devon and Severn IFCA (https://www.devonandsevernifca.gov.uk/

Project description

Mussels are a critical component of coastal communities in temperate regions globally - creating spatially complex habitats which enhance biodiversity, act as a food source for a diverse array of species, and remove nitrogen and excess nutrients from estuarine and coastal systems. These bivalves also a key aquaculture species, representing the most sustainable source of farmed animal protein worldwide. Nonetheless, since 2104 a significant decline in the abundance and distribution of mussels has been witnessed across Europe, with current numbers in many locations at a fraction of historic levels. Concerningly, this decline has coincided with levels of coastal pollution that are at an all time high (372,000 Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) events recorded in 2021), posing a significant health risk to those using these environments commercially or recreationally. 
To date little concerted effort has been afforded towards the restoration of natural mussel beds – despite the high economic, ecological and environmental benefit this species group holds. This is in part due to a lack of quantitative data demonstrating the bioremediation capacity of mussels in this context, rendering this nature-based solution ‘unproven’, whilst complex mussel speciation and variable mussel settlement year on year add further challenges that must be overcome to ensure this vital marine resource is managed effectively and sustainably for maximum socio-economic benefit. 

Aims and objectives

This project will explore whether mussel restoration offers a viable mechanism to remediate poor water quality and enhance ecosystem recovery in coastal waters of the UK. To achieve this the project will address the following objectives: 
  • generate the first quantitative data on the bioremediation capacity of mussels 
  • develop an affordable/accessible tool for genetic assessment of mussel populations in the SW UK 
  • establish a 3D hydrodynamic dispersal model for mussel larvae, and elucidate population connectivity patterns and spat for locations 
  • validate identification of novel spat settlement sites with mix of fieldwork and use of submersible robots for intertidal/subtidal surveying (AlgaRover), in collaboration with The Exmouth Mussel Company and Seaweed Generation 
  • develop a natural capital account for mussel beds, determining both current and projected future socio-economic value of this key marine resource.

Training

The student will become part of a diverse and enthusiastic team, receiving training in animal physiology, husbandry, ecotoxicology, population genetics, 3D hydrodynamic modelling, and natural capital accounting, from experts in each respective field. They will also benefit from regular engagement with, and training from, industry (the Exmouth Mussel Company; Seaweed Generation) and policy (Devon & Severn Inshore Fisheries Conservation Association; Natural England) project partners, ensuring they receive training in a diverse range of highly employable skills. 

Project structure

The studentship will be based at the University of Exeter, working in the state-of-the-art Aquatic Resources Centre, supervised by Dr Robert Ellis, Dr Ceri Lewis and Professor Jamie Stevens, with supervision from Dr Sian Rees (University of Plymouth; Socio-economics) and Professor Simon Neill (Bangor University; 3D hydrodynamic modelling), and regular engagement with policy (D&S IFCA; NE) and industry (The Exmouth Mussel company; Seaweed Generation) project partners.