PhD: Impacts and co-benefits of fishing on tropical blue carbon storage
Lyell Centre, Heriot-Watt University
Ocean Sciences (OS)
Supervisors: Drs Heidi Burdett (Lyell Centre), Marija Sciberras (Lyell Centre), Nicholas Kamenos (University of Glasgow) and Dan Exton (Operation Wallacea – CASE Partner)
Deadline for applications: Friday 8th January 2021 at 5pm (GMT)
Project summary: Enhancing the sequestration and storage of carbon in natural marine ecosystems (termed blue carbon) may provide an eco-friendly solution for combatting atmospheric CO2 increases. The fundamental characteristics of blue carbon habitats also encourage the provision of a wealth of other eco-benefits, such as the support of diverse fish populations. In turn, this ecological foundation provides high ecosystem resilience and has immense socioeconomic value, such as supporting local-international fishing industries.
The tropical reef system, including coral reefs, seagrass meadows and mangrove forests, is one of the most productive and diverse on Earth, but each habitat harbours varying levels of blue carbon storage capacity. Fish population structure may be one of the key drivers of this herbivorous grazing for example, is known to impact carbon sequestration and storage rates in seagrass meadows. Fishing activities therefore may have both positive and negative effects on carbon storage through habitat disturbance and alterations to the ecological trophic structure. Understanding these complexities, under present-day and future climate projections, is vital for creating robust management plans and in encouraging cooperation between stakeholders.
The aim of this project is to determine the impact of artisanal fishing activities on the blue carbon storage capacity of tropical reef systems, with a focus on the Caribbean. This will be conducted using a multidisciplinary approach that combines ecological and biogeochemical methods.
The PhD student will have the opportunity to collect coral reef, sediment and water samples from sites within the Caribbean (SCUBA diving is optional) for carbon storage (i.e. long-term lockdown into sediments) and sequestration (i.e. C uptake via photosynthesis) quantification, using state-of-the-art analytical facilities available at the Lyell Centre. Advanced ecological survey techniques (e.g. 3D habitat modelling), combined with historical records of ecological diversity available from Operation Wallacea, will enable the relationship between fish population diversity and blue carbon to be determined. Field-based experiments, such as excluding fish herbivory activity or simulating destructive fishing activities, will enable their role in blue carbon processes to be determined. Should Covid-19 restrictions still be in place, physical distancing in the field and off-peak visits will be possible, supplemented by the considerable volume of historical biodiversity data available from Operation Wallacea. Projected changes in the co-benefit relationships between blue carbon and fish population dynamics will be modelled using IPCC climate projection scenarios, enabling incorporation of the project data into future management plans at the local to regional scale.
Eligibility & application: This is a competition-funded PhD supported through the NERC Iapetus2 DTP. Full details on the studentship can be found here: https://heidiburdett.wordpress.com/2020/11/15/phd-impacts-and-co-benefits-of-fishing-on-tropical-blue-carbon-storage/.